Hotel Transylvania 3-Overtron Rising - FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHigh (2024)

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  • Teen And Up Audiences
Archive Warnings:
  • Graphic Depictions Of Violence
  • Major Character Death
  • F/M
  • Hotel Transylvania (Movies)
  • Monster High (Cartoon 2010)
  • Monster High (Toys)
  • Monster High (Movies 2010-2016)
  • Ever After High
  • Wednesday (TV 2022)
  • Bratz (Toys)
  • Mavis Dracula/Jonathan "Johnny" Loughran
  • Dracula (Hotel Transylvania)/Ericka Van Helsing
  • Draculaura/Clawd Wolf
  • Daring Charming/Apple White
  • Ashlynn Ella/Hunter Huntsman
  • Cleo de Nile/Deuce Gorgon
  • Dennis Dracula-Loughran/Winnie Werewolf
  • Dracula (Hotel Transylvania)/Martha Lubov Dracula
  • Headless Headmistress Bloodgood/Hexiciah Steam
  • Dracula (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Mavis Dracula
  • Jonathan "Johnny" Loughran
  • Original Characters
  • Ericka Van Helsing
  • Draculaura (Monster High)
  • Martha Lubov Dracula
  • Clawdeen Wolf
  • Frankie Stein
  • Cleo de Nile
  • Dennis Dracula-Loughran
  • Milton Grimm
  • Apple White
  • Daring Charming
  • Ashlynn Ella
  • Hunter Huntsman
  • Wayne Werewolf (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Frankenstein (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Murray (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Eunice Stein (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Evil Queen (Ever After High)
  • Winnie Werewolf (Hotel Transylvania)
  • Vandala Doubloons
Additional Tags:
  • Smut
  • Technology
  • Racism
  • Tragedy
  • Monster Hunters
  • Human/Monster Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Angst
  • Motorcycles
  • I Wrote This Instead of Sleeping
  • Magical Realism
  • Anal Sex
  • Monsters
  • Monster High Generation 1
  • Inspired By Monster High
  • Family Drama
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Worldbuilding
  • Human/Monster Society
  • Regret
  • Barbie References
  • Dark Past
  • World Travel
  • Vacation
  • Gremlins
  • Children
  • Secrets
  • Social Commentary
  • Psychology
  • MILFs
  • Foreshadowing
  • Robots
  • Destruction
  • Killing
  • Guilt
Part 1 of The Gothic Cinematic Boo-niverse (GCB)

Hotel Transylvania 3-Overtron Rising



Now that I've actually got off my ass and started watching EAH, the time has come to tie all 3 main boo-niverses together: Monster High, Ever After High, and Hotel Transylvania. I also owe you an explanation as to why Mavis is now a single biker woman, and Hotel Transylvania 3 and 4 need a revamp, so a rewrite of HT3 with all 3 seems like the perfect way to kill 2 bats with one stone. Here HT3 is a tragedy concerning Mavis and Johnny, in the wake of Grandpa Vlad's funeral a human gives them a ticket to the idyllic Legacy cruise ship-a chance for Drac and his family to get away from it all while "The Boys" (Frank, Eunice, Wayne, Murray, Griffin) and the Ghouls tag along as usual. But there's more to this human than meets the eye...he's serving someone. But, as he meets another guest Nina, he must ask-does he want to serve them?

All the while, something is building. A new era of monster hunting is finally coming. The Van Helsings belong to the past. And who better to spur it on than the monsters themselves? Without even knowing it, they are constructing their doom: Overtron.

To see updates and some other cool sh*t, follow my Instagrim @kieranthenexoknight.

Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter 1: The Train

Chapter Text

A night in 1882.

Dracula may well have been a monster. The king of monsters, even. But he stayed hunched over. Eyes to the unimpressive back of the seat, then Frank next to him, then the corridor, then back to the seat. Breathing was a risk. Speaking was a bigger one. Moving would be near suicide.

You knew that from experience. They all did.

No sound in the carriage at all. Night had bound all their lips. Humans as far as the eye could see. A glimpse of the “coloured” carriage behind them, its charge all scared with wide eyes like animals ready for slaughter. One unsheathing the cloak would be all it took. All it permitted to pass was the rustle of a newspaper page. And the huffing before which pulled them forward. Pulled them away. A compensatory warm glow to light the whole affair. Pretend it was all okay. Never mind night sky over, clawed branches leering in to slice the moon into little pieces. He might have argued, in another place, that that sort of thing was reserved for the politicians. Laughs would sound. Maybe even one from that new girl at the court. What was her name again? Ah yes…Martha. Reminding himself of those laughs so some semblance of a smile could light his face for once in this miserable recency.


“Cheltenham Spa, Cheltenham Spa!” the conductor bellowed through the train. “The next station is Cheltenham Spa. Following that, the train will go straight on to Birmingham New Street and terminate.”
A few clacks of his shoes suffocated by the carpet, till Dracula could almost smell the West Country burr on his breath. “Tickets, please.”

“Here’s mine.” Dracula murmured, extending a spindly arm to meet the metal blades. A curt clip, and doom leaped from him once more.

“And mine.” Frank added.

“Here’s mine.” A ticket floated inches away from his nose. Nice to see you too, Griffin. Prefer it if you didn’t try to get us killed. A flabby arm encased in old mummy wraps quickly thrust another ticket out, and he sighed in relief. Even that he had to do quietly.

What had he expected? Tonight had gone about as well as it could’ve. Really, what did he expect? He’d already started it fresh off the journey from Transylvania to Bath-frankly it’s a miracle he didn’t collapse at all. Then came the talking. A “short recap” of last time’s tail-chasing. He’d tuned out for all bar Hexiciah’s speech about the Red Lady. They’d talked about her several times, yet all the same he still couldn’t help but peer out of the window, face a little more drawn, when he heard that name. Just checking. If he had to pick one negative about Martha, guess it would be that.

Then he’d sat in some stupor, mind drifting away from the other monsters delegating and dealing. He’d talked about this before with Hexiciah-finance was for his little Sparky. Not him. He could never say the reasons why, but he had better things to do than go to and fro with some old duffer vampires and that miserable old Grimm about some squabble in the town about the new school for descendants of mythical peoples and their Legacy Day (they’d all sign, Grimm, so shut up and get to it) or some happy-go-lucky cowboy a long way from home in Frightberia thinking they could waltz in and shoot the Yeti. Knowing humans and their miniscule brains, he’d freeze to death on the boat there. Resolved, next question. If only the Council worked like that. Then they could get to making some real change, like developing sun protection for vampires. Recognising that these outbursts he had were a real concern, and didn’t need a rod through the head thank you very much. Or, part of him suggested, looser control on who councillors could fall in love with. So he could keep it up. So every time they kissed, it didn’t have to feel like he was kissing someone new. Or touching forbidden fruit.

A place to get away from the lot. Run away with Martha. Create somewhere for monsters to take a break from this turbulent world. Maybe even have a kid along the way.

Now there’s a motion he could get behind.

So long as no humans got involved.

A place for his own. With Martha. Where he didn’t have to worry about all this. Where a silent train from Bath to Birmingham Airport of all sh*tholes didn’t have to be the highlight of his week.


As if hearing his grievance, the door thrust open. Cold air snaked through the carriage. That air almost stopping Dracula’s head from turning.

The second he did, he knew the long night was far from over.

“Oh no, not this clown again.”

Standing in the doorway was a gigantic blonde man, blunderbuss scouring the ground for any prey trying to slither away. They were well away from the Moors, so not just another hunter. Their coat would be grimier, even without its white colouring. No. This man was refined, their wraparound moustache better combed, their handsome face unblemished.
“You see him, Drac?” Frank whispered, his giant stitched body quivering beneath its cloak. He shook the cloak behind him. Wayne the werewolf awoke from it with a confused expression, only to follow Frank’s finger behind and be infected by those same wide eyes, faster huffing breaths.


“Yes Frank”, Dracula said wearily, “I see him.”

He would know those infernal, tentacle-like leering locks anywhere.

“Good evening, friends. Enemies. And enemies who pretend to be friends. Fear me not, for you are in safe hands. Safe hands indeed. For I am none other than the famous and noble monster hunter, Professor Abraham van Helsing! Equipped with the finest technology known to man or monster, I exist solely to patrol across the lands humans own lest any monster threaten your lives with their presence. To defend you, the people, like my father before me and his father before him and his father before him and…” he cleared his throat, trying to still puff his chest out. “Well, you get the idea.”

He revelled his charge, smirk only slightly dropping when no human burst into applause. Few looking up from their newspapers. A few near him edging closer to the window.

“I am a Professor, so you can believe me when I say that monsters are among us. They dare squat below the very places us humans built and cultivated through our hard work and determination to seek our betterment, both as a people and as individuals. They wish to undo all this, steal it all for themselves. Indeed, were there not monsters on this very train I would not be here. But fear not, I shall keep you safe. For I am an expert in hunting down these fiends. One of your fine white Englishmen straight from Oxford with the resources to go after them, bring them to justice.”

He rifled through his pocket, withdrawing a small box. A few seconds later, Dracula could feel his intestines knotting. Matches.

“Frank.” he whispered, elbowing frantically. “Frank. Look out of the window.”

“What? Why?”

Van Helsing’s finger whipped across the top of the box, sinking his eyes in dark circles. “And I know how to bring them into the light!”

In one second, he thrust his arm past Dracula. Naked flame right in Frank’s gaze.

“Too late.” Griffin mused.

“Not helping.”

“FIRE BAAAAAAAD!” Frank yelled, exploding from his seat. What was it Dracula had said about this carriage being too quiet? Screams followed from all directions. The carriage threatening to plunge into the forest. A few bullets sang into his ears. All eyes on them. Wayne bolt-upright, eyes bleary, straight into the darkness. Murray next, shoving him near a mortified family. Not bothering to calculate Griffin’s position. Just get out.

Frank thundering behind as the midnight air lashed his face.

Nothing but black cloaks in their wake.

“Ah-ha-ha, you see, my good men? The monsters are turning tail. Running like the cowards they are. Never fear-they shall be trophy heads on my Mayfair office’s wall before this night is snuffed.”

Service as usual, Dracula thought resignedly.

“Remind me never to wear heels as part of my disguise again”, Murray grumbled. “Yeowch!”

“Does this guy ever know when to quit?” Griffin wondered.

Dracula sighed. “No, it doesn't look like it. Okay, let’s just try and escape off this train and regroup back at Birmingham, I guess.”

A flourish of white, and up came Van Helsing. Blunderbuss poised to rip his heart in two. Moustache forced up by a grin. Maybe, when they were younger and less worn by reality, that grin would be more malevolent. Less feeble. It’d mean something. Promise action. Now it simply represented that same need.

To step away from this all.

“I suppose this is the part where you say you’re about to kill,” raising two fingers for air quotes “‘the grand King of Monsters, blah-blah-blah’.”

“Kill you?” Van Helsing threw his head back and laughed. “No, Dracula, no. I have something far worse planned for you. You have evaded me far too many times. I have a clear shot now! You are doomed.”
“You said the same thing last time in Scaris. And before that in Jericho. Yet you still come at me with that same stupid rifle. Let me guess, you got that from your father, who got it from his father before him, who got it from a Messiah called Brian. Maybe you’d have a better chance with newer tech, rather than dusting off that old thing. I’m the supposed King of Monsters here, come on! The least you could do is prepare properly.”

Helsing could no longer hide his agitation. “Now listen here, Dracula. All you monsters ever do is make life harder for humans like myself. You tamper with our politics so the wrong type of people get in power. People peddling foolish ideas like higher corporation tax. You kill the people who compensate me. Your existence harms my living, and I’m not the only one. It is a plague on the earth. You’re as good as…”

A flash of purple smoke. Time for the old one-two. No chest trapped by his scope. Gone in a squeak. Martha had taught him that one time they’d snuck away. Away from the Council’s prying eyes, in a room that’d smelled eternally of old sex and broken rules.

“A mouse?”

Dracula chuckled. “You never learn, Van Helsing. Like your father before you and his father before him. A word of advice: don’t critique monsters when we all know humans are no better. And you may want to look behind.”

“Huh?” Now Helsing’s turn to wish he hadn’t bothered. If possible, his skin paled further in seconds.

Frank with hands outstretched, towering over the defenceless human.

“Would you do the honours, Frank?”

“My pleasure.”

“Wait. Wait! I’m sure we can work something out here. We are reasonable men. Let us negotiate.” Van Helsing urged in one breath. Frank reared his hand back, eclipsing the moon above their faces with massive, truncheon-like fingers.

“5% discount on my new house in Salisbury? I promise I’ll take the werewolf heads down before you move in! I-I can make you shareholders in my hunting business! Yes, yes, very valuable returns. Or-or-or weekly refunds! Straight to your account.”

No matter. The hand rocketed back down. Slamming square into Helsing’s stomach with a deafening thwack.

All that was left was a whiny scream echoing into the forest. Culled in one far-off, but definite, thud.

“Works every time.”

“Jeez, that guy is annoying.” Wayne huffed.

“Guess we’ve overstayed our welcome here.” Griffin added.

Dracula sighed. Struggling to keep his eyes open. An auburn glow on the horizon proved Griffin’s point. Already he could feel his cheeks harden, a white-hot itch near his toes.
“Alright, guess we have to lay low again. These humans, honestly. Maybe it’d be best to go to the back of the train and hope no one notices, then sneak to the airport as soon as we pull into Birmingham. From there, same old Gremlin Air flight. Only we’re not going to our different places this time.”

“Why?” Murray asked. “It’s all we got. You know how humans are.”

“I know, I know. But you’ll have to trust me on this one. What if us monsters had a place to be safe from these humans? A safe haven where we could get a break. Don’t you want to be rid of weirdos like Van Helsing for once? To know you’re secure somewhere?”

“Ever since King Ramses and his daughters got mummified.” Murray answered.

“I mean, since my creation and the Ever After High incident it’s not something I’d say no to.” Frank added.

“And I need a place for Martha. A place for our child.” Dracula whispered.


“Nothing, nothing. It doesn’t matter. Telephone Hexiciah, telephone Bloodgood and Grimm. Tell them there’s been a change of plan, and I don’t care what they have to say about it. We’re going back to Transylvania.”

Chapter One:
The Last Errand

Mavis couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder looking at that man.

That one. You see him. Over there, by the fountain. Folding into himself, not drawing too much attention but drawing all the more attention for it. In a modest suit with a nice-enough haircut, shaved on the sides to leave only a square of jet-black bolt upright. His gold tie as flashy as it got. Even that he tucked behind the lapels of his jacket, and the glossy soles of his shoes he kept inward and in line. Eyes never staying in the same place for long.

Some things, though, you couldn’t hide. They both knew that. Not for lack of others trying.

For her, it was more the things she didn’t need to hide. The fangs in her mouth, skin a shade whiter than snow. Her father’s handsome, yet stern face transformed into a girl who made men around her feel very lucky. Prized, even. You never said the name Mavis Dracula without a light smile, tingling pleasant pops in the stomach, a sense of pride at what she brought to the table.
She had no idea what his name was.

Still he curled into himself. An animal freshly open to public at the zoo, only just aware that this is their torment for as long as their heart curses them with beats. Though he tried to blend in, an unalienable fact from his very being made him stand out irreparably.

He was original. Eye-catching.

And his skin was black.

Recent years had yielded millions of humans to Mavis’ eyes. Mere agonising tasters dangled near her of the great world beyond, still beckoning. California seemed the only place explored and tired, barely even needing the whirlwind of a week she’d spent. But a black man-a man alone. Not a whiff of company circling round him. The music seemed to refract around them. It’d done that before. A story lay in those sunken eyes. And she became a child again, waiting eagerly for the fascinating man in her father’s hotel to tell his story of faraway adventures.

A world out there.

A world she never stopped hungering for.

“Hey.” His skin looked dank up close, lips quaking almost too fast to move. Eyes up to hers for a second before retreating down.


“What’s your name?”

His lips branched, tongue to the roof.

“K-Kwa-” He pushed his lips into a smaller circle. “R-Richard. Doctor Richard Syon.” A hand jerked up from the suit.

“Mavis Dracula. Pleased to meet you. You likin’ it here?”

He nodded sharply, attempting a humble smile. Turning the right of his head to Mavis. Only a white blur in its wake.

“I…suppose. Monsters certainly know how to throw lively parties. That much is clear.”

She giggled. “We kinda pride herself on it. It’s a hotel, we have a lotta practice.”

“I can tell.” Lips finally giving way. Curling fully up. Eyes slowly drying, darting less. “Sorry about your grandfather, though. I hear he led a brilliant life.”

“My dad tells me the same thing. It took a little while to get on board with the whole monster-human thing we have going on, but he came round in the end. I’m just glad he got to see it before now.”
Richard took a long breath, staring behind Mavis. Smiles, chatter and music filled the old hall until it was ready to burst. Tables had broken out by this point, gilded red carpet left in the centre to the door out. Out into that wide world Mavis remained captivated by. Himself a branch line of that. No inch of the place was unimpressive. A baby blue array of fanged heads in one corner. A sea vibrating with wild
yaps, rumbling through. Monsters and humans conversing, clinking glasses. She’d seen it several times, coming and going like waves rolling over sand and back out.

“Nothing of what they told me could’ve prepared me for this.” Richard murmured. “I-I’m…not ready.”

“What was that?”

“Hmm? Oh…” He grasped his tie, wholly focused on giving it a sharp tug before facing back to her. “I was-just saying that nothing on those hotel brochures could have prepared me for this. It’s one thing to see all this in a picture, but to have the thing live in the flesh is another entirely. You must be very proud of it all.”

“Yeah, but it’s mainly my dad’s creation. He made this hotel when I was just a baby in his arms. A hundred and thirty years ago. Almost to the date.”

“But…but what about you?” Richard blurted, hands feinting towards his mouth as if he had said a mild swear word. “Have you been able to express yourself?”

Words lined up, ready to charge. Halt. Mavis couldn’t quite push them over the final hurdle. Only stare back at Richard. He was the same height as her, but still seemed to cower. Without even asserting anything, accept a presumed higher power and reluctantly bow.

Behind the meek man walked an answer. An answer which could make her heart pound, her chest swell like a balloon. The seconds ticked by slower. She could savour every one. It felt like being a kid again. The wonder running underneath it all, giving everything new a second flavour of bliss. The cape on her back didn’t matter so much. Nobody really cared about who her father was for once. Everything could roll back and she only had to focus on one simple, gorgeous boy.

“Oh, hi Mavis.” he said. His voice, like his body, dangled over the floor. Ginger tendrils of hair twisting round his forehead. The sky itself its next target. “Who’s this smart funny lookin’ dude over here?”
“Johnny!” Mavis threw her arms round him before he could take another step. Burying her chin in his shoulder. Her thoughts fading to a pleasant hum. Bass and heartbeat became one soundtrack. She could close her eyes. And just breathe. Only movement was a tweak up of the head to plant her nightshade lips on his neck. Then back down. Breathe in…two, three, four. Out…two, three, four. Back in…four seconds…back out.

Not long before she felt that same small, chilly sensation on her own neck. The novelty of that never wore off. Not when he’d crashed back through a wall into her room. Not when they’d seen Haweewee itself from the hotel balcony (or was it Hawifi?). Not when they’d stood, almost a symbol of protest, together in silk in front of everyone, hands clutched in each other’s. Not even in California, when a new world had seemed so near and yet so far.

No chance of it breaking now.

“I’ve missed you, Johnny-stein.” Mavis murmured.

“Yeah, same here. Even more than I miss those dudes from Bath who were doing some kinda fancy float thing for some wacko party called-like, Thronecoming or something.”

She chuckled. “I’d hope so. I’m your wife, remember?”

“Oh yeah. Not my girlfriend, like I’d said when we went biking?”

“No, not just your girlfriend. Your wife.”

“Another day, another kickass party in old Drac’s place, huh?”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Especially not without you.”

Her lips touched his cheek this time, pressing down for a few seconds. “You seen Dennis much today?”

“Does it matter?”

“I mean, he is our kid. And only just a vampire.”

Mavis sighed. Okay, maybe keep your arms firm for a little longer. Her knee nudged his shorts pocket.

“That’s not a gun in your pocket, is it?”

“Mavis, when would I ever bring a gun to-”

“I know it’s not, Johnny. You’re just happy to see me.”

“Yeeeeah.” Johnny said, voice almost becoming a long breath.

“I’m happy to see you too. It’s been nearly two days. I was getting really worried. But trust me, the second this party ends I’ve got an appointment with you in the bed. Just the two of us, and when we get there we’re gonna f*ck. We’re gonna f*ck on, and do it till long after the sun’s risen. If anyone hears us that’s just gonna be collateral.”

“Erm, am I interrupting something?” Richard asked.

A wave of red ignited Mavis’ skin. “Oh, holy rabies. Sorry you had to hear that. Uhhh…”

His left hand shot up. Head pushed down by some invisible force. Right shoving something into his pocket. Rectangular. A phone? Almost too quick to glimpse. “It’s fine, it’s fine. I assume this is your husband?”

“Yep, this is Johnny. My lovely, human-y husband.”

A glint struck Richard’s eyes. His neck forced back up. Left side of his face shielded from notice. “Did you say he was a human?”

“Yeah, I’m one of those human dudes. Mavis over here is Dracula’s daughter.”

“Hold on a second. Dracula?!”

“Yeah, everyone freaks out at first. But it’s okay. I don’t bite."


“What’s so fascinating about it?” Mavis asked.

“Oh, nothing really. Just-the fact that a human and a monster are together. Unashamedly together. Wonder what the boss would say to that. I mean…I always knew-that humans and monsters…but seeing it-” He began to step back, gaze no longer settling on one area for more than a second. Eyes wide again with fear. Mouth fighting it in a crooked smile. Mavis could almost make out sweat beading on his face. “Fascinating…”

One look back to Johnny, and the party had swallowed the mysterious man from whence he came.

“Huh. Wonder what that guy was all about. He seemed kinda nervous.” Johnny observed.

“Yeah. Can’t say I’ve ever heard the name Richard Syon.” The cavity he’d populated mesmerised her. He’d tried so hard not to draw attention. Yet in doing so, he captivated her eyes and never let them go. Simply in his nature. A nature born of the outside world. Plunged into this writhing mass totally unprepared. Why was he here? She shook her head vigorously.

“Let’s go find Dennis. What’s the time?”

“Uh, like eight o clock.”

“Okay, okay. You find Dennis, I’ll go and greet everyone. Dad’s due on in like fifteen minutes!”

“Alright, Operation Go-Find-Our-Awesome-Little-Half-Monster-Half-Vampire-Son begins now!”

Once again, duty called. You learned to tune out the massive bloodening stew of noise. The lights overhead appearing a simple warm yellow, yet able to trick you with strikes of colour in seconds. But all the same, something about this time was not in its usual place. Different wouldn’t be describing it right. The cape she wore was the same as her 118th and one of Grandpa Vlad’s balls before that. Today it carried an extra burden for her to shoulder. She dreaded it would do for-well, eternity. From this point forth.

This day was going to come at some point. But so soon? For the first time in quite possibly her life, a part of her nagged to be a child again. Less freedom. Not more. Then there’d be more answers. Less questions.

But she could never hope to quench that hunger.

She’d spent all her adulthood hunting for more. While dad had proclaimed and ordered and organised for over a century, there had always been a rabid desire for her to know. To see it. To know more about it. To be more than just his precocious little child in the corner. If walls only one stone thick lay between her and a great sprawling world with so many wonderful mysteries, then surely it made sense to explore it. When she grew tall enough to peek above the window frame, she’d stared at the malachite forest beyond for hours on end. Let her thoughts run like those wolves under the canopy. Tonight could hold the key to that.

All the same…

She felt like her dad sometimes, ordering people about and expecting things from them by a certain point. Responsibility and duty peeking out from the walls she’d known all her life and grasping her in its shadowy hands. Made physical by only the idea, the knowledge, that it was always going to come out sooner or later. It grabbed her head. Twisted it round. She may not know everything about who came here tonight. But her duty made her know one thing. Introduced it more than she ever prepared to deal with. Both now and then.

By the time this night was over there’d be far more to deal with than her son.

As for Johnny, that was the first time they’d talked this week. She knew he’d come back. And she knew that with him would come people that made everyone smile. But still. He could have called at least once. That would’ve saved her at least a few hours ensnared by a phone screen. Famished for something to let her know. Tell her what went on. And, more obviously, helped her to prepare a great deal more burgers for Johnny’s twin cousins rather than improvise a shaky greeting at the door.

“Oh sh*t. Greetings.” Mavis whispered to herself. Her turn to wildly scan the room. “Hopefully I still have time.”

Who hadn’t she seen at the hotel before? First to catch her eye, as usual, was the lumbering tower of grey muscle hugging Zombie Mozart. He preferred to call himself Frank. A levitating pair of glasses backing away-no need to say hi to him. Griffin she knew ever since she could crawl, let alone turn into a bat. Wait-another pair of glasses beside Griffin? Mental note: say hi to Griffin and what must be his date after. And of course Murray was never far, lecturing Frankenstein’s wife who greeted him only with a martini clasped in her clawed hand.

Who was with them?

Four girls and a boy. It became the devil to keep track of who had and hadn’t stopped off at the best monster hotel in the world by this point. But Mavis could be pretty certain they were new. One had skin a shade of green lighter than Frank’s, stitches crisscrossing her arms, expression wide-eyed and eager. One with large ears like Wayne-but taller and far more caring to her appearance, decking it out in furs and purples with long brown hair elegantly curled. Maybe don’t say that last part to Wayne’s face. The third girl stood even more gilded than her werewolf counterpart, wrapped in sparkling elegance. And the final girl, back turned to Mavis. Shorter than the others; but making up for it in a plethora of pink. In her ponytails right down to her boots.

If they had come before, they wouldn’t be easy to forget.

Once again, duty calls.

“Hi Eunice,” Mavis smiled to Frank’s wife. “I hope everyone’s finding this fun so far. You need my help with anything?”

“Oh, Mavis!” Eunice arched her body, facing her in a calculated right twist. Forcing Murray to hang back. “Is Dennis okay?”

“Yeah, Johnny’s looking for him. He’s been doing okay. Finally got round to babyproofing that guillotine last week.”

“Mavy, darling, how is Dennis ever going to learn like that? Like I said, the danger makes it fun.”

“He’s only ten. Besides, you know what Johnny’s parents are like. They’d go ballistic if the next time they saw Dennis, he only had nine fingers.”

“Pfft. Suppose you’re right. Frank, put zombie Mozart down already!”

Frank groaned.


One limp wail and wet thud later, zombie Mozart lay at their feet.

“Is everything okay, Zombie Mozart?”

Another groan, sprawling into three seconds.

“Wait-Johnny’s gonna play in your place?”

Short groan.

“But I thought he was gonna greet his family. And he has to round up Dennis. Look, zombie Mozart, get zombie Bach and Beethoven to find Johnny with you and sort something out, okay?”


“You want me to help you up?”

Another short groan, Mozart’s head nodding as a sickening crack sounded from his neck.

“Okay. One, two, three!”

And off zombie Mozart limped.

“O-M-Ghoul. Pretty impressive understanding of zombie there.” the green girl said, small wisps of lightning snaking round her neck. A second look revealed bolts on either side. Like Frank.

“Thanks. You understand it too?”

The pink girl nodded. “Mm-hmm. Our friend Ghoulia is a zombie, it helps us all be on the same page.” she squeaked.

“At the expense of my Science Fair victory.” the gold girl huffed, accent flouting even more riches than her outfit.

“Your Science Fair victory?” The werewolf giggled, her Brooklyn accent melting over the words like toffee sauce on a pudding. “You mean, your sh*tty attempt to pass Ghoulia’s machine off as your own and getting dunked into Lagoona’s Hydration Station victory?” Her hands formed air quotes on the last word.

“It worked too, Clawdeen. Lagoona and Frankie there were just too slow to tell me that my throne was in fact above a giant water tank.”

“Yeah, right. What next, Cleo? Trolls flying? Valentine coming back to Monster High?”

The short girl yelped. Hand shoved out. Eyes beginning to gloss. “Puh-lease. He wouldn’t dare after my Sweet 160th. Everyone knows who he really is.”

“And,” Frankie piped up, “thanks to that box of your stuff which I gave to Clawd, his powers are gone. Chances are we’re not seeing Valentine again.”

“Good, because he means nothing but trouble. It’s all he’s ever meant. I see that now. It’s all he ever will mean.” she sobbed.

“Um, who’s Valentine?” Mavis asked. “And do you want me to look out for him?”

“Pfft, nobody.” Clawdeen replied. “Just someone Draculaura dated last scaremester. He had this whole thing where he would find a girl and fill their heart up with love. Do it through sh*t like give them flowers, take them out somewhere nice, act all smooth and perfect. Then, when they were fully involved he’d break it, only to hoard their love in a trophy case.”

Draculaura nodded. “Mm-hmm. He nearly did it on me. If it wasn’t for my ghouls stepping in with true love at the last second, I’d never have been able to love anyone ever again!”

“That sounds awful. You sure he won’t be here? I can check.”

“I think we’ll be okay.” Frankie affirmed, trying to hone her gaze on Mavis. “Don’t think he’d know we’re coming. Besides, when we came here this hotel wasn’t exactly in any neighbourhoods.”

“Yeah. When my dad built this place, there was a lotta fear about humans coming for him. Coming for me. I remember him talking to the builder, seeing how he could keep me safe from them.”

“There haven’t exactly been a lack of them here, though.” Cleo observed. “It’s like when a new Ghostier collection drops at the maul. Every normie wants a piece.”

“Word there, ghoul.” Clawdeen added. “No shade to Jackson, but on drop days the normie crowds are nearly as bad as the zombies. Sorry, Frankie.”

Frankie smiled innocently. “No problem. Jackson isn’t the biggest fan of Ghostier anyway.”

“How ‘bout you, hon?” Clawdeen turned to Mavis. “You collect Ghostier?”



“How can you not know what Ghostier is?” Cleo implored.

“Oh my ghoul! It’s only, like, the biggest and best die-signer brand in the world!” Draculaura shouted. “Do you have their pink fur dress? Ooh, I want one of those so bad! Maybe a second for Clawd!”
“Uh-uh. You may be dating my brother, but you are NOT putting him in a pink fur dress. At least, not without me trying it on alongside their Moon Dagger Heels first.”

“Hold on, what’s your name, Miss…?” Frankie asked.


“Okay, Mavis, trust me when I say that actually, the best Ghostier piece is their Scarisian Metal Midnight biker jacket!” The volts round her neck pulsed in a hiss, a yelp from Mavis as they narrowly leaped to her left.

“Ooh yeah, Frankie, you make a good point. That jacket suh-lays. C’mon, even Cleo can agree.”

“I must confess, while it’s a little on the cheap side those gold studs are to die for! It’s like the perfect fusion of mine and Deuce’s styles.”

“You should totally get one of those, Mavis.”

“I dunno if a biker jacket’s really my style. If I see one I’ll give it a try.”

“I mean, it’s definitely in your colour scheme! Just like their fur dress is in mine and Clawd’s. You’d look fang-tastic!”

“Believe me, ghoul, you should.”

“Okay, I’ll give it a go. I’ve never actually seen any of these Ghostier stores.”

“How? They’re everywhere. Scaris, Londoom, Fangcouver, Boo York, Singapore, Melboone, even Carthage! You’d have to have not been outside the hotel all your life if you’ve never seen a Ghostier store.” Frankie proclaimed.

“Well…that was kinda my childhood. My dad kept me in the hotel, away from the humans, until I turned 118. And even then, it wasn’t easy. Hold on a second, what’s the time?”

“Eight twenty.”

Mavis froze. Not a good start at all. Especially considering what would happen next.

“I have to go. Catch up with you guys later!”

Back to dodging and weaving crowds. Not good. Not good. A light, airy sound slicing through the air confirming the next stage of the charade. No point running. Mr Hydra lay a few metres from her.

Only one choice left.

She closed her eyes. Let the chilling void rush over. Feel that silky sensation cloak the hands. Make them heavier. Air rushing through them too. Time to take that leap. At least that never got old. Magic cooling her, letting her heart slow right down. A million rushing thoughts silenced. Instinct took it from here.

Open eyes. Main movement now in the arms. Up. Down. Up. Down. Time to get dad out there. Her eyes found the room, and the air obliged, whooshing underneath her arms as it got bigger and bigger. Quick check to the centre confirmed her fears. A platform constructed entirely of toads lay vacant. Monsters circling round. The fact it wasn’t only monsters never failed to draw a smile on her face. But she was running out of time.

Dive round the back. Behind Johnny’s family. A couple just under half her age. A girl who would be about her age if they were both humans. Two hulking boys, clones of each other, one either side. She couldn’t see their faces, but it looked like Johnny’s mom was tapping frantically at her phone, looking nowhere else.

Guess you couldn’t please everyone.

Into the door. Shut it quietly as you can. A bit of luck, and no one noticed.

Standing before her, in the dark little cubicle, was her father. The renowned Count Dracula.

But he looked like hell.

Cloak, dark suit, signature upturned cape-all in order. A mist tinted red dissipating in the tiny room, bloodening a hungry darkness. The problem lay in his face. Eyes bloodshot. Hunched over. Backed into a corner. Head buried. Shoulders shrouded in a thin, fine coating of dust.

“Dad? What’s wrong?”

He sighed. “Nothing, Mavy. It’s just…I don’t know how to say it.” He closed his eyes, chest swelled. “I’m fine. I’ve got a speech to deliver. It’s-what Grandpa Vlad would want me to do.”

“Are you sure you’re okay to do it?”

“Yes, my little poison berry. I’ll be fine.” He stared at the cobbles beneath, edges of his collar drooping. Mavis had seen her father in many emotions. Roaring in anger at an order mishandled, either by her or workers. Protective whenever she wandered near that window. More recently, happy since Johnny had entered (there had been a synapse of 118 years before she saw that).

“You know me. I’ll always be fine. You and Johnny help me with that now. As do all the other humans who come into this hotel with the monsters I…vowed to protect.”

Air stung the tips of her ears as it whooshed past. His chest swelling while his eyes shut. Two sharp taps below as their faces met. His defined by contours, sharp slopes. Only looking into his daughter’s eyes for a fraction of a second, before a pull above her magnetised him once more.

“What’re you looking at? Dad?”

Eyes began to gloss. When Mavis turned to face the same way, she knew. How could she not have seen the obvious?

Standing at the other end of the miniscule, cavernous room was a framed portrait. One that existed only in that medium for over a century. But every time held itself fresh, freshly tortuous. Smile demonic, the lips black as Mavis reflected. Those eyes staring down on them both. No need to say where it came from. When it was made. Mavis didn’t know the why, but unearthing that would only delay further.

“I can do this, honey bat.” Dracula uttered. Voice dank. “I need to do this. It’s-what she would want.”

“Dad, are you sure you can? It’s okay. I can go out there. Say there’s been some complications. Shuffle it around so-”

“No. I-owe it to the humans out there. To Johnny, to Dennis, to their family. I’ve been wrong for all this time about them.” The taps faster, fainter like breaths in a growing panic attack. “Don’t worry about me, Mavy. I’m okay. It’s…nothing you need to worry your pretty little head about.”

A definitive shut gave way to lurking darkness. Mavis instantly shrouded in it. Conversation died on the way out. Once more, she had no choice but to follow and watch her majestic father pull the strings from the sidelines.

Yet in her heart, wings of hope beat.

Maybe she wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Seeing the world took a backseat as the future lent in, tempting. Applause confronting her father as soon as he came into view. Humans and monsters ready to congratulate all he had done. His grand creation, a magnum opus, encasing them all in the wondrous form of a hotel. Very probably the best hotel in the country.

And to think it all started with her in his arms, as a baby. Staring at a burning building. Resolve that duly burnt inside him to protect. Protect his daughter.

“Good evening my friends. Welcome, one and all, to Hotel Transylvania! I hope you enjoy your stay here as much as I have enjoyed creating this hotel over the past one hundred and thirty years. Alas, we come here today to celebrate not continuing life, but a peaceful end. When I was a boy not much older than my wonderful daughter Mavis, my father Vlad would always lament of the humans that waited in the wings around our monster world, poised to strike at any moment. I believed it for the longest time, and he did too. I-I guess that I’m”-the gloss slithered onto his left cheek- “just happy…that we both came around and saw that monsters and humans don’t have to be divided. And I…don’t really care about anything else. He was my father, and you could say that it’s bittersweet, what I have to do today. A father, a grandfather, even a great-grandfather. A loving parent. A friend. An anchor during those-those tough times in the Vampire and Monster Courts. A deeply desired presence wherever he went. A sign that monsters and humans uniting…doesn’t have to be a new phenomenon. It can be cherished across all ages just like a zing. My father may not have immediately taken to everything I or my family decided to do, but had the capacity to change his mind and accept it when he saw the benefits. That’s more than I can say for a great deal of people I’ve seen in my day. He may have not seen my decision to open a hotel in the best light, but it’s partially because of him we are here today, after I decided to open it. Even if it was originally to keep the humans out, now it’s for all generations to bring them together more easily and without shame. The important thing is he found the best in it before he passed, peacefully…in his sleep. He could share the benefits with everyone in his final moments. That is something we should all cherish. Seeing the best in people, even if we don’t agree with what they have to say at first. Which is why I am actually here in front of you to declare two things.”

Mavis felt a sharp tug streak round her heart. She had to rein her vocal chords in from calling Johnny. How much had changed from when her dad hid him behind his cape. And she had felt that shot of pure bliss as a lilac wisp of pure magic circled both their eyes. Something that could never be mistaken. For it only happened once in your life.

“This…will be the last event in this hotel I manage. I’m retiring. I taught my dear daughter Mavis so much I never once stopped to think about what she could teach me. I will oversee my father Vlad’s funeral, and on her and Johnny’s anniversary fully step back from all organisation roles I have. Johnny being her wonderful human husband. A new generation. This hotel may have been against humans in the past, and perhaps the transition will come as a shock to some of you. But I hope and believe that as Mavis and Johnny come to be the new managers of this hotel, monsters and humans can thrive together under the new generation, providing a place for everyone to get away from it all be they human, monster or unicorn. So, my lovely honey bat and Johnny-stein, if you could come up here with me and show the world who you are. Show the world we’re not afraid to see the best in each other, and enter a new generation where society is not exclusively monsters, but together with humans!”

The tornado of applause that followed spurred Mavis right to the stage. As if she needed any more convincing. Her feet felt weightless against the cobbles, stage speeding into view. She would always come at some point, like an express train into its terminus. Eyes never left her father’s face, backing down from the stool with the broadest smile she’d seen since the wedding. No need to think why his eyes still glossed-it didn’t matter for now. And below her, a sea of those she loved all cheering them on. Loving her for who she was. Proclaiming it even when no one else would. Not being afraid of it. Breaking down the barrier of prejudice. Seeing the best in Johnny. Who would’ve thought monsters seeing the best in humans would follow? For once, she could let thoughts about Dennis and Johnny and looking after them both rest. Only one thought.

Getting onto that damn stage. Broad grin covering her face. How could it not?

Seconds before it vanished into her father’s chest with all her face and all her strength.

“Thank you dad.”

“It’s nothing Mavy,” he replied, voice turning brittle. “I’m so lucky to have you as my daughter.”

“No.” a relaxed voice sounded to their right. And her heart leapt further than she ever knew it could. No need to look. Her heart knew.

“I’m the one who’s lucky.” Johnny affirmed, squeezing them all into each other within seconds. The spark fizzing between all three had no exact name. No need for one. Not even in her wildest dreams as a girl and then a curious young vampire did she think she would fall in love with a human, let both sides bloom for everyone to love.


It swallowed everyone like an infection. Starting in their chests. Burning bright till their entire bodies tingled. Her breaths could slow right down, almost shaking as they dispersed to a clapping crowd. No worries about who would judge this time. No thoughts to a future riddled with terrifying unknowns. She’d been married. The humans had been let in. Her dad was okay with it. Life was never exactly known for going as you please. So it felt good to finally have the old bastard by the nape for once.

And to properly kiss Johnny for once.

Have those lips melting into each other. Tongues finding a junction in one mouth. Lapping and crossing over each other. He craved her body. She craved his. The bulge she felt touch her thigh was just the cherry on top. No matter if anyone else noticed. They could go on forever, finding new, succulent, unexplored parts of their mouths to lap over as long as they desired.

Best end with a light kiss. Savour some for later.

Amazing how time could halt a few seconds. Extrapolate to an eternity. Any slight blush after their kiss when they turned again to face the crowd? Any suffocating thoughts about what Grandpa Vlad might have said? Or what he had said before Dennis grew his fangs?

Did anyone care?

“As I said”, Dracula continued, hand faintly clasping a familiar microphone one last time, eyes smiling if a little watery, “this will be my last event I run at this hotel. My father’s death. However, I do not believe that it is fitting for me to go out sombre, or mournful of the past. Rather, I want to take this time to celebrate the life my father Vlad led, the service I have done to you all these past one hundred and thirty years. And the future that lies ahead with monsters and humans together, this hotel under my delightful Mavy Wavy and the best son-in-law I could ever ask for. So with that in mind, Gomez Mariachi Band, hit it!”

Chapter Three:
Histories and Futures

Sound re-exerted its rule over the room in an instant. Jovial notes from trumpets, telling a story Mavis could only guess at over the rumble of a million conversations. She could only hope they were positive conversations. About the future. Monsters welcoming humans to the hotel. Humans taken aback at the splendour of it all. And it was all hers from now on! Just like Johnny. Though they had played on several times, it never ceased to feel a little odd that a court this far north had a skeleton mariachi band.

And that Syon man again.

His shirt less of a white, and more of a growing grey. As soon as his gaze struck Mavis, he forced it sharply away as if it caused him pain. Lingering for longer on certain groups. Like one seven-strong. Five zombies, one human, one mummy. Not talking to anyone. Assessing every tiny gap between groups before, lest he have to excuse himself through. Same expression all the way through. Wide eyes. Head slightly down. Making himself smaller than natural. A jerk back every few seconds. That even more paralysed in fear if possible.

Did Mavis need to do something before? What was it? Urgency toying with her brain, void of purpose. Something Johnny needed to do as well. It didn’t matter. She guessed it was greet more guests. Shunt a few to the dancefloor.

One gracefully strutting up to her now.

Instantly Mavis had no choice but to focus on the majestic young lady. Her colossal white dress made sure of that. Hair teetering upwards in one giant white orb, as if her face were a tub to pile ice cream into. A hint of an indigo lock peeking out, so slim no one would care to look. Lips the crispest shade of red Mavis had ever seen.

All the same, it was somewhat like gazing into a mirror.

“Who’re you?”

The lady smiled, her dress ruffling quicker and closer to Mavis’ feet. “Ah, perfect! Just the person I’m looking for. Mavis, is it?” A frilly hand shot out, grasping hers to airily wring it. Fangs, too. Two bone knives on her upper jaw, poised to perfection below the crimson top lip.

“Yeah. Mavis. Dracula’s daughter.”

“Veronica Von Vamp, boovie star. Leading fanged face of the Vampire’s Heart Saga and Hauntlywood itself, or at least that’s how Scarentino likes to introduce me.”

“Hauntlywood? Is that near Hawifi-wait, no. Ha-wa-ii?”

“Sort of. It’s more mainland America, Hawaii is an island off the coast but it’s still seen as a state anyway.”

Sparkles burst through Mavis’ eyes. “What’s it like down there? It must be paradise.”

Veronica giggled, that too airy but calculated, as if all moves she made were done so to say everything right. To avoid any consequences. “I suppose it’s paradise if you know where to look. Behind the silver scream, things can be a little more-shall we say-hectic. You always have to think about the outside. For if you don’t…then things could happen far beyond your control. Let alone your liking.”

“But you still get to, like, see the world, right? Be out there. Be free.”

Veronica’s chest heaved. “A little. I suppose it all depends if I give them what they want.”

“What they want?”

“Well-that’s what acting is all about, isn’t it?” Any further down and Mavis wouldn’t have glimpsed the light ebbing from her eyes. You follow someone else’s story, forget your own for a little bit. Do it right and they hand you enough money until the next one. Pretend enough times and then the news starts to hound you. It’s seen as a blessing, a badge of success.”

“Well, what about what you want?”

“My…uncle said once that to get what you want, you had to be patient. Lie in wait for someone to let you slip, even for a second. Then strike before they have a chance to realise their mistake.” she spat. A new light seeping into her eyes.

“You said you led the ‘Vampire’s Heart’ saga?”

“Yes, it’s a political drama-well, political drama slash romcom- about life in the Vampire Court. Funny thing is, we’re actually putting that on the backburner for a little while.”

“Huh? How so?”

“Because Scarentino has his eyes on a new potential masterpiece, and made sure to rope me in from the first green light. He’s christened it-Hotel Transylvania.”

“They’re actually making a movie about the hotel?”

Another of her chuckles. “Haven’t you noticed the cameras pointing at you, my friend?”

Sure enough, over a few heads Mavis could see black boxes with malevolent nozzles rearing. Flashes swarming the stage, forming a line of sudden whites as Dracula made his own way. His own way back to where Mavis had picked him up? Deal with it later. And whatever she’d sent Johnny off to do. He could wait a little. Best to savour.

“Oh my ghoul, those are some big cameras.”

Veronica stroked Mavis’ arm, gently turning her back to them. One or two steps forward was enough to nudge her charge forth. “They’re all there for you, your human husband, your father, and me, it seems. And since we’re in the same spot, it seems we don’t have long before we, too, are surrounded. Especially considering that I’m playing you.”

“You’re playing me?”

“As in pretending to be you on screen and getting handed a wad of cash for it, yes.” Her stare revealed nothing. Only a slight glimpse of excitement at a prospective role. “The idea is I act out your life, your plea to your father to let a human into your gates for once. Persisting, despite his deaf ears and stony expression, the threat of fangs in a neck looming over your poor, innocent lover. To let down the drawbridge of prejudice that has been erect for hundreds of years. Let the magic of love flood into your hotel!” She coughed, even her hand wave calculated and light. “But of course, do let me know if I’m being too dramatic. I’m still very much a fledgling screamwriter, you see.”

“Uh, nope. That’s kinda what happened. Johnny stumbled in, we zinged, and Dad took a while to come around but, as you can see, it’s all worked out amazing.”

“I’m sorry, you said you ‘zinged’?”

“Yeah. We zinged. Supposed to happen when a monster meets the love of their life. You never know what it means until you meet them.”

“So what does it feel like?”

“Well, our zing was kinda awkward.” Mavis hastily covered her mouth, only a snort escaping in place of a giggle. “He’d gone on one of the cleaning witches’ broomsticks, and he bumped right into me! I only saw his eyes for a second before Dad got his cape right in front of him. Right in front of that magical view. But he’d covered too late. In that split second, our eyes met. Then, a feeling of all that was good and warm filled my entire body. Like-this is kinda a weird comparison but it’s what it felt like now I think back-Johnny’s mom’s cookies. Super warm, delicate, feel amazing, all you care about is the moment and how good it feels.”

“Right, right.”

“But yeah, even now I remember it perfectly. That feeling’s like no other, I still feel some of it inside me when I see him. Even more so now we’re married with a kid.”

A sickening jolt struck her square in the intestines. Oh sh*t. Urgency lingering in her stomach finally had a partner. And now she came to think of it, she hadn’t seen Dennis all evening. Not even on the stage, whole crowd at her command. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why hadn’t she said anything? All she could do was gaze back into it.

Veronica leading to the eye of the storm.

Before them lay a clean, glistening, glorious sheet of ice. Bordered by tables piled with food even more than most events Mavis had snuck through. So many smells jostling for a place in her mind at once, she had to fight not to let them crash over and wash her away. Pitchers of juice for the kids in a corner, if you were brave enough to circumnavigate the wolf pups. The eldest still bothered to slide chairs in, speaking in accents refined to perfection like a sharpened blade. Two near the centre caught her eye. One a portly man seemingly made of curls. In his slicked hair, gilded on his shirt, up from his mouth to form a moustache tuned more than his speech. Even his body seemed to be one large curl from a thin, pear-shaped head to a stomach creased somewhat against the table. By contrast, the woman next to him was almost a pencil, one draped in a long magenta overcoat. Where his cheeks billowed, hers retreated to bone. His grey hair rippled down to the neck, hers stayed in a curt bob no further than eyebrows. Glancing directly forward as they talked. The slightest hint of concern behind passive, watchful eyes.

“Is that a horse behind the woman?” Veronica asked.

Mavis relocked her gaze in shock. Sure enough, behind the woman, the sole occupant of a plate formerly home to some form of meat, was a magnificent azure horse. And if Mavis neglected its attention for one second, she found no head upon the woman’s neck.

Mavis shrugged. “You kinda learn to tune stuff like this out after a while.”

“Is that so? How fascinating.”

“You’re a vampire, just like me. And you’re in somewhere big, like Hauntlywood.” she countered, somewhat dreamily. “You probably see more monsters than me!”

“I’m not quite so sure about that. You must have massive gatherings like this every other week. While there are monsters from all over the world on Scarentino’s crew, the only events that could compare to this are the boovie premiere once we’re all wrapped up, and those can be as much as years apart.”

“Wait, what’s a prem-year?”

“Premiere.” Veronica pronounced. “When the film’s all done, its first screening is like a massive party in Hauntlywood strictly reserved for the film world elite. I’ve heard some people sell their houses for Vampire’s Heart premieres, one news article said it was just to see me in person. Some monsters came up to me once and said they put their children into care a year before the premiere, just to see me. And…I’m supposed to be grateful for it, a part of me is.” Her voice crushed itself to a whisper, barely glancing up at Mavis’ round, innocent face. “But another part feels that I shouldn’t be thinking that at all. That something’s wrong. Probably just nerves.” she added. Louder, with a slight chuckle.

Two pairs of glasses hovered above the far side-no need to ask who those were. Johnny’s parents slowly shimmying to the far right. A ginger zombie woman smirking, on her right a bulk of fur forcing monsters and humans nearby into an awkward shuffle past. Perhaps her eyes were always meant to drift to the centre, where it all mattered. Not to the monsters alone. The humans didn’t own her attention either. Nevertheless, as her eyes gravitated there everything slowed to merely a memory of a whisper, one uttered long ago fading into nothing. The music no more than a light beat restricted to her chest. The lights just a backdrop. The people just extras. And her father.

Her father.

Square in the gaze of that man and woman. No partner to dance. Head staring into the ice. One mass of great, silky black curved like a scythe’s blade, into a flat chest. No longer pointing at either side. But at the centre. Pointing at an imitation of himself below. Imitation pointing at him. Neither too proud. She could almost see those glossy eyes, flitting to register every crack or foot obscuring. Hands mimed only the slightest out, one above the other as if to grab something. Someone. Twirl them around the floor. Hands closer together than Johnny’s dad around his wife’s waist. His foot shuffling forward to match theirs. Those steps grabbing at a certain daintiness from an age long departed. A life long departed. Far slower than when he’d danced with Vlad at Dennis’ party, an untouchable eternity away. When all her love had to be shackled to the sharpest caution.

“And that’s your father, the great Count Dracula I presume.” Veronica said.

Mavis’ head snapped back. “Yeah. That’s…Dad.”

“Have to say, when I saw him last he looked a lot happier. And he always had at least two girls with him, one of them being that Martha. I suppose running the hotel hasn’t been kind to him.” Veronica whispered.


Veronica’s face “Oh-nothing. Just thinking that he must’ve done an awful lot to raise you and the hotel to such a high standard.”


Both glanced behind, the loom of cameras snaking round to their prey.

Veronica sighed, sidling away from the table. “I’ll keep them off your back for a little while. Thank you for the chat and the information. I’ll be sure to note it in my acting.”

“No problem, no problem.”

Back to business. Who else was on that ice? Johnny’s parents gently shimmying near the buffet. While Linda shunting her husband away from a gargoyle couple and painting of a zombie poet was carefully calculated, Mavis just snatched it in her eye. That werewolf girl-Clawdeen, was it? Clawdeen huddled with friends around the vegetarian section. A blur of sand green as Frank’s hulking form hunched over the biscuits, shadow casting their imminent doom. No amount of Eunice’s scolding could save them, Mavis realised with a giggle. Two pairs of glasses nearby paralysed in horror, one encrusted in a lighter coloured frame intimately close to the brown-rimmed pair. If she looked closely, one or two tables still dared show their faces, dared to show slight buckling under their payload. And the whole thing was well-lit for once. A clear white light tied all together even further. No avoiding the light monsters and humans could bring to each other for either. No flashing lights ushered in by Johnny yet, wherever he was. Only the screech of Zombie Mozart’s ancient violin, and a mariachi band she’d heard hundreds of times, rasping in her ears to tease each drum until it burst in one dying bid for mercy. Each chord stretched longer than the last, mourning for its prolonged existence. Growing in step to her father’s defeated waltz, hands still outstretched for an invisible partner. But starting to tremor.
A burst of ginger hair out the corner of her eye. A bright feeling exploding in her chest as its predecessor slunk to the ground in shame. Almost on instinct by now. The bed of orange almost fluorescent, rapidly closing in as a darker monolith followed suit. Seconds later, close enough to be two figures she knew. One she’d been searching frantically for the entire evening. The other seemed to pop up into her life tonight as he pleased, worry lines never failing to taint his forehead. That same white blur flashing before her hazy gaze, head suddenly jerking into action. Another glimmer of white below his nose, jutting forward from heavy rises and falls in his chest. Four long, brown points draped over draped over her son’s shoulder. Not imposing themselves on, but that threat definitely crossed Mavis’ mind at first.

“You were looking for your child?” Syon asked calmly.

Mavis could only nod.

“Found him near some werewolf pups just after your father’s speech. Aside from a few scratches, and a lick near his cheek, he’s completely fine.”

Dennis waved up at Mavis. He didn’t have to stare so far up anymore, she realised with a jolt. Obviously, you grew every day, but not enough to notice. It snuck up on you, pounced when you had your guard down and couldn’t hope to notice. His cheeks had retreated into bone like his father more. Compelled by the same hair, same eyes, same clothes. But he had his mother’s fangs. Nobody could take that from them. Her father had tried. Her own husband and his family had tried to swipe him under her nose just before they emerged. Thank f*ck that was all over. And though it’d been this way for five years since, a sigh of relief still shot from her mouth as she realised he’d be safe. That everyone was united in his future. Everyone had a say. Her included.

“Hi, mom.” he giggled, hands locked behind his swaying torso.

The floor reared up at Mavis as his head drew level. Her back hurt far less than the last party they were reunited at. “Hi sweetie. If you’re gonna play with Winnie and her siblings tell me and Dad before you do so, okay?”

“I told Dad that’s where I’d be before Papa Drac’s party started.”

One track of thought burst into many before Mavis had a chance to rein control in. One sentence slightly off a conversation, or hours staining her forehead with sweat and numbing her body with worry? Quite how that was a choice was beyond her. Unless he’d forgotten. But even then… just last night in bed he’d recalled journeys around the world before he settled down. And Dennis’ first tooth being smashed from his mouth. How they’d scooped him up in their arms and protected him together-one motherly memory shared before a kiss and round two. Weird.

She pressed into his hand. That too shockingly coarser than she remembered. “Okay, well just stay close to me for now, okay? Very busy out here.”

“I talked to Gramma Linda and Grandpa Mike earlier. They said they were happy to be here, but weren’t very keen to talk to me. Or indeed anyone. All they wanted to do was dance, but even when I let them do that they didn’t seem happy at all. I wonder why that is.”

She furrowed her brow. At least he hadn’t grown so old she could say why safely. Not yet. Head turned to face the in-laws, not daring to look beyond each other’s austere faces. Even their steps-rigid, rehearsed. Linda led. Mike followed. Neither daring to break step.

She sighed. “Well-they’ve flown all the way from California. They must be tired. And there’s probably a lot on their mind. Dad owns a hotel miles away from home now, remember? And you’re gonna be growing up there, just like me. Just…” she turned back to them. Trying not to read too much into their stony gazes to each other regardless of temptation. “Just give them some space to figure it all out, okay?”

“Okay. Why don’t we spend some time with Richard? We talked a little bit as he found me, and he has a very interesting life. He told me all about his life at university in Singapore.”

Richard chuckled, shrinking into himself. “Truth be told, he kept firing questions and I had little choice but to keep answering.” He stared at the ceiling, for a moment letting his arms and left ear slip. A small, white earphone lodged inside. “But yes, Singapore is a wonderful place. A place of monsters and humans coming together, of progress, of…diversity, I guess. Equality. Inclusion.”

Mavis’ face lit up. “Where is Singapore? Is it near Hawif-Hawe-ahem-is it near Hawaii?”

“No, not quite. It’s more in the east, near Japan and China. The land of technology.”

“Are you guys big on tech too?”

Richard sucked his teeth, eyes flitting around the room. Onto everywhere but Mavis. “I guess you could say that.” he muttered under his breath. Only locking onto a popular target. At the centre of the room. One calculated, slow step striding after the other towards it. Mavis could only follow. Instinct compelling her to hold Dennis’ hand tighter, to the point she could feel its heat and swelling veins ignite her own.

“Is your father okay over there?” he asked calmly to Mavis.

No answer. For what answer could she give to this stranger? What answer could her father give? His face hung parallel to the ice now, not blinking. She could’ve sworn she saw one tear roll down his streamlined face and drop. Drop below where it died, spread out into nothing, and nobody cared. Everyone just moved on after less than a second. Almost too quick to notice.


Inch by inch the great man’s face rose. Were vampires even supposed to have wrinkles at his age, sneaking into his cheeks to poison them? His hand sluggish to move away from the invisible entity he’d led across the ice. Eyes vacant, revealing only an imitation of how good he used to look in the reflection. Body sloped like a vulture, but more waiting to be scavenged. Hunting days long since dead.
“W-what’s going on? You were so happy when you did your speech earlier.”

“Is there anything you need help with, Papa Drac?” Dennis asked, for a moment sounding the innocent, five-year-old self Mavis had, perhaps foolishly, grown accustomed to.

Dracula shot his head back and forth. Life bludgeoned back into his eyes, if but for a second. “I don’t know, Denisovich. I don’t know. Not really…anything you can help with.” he confessed, gaze finally relenting from them. “Heh, maybe I’m just tired.”

“Tired? Correct me if I’m wrong, but my boss told me that vampires are meant to be awake from dusk till dawn.” Richard questioned.

“Not necessarily in that sense. More tired-in other ways. It’s…complicated. I won’t bore you with the details.”

“What do you mean bore us with the details? Dad, this is your night. We’re throwing this party to celebrate you. Us. The least you deserve is to enjoy the evening, so if something’s stopping that then let’s try and solve it together.” Mavis pleaded.

He smiled, ambling to embrace his daughter once more. “My little Mavy Wavy, what would I do without you? I just miss your mother. You remind me so much of her-how she would grasp me by the shoulders, stare into my eyes and tell me not to worry about what came tomorrow.” A slight twinge of pain in her wrist as he grasped it. Eyes nearly liquid as he gazed up. Every movement slower and meeker than memory of him served. Surely this couldn’t be natural. They were, at the end of the day, monsters. Nothing could be natural. Part of her put an invisible hand on her shoulder, whispering darkly into her ear “You were stupid for not expecting it.”

“I love you too, Dad.” she confessed, only her face small enough to dig into his shoulders now. Her turn to crane down so the two could lock.

“Who’s your favourite superhero?” she could hear a muffled Dennis inquire. Some things never change. Good. Most things don’t have to. Only too late did she realise that. Only too late would she realise that.

“Batman.” Richard responded, almost cutting Dennis’ question off. “My nephew’s asked me that question a hundred times by now. Though sometimes I’ll say Spiderman or Iron Man to keep it fresh.”

“Iron Man’s pretty cool. I like the way his suit folds around him. But Batman’s better because he has the Batmobile.”

“Yeah. You need a car to get to the crimes quick, don’t you? Or if you’re in a chase, it can help you overpower the bad guys who’re getting away.”

“I’m surprised Iron Man didn’t think about that. He’s supposed to be a big genius. But that’s why Batman’s better. Both fight for justice, but with Batman he thinks ahead to save the day.”

“We could all learn something from Batman sometimes, couldn’t we?”

“If we did learn something from Batman, then Daddy wouldn’t need to have told me as Cousin Cody and Cousin Brody arrived to fetch eight burgers from the kitchen.”

Richard chuckled. “You ever heard of War Machine?”

Dennis shook his head.

“He’s basically Iron Man, but black and with more guns. Can’t believe I forgot him just there. You’d like Black Panther as well, he’s like Batman but with claws on his hands and his suit can, like, absorb the damage it takes before releasing it in a sonic burst. Wish I had the tech for my suit to do that.”

“All it does now is make you look smart.” Dennis replied curtly. “You really like black superheroes.”

Richard gazed at the ceiling. “I suppose it’s because I find something in them that resonates with me. Up till I was old enough to watch Marvel the heroes I saw were mostly white. I wondered why that, as a black kid, we don’t get the same level of heroes we can relate to as much.”

“But you said you still liked Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man. Those heroes don’t look like you.”

“Yeah, well it’s not that I don’t still like those heroes, or feel like they helped raise me a little. It’s just…as a black kid I didn’t really feel like a lot of people represented my problems or my experiences. Sure, Spider-Man didn’t grow up super rich but that’s more the exception than the rule. No superheroes most kids like me saw had parents who were stopped for speeding when they were going the limit, or had some store managers give us dirty looks. They listened to jazz over reggae, always had the big American blockbusters on DVD instead of films just as good, but made in India. Black Panther and War Machine helped to balance the scales a little bit. I dunno, guess it felt nice seeing Wakanda as a rich nation where people who looked like me ran things-in most of the others they were kinda in the background, if there at all.”

Finally the deep, comforting hum inside both Mavis’ and her father’s chests had ceased. No need to couple anymore. The message had been sent. The tears staining his eyes less out of place now. Not least as Mavis started to know what enforced them there.

“One thing’s for sure.” Dracula concluded. “I’ll be thankful for a break after tonight. Maybe I’m getting a little old to be doing the whole shouting at crowds and management deal.”

Forcing Mavis’ heart to skip a beat, Richard’s body sprung to life, snaking towards him. “You think a vacation might help?”

Mavis’ turn to light her body up. “Ooh! That’d mean I get to see the world, Dad.” she goaded, whirling round so fast all Richard could do was raise his hands in a silent beg for mercy. “Where is it going? Where is it going? Where is it going?”

“It would be a cruise. I won’t try to be an expert, but from what I know they usually go through at least one continent. You’d always start in the Bermuda Triangle, then…maybe make your way up to Mexico and the US. Cross over to the UK, then Europe through the Alps, then usually through Asia to or from Japan, and where you wrap it up is the captain’s decision. Guess it depends on weather, fuel in the ship, et cetera.”

She couldn’t hope to hold back her lips curling upward and upward the more he spoke. Perfect. No hope of knowing who this guy was. Or why he was here. Or why he’d been so worried! All he came for, it seems, was to offer a vacation well beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

At least he hoped it were that simple.

Dracula sighed wistfully. “I haven’t properly left the country since I was Mavis’ age. There was, of course, my attempt to bring Denisovich here’s vampire side out-” he bent down beaming to waggle his grandson’s cheek, before his eyes almost out of habit reverted back to the daughter-“but that was more out of impulse. When I still thought it had to be one or the other. This hotel has been my charge for at least a…a century now.” Hands rocketed behind his thin head. Elderly smile struck out by plain astonishment. His turn to gaze at the ceiling. But he could never hope to be free of scanning the sprawling duty which writhed before at least one Dracula for the past century. Humans added to the charge properly now. Duty revamped for the 21st century. Eyes flitting between dancers, customers. Any faces he didn’t know. Or worse, faces he knew.

One final, heavy sigh. Dragging his head down. Hauling eyelids to shut. “I need a vacation. We’ll take it.”

He turned to a curtly smiling Richard, ruffled once again by Mavis near him rocketing a few centimetres into the air with synchronised whoops. “Excellent! I imagine the cruise will depart in roughly a week. Just be ready for the Gremlin Air service to the Bermuda Triangle, I suppose.” And with that, Richard Syon dissipated into the unknowable crowd as if he was nothing more than an apparition. A harbinger of what may come, from another world. A world locked to the hotel’s family, imprisoned by design. Delightfully mysterious to Mavis. Giving them all exactly what they wanted almost without having to ask it. His own biggest enemies, the one who doubted him most, seemed to breed from himself. Mavis would find that was far from unique to him. Indeed, her father began to help find it already tonight.
For now though? Best to let her body take autopilot. No doubt another human lay in wait for her upstairs. No doubt the sky’s glaring, golden beam of death lay in wait just a few hours ahead. Among other things, good and bad, all lurking round various corners she would stride and stumble into before her supposedly immortal tale closed on the final page. Best to deal with the obvious, the here and now. And right now, she craved the father of the tiny ten-year-old in front of her more than anyone here could crave any food. If she was gonna see the world, she preferred to see some new positions first. Dennis could stay with Dad for the rest of this evening. Maybe at the start, what she’d really wanted wasn’t so much to make sure he was okay.
More to see her irresistible husband in the flesh one more time before they became owners of the greatest hotel in the world.

Richard had to move quickly.

Any minute now that music would die down. Then people would mill out, drinks and food in hand, to who knows where. He could be left alone. Nobody to ease his racing mind. Or worse-he could be found. The tech could be found. A salty taste dripped onto his tongue more and more with each passing second. Maybe it was the thrill. He had it. He finally had it. The first nugget that could lead to all sorts of great things. This could be his passport to the future. A coupling between tech and stopping those big issues plaguing people like him, here at long last. No more looking at the latest news of housing or scandals and knowing he was next on the menu. No more worries. No more racism. All he had to do was play his role.
If only that annoying pang in his heart would leave him alone. Instead of sinking his body down. Making every step a challenge. Every thought a warzone, roaring louder than a motorbike.
Come on, focus! Set up the recorder. Switch to the instructed channel. You’re the tech guy. This should be easy. Faster, faster! Never let another thought in. Who knows where his mind would land if he did. But he did love that family. So welcoming, so thankful. And they’d been through hell for literal centuries. Was this really a way to thank them? Of course not. What was he doing? Arm shot out, grasping the metal, its icy exoskeleton piercing his palm. Let them live their lives, for god’s sake. He’d done enough to monsters already. The screams still rang in his ears. His eyes still threatened to gloss with toils from months past. The different kinds of horrors he’d birthed on Halloween. Calling would only birth more. More death, right off the back of a funeral. On monsters who had, at long last, made something for themselves. Something wonderful. On the father who’d moved past grief to be an icon. On Mavis, who’d finally found love to win. On her innocent little kid, able to grow up in a world where identity isn’t a brutal battle. On all, who could accept each other and themselves in this world. No other place he knew allowed that to their own people. Much less any foreigners. Here, there was no great leviathan to appease. Everyone could be on the same footing. Certainly didn’t see that anywhere else. Think of little Alex, his sister’s son, with his Ninjago sets. Would he kick over one of those? Would he wrench one of the great dragons, the fruit of hours’ labour, from his shelf and plummet it into doom? Hell no. And what if the rumours were true, and Milton Grimm was here? Then he’d really be in deep sh*t.

But he’d be in deeper sh*t if he didn’t.

He had people to please. A job to do. A role to play. A quota to fill. Call it what you will.

Button sank in before a thought could stab his brain.

Only when that same, spine-chilling accent drilled into his ears did he register what he’d done.

“Yes?” No need to ask who. Only one person could make a Yorkshire accent so harsh. Soft, friendly contours in a voice rattling and cutting like a scythe through an empty dungeon. A few steps sounding behind her confirmed the worst. Maybe some part of him had hoped for a misdial, cloaked in this restless anxiety lingering in his mind even more than usual. No such luck. Too skilful in that department. And others…those screams again…

More horror when faces of Mavis or Johnny inevitably wafted in.

“You have something for me, Syon?” the voice asked imperiously.

“Y-yes, Professor. It is-it is-as you suspected. Count Dracula is very much alive, and running-”

“And running a hotel in Transylvania. He got busy as well.” she spat. “Tell me something new, boy. Something interesting.”

“Recently, this hotel has…become very acc-c-customed to humans. They are welcomed into the hotel as guests, sometimes of honour. One is…married to Dracula’s daughter.” His voice trailed into nothing as he spoke, head parallel to the cobbles at his feet. Force of habit? Or something else? Either way, he couldn’t stop it.

The voice tutted, each tsk raking into his soul like a hunter’s knife. “It appears they’ve hoodwinked everyone. Have you got Dracula on the cruise?”

Richard sighed. No doubt the source of those footsteps on the other end was doing the same. Both young. Both hopeful. Both silenced.


“Y-yes. I have them on the cruise. We can expect Count Dracula, his daughter, her husband, the husband’s family, their son, a headmistress from a school called something like Monster High, four students from that school, and Mr Grimm from Ever After High.” A sudden thought pushed his chin up, light welling in his chest. “Please, let me accommodate Mr Grimm. I’m sure he will be most grateful.” he begged in one breath.

“We shall see what the accommodation is like soon enough, Richard.” the voice thundered. “However, you have performed admirably. Ericka, begin preparing the Legacy and set an eventual course for Carthage. Richard, stay at the hotel a while. I expect you back with our…guests at the Bermuda Triangle, ready to set sail.”

A tear cascaded down his cheek, just as the sweat began to ebb.

“W-what have I done?” he muttered, unable to look beyond the cobbles. Somewhere had to bear the guilt. Somewhere out of sight.

“You have done well, Richard. Very well. Something most adults twice, triple times your age, some of whom you’ve seemed mingle with those vermin earlier, would never have the spine to do. You’ve made a change. You can mean something. You’ve started a change that can improve our society today, and don’t you dare forget it.”

“Y-yes, Professor O’ Donnell.” he uttered in one rasped breath.

“You make yourself useful often.” Professor O’ Donnell confirmed, only the slightest tinge of admiration now sneaking in. “I imagine your ancestors did, too.” she muttered.

Richard’s head jerked up. His turn to have the commanding voice. “What was that?”

“Nothing. You just focus on getting those monsters here. Together, with you and Ericka, we can finally take what’s ours. The hunt is on. You’ve done well for the Guild today, Richard. Very well indeed.”
Three low tones signalled his work was done. All he had to do now was wait. Fit in. Play his role.

All he could do?

Face the cobbled wall, and bawl his eyes out. Tears staining the cobbles like drops of prematurely shed blood.

Praying nobody, monster or human, heard.

Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Hidden Monsters


Finally adding a new chapter to this thing. The word target is 6 figures now, currently on 37k. Also adding a lot about feminism and capitalism so I can improve my skill even more. PLEASE give kudos so I can stay motivated I'm literally f*cking begging by this point lol. Here, after facing up to Grandpa Vlad's death and their own age the crew finally go onboard the Legacy, but little do they know the forces at play beneath them. Meanwhile, all Syon can do is see these forces and shake his head for now, but a new arrival in the biker psychologist Nina Wnukowicz does provide some comfort-maybe even love.

Nevertheless, Mavis sees something genuinely horrifying inside her father on the way there. Amongst those horrid memories of the past, he's tried to hide that chicken all he can. Though you know what they say about chickens coming home to roost...

I'm on Snapchat now! Add me @itsurboikieran. Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Four:
Hidden Monsters

The next morning, it took a little longer for Mavis to peel herself from bed, from her lover. Still aching somewhat from last night’s privacy. Staring vacantly at rows upon rows of the same black dress and striped tights-but not quite ready to pluck a random one quite yet. Johnny ready for their next hug or kiss to her right-but not quite ready to drown herself in whatever level of pleasures she desired yet. Her mind had long since sprinted away before she could hope to leash it back in. One hand sluggishly rising to brush jet black strings of hair from light azure eyes. Only now did the thoughts of last night fully rumble into her mind, freezing the body. Rapid, wild thoughts wasting no time in colonising all her energy. Any summoned to defend her for challenges hurled by a relentless day spawned by a secretly uncaring world sapped to the relentless brain. Thinking with almost no idea she was thinking.

About Grandpa Vlad.

Only the morning after did it fully dawn on her. She would never see him again. No more chances to study the contours and slopes of his face like a walker studying their breathtaking toil ahead. None to hold his hand and squeeze it until the juices of memory nearly flowed into hers and renewed both their lives even though their hearts never once beat. No more chances for him to newly share his great-grandson’s human nature. That had only just begun as well. No more visits to a far-off cave in the reaches of Romania time had forsaken probably before his birth. Any talk of him would join the skip of Dad’s speeches. Speeches of how great, yet troubled, the world used to be and how things have changed far beyond he could ever hope to anticipate or recognise. Yeah, stuff like that.

Not a single chance to speak to her grandfather ever again.

Back when walking was the new thing to be fascinated by in life, he’d come to visit her far more often-albeit always shrouded in a thick cloak right through to where the cold air couldn’t snap at his heels like a pack of rabid dogs anymore. Always turning over his shoulder once or twice even after walking through the door. The grand entrance only came, ironically, when she supposed he could be sure no humans’ attention would magnetise. And her hands would be helpless but to magnetise to each other quickly, unable to restrain the laughs. A sizeable twang of disappointment rippled through the heart every time he echoed his son. Humans were not to be trusted. Not to be seen. Barely even to be thought of. The outside world? A dangerous place best left alone. If you had to discuss it, do so at arm’s length inside these stone walls which permitted little but the winter’s punishing blasts beyond its ancient walls. You could look outside. Perhaps even stare if you didn’t hear Dad’s business shoes cleanly striking the cobbles nearby. Let your mind wander but don’t you dare let that out of control. Know the humans were out there. Know they were a danger.

Well, perhaps that was the only thing Grandpa Vlad got wrong.

But still. No chance, ever again, to laugh when he came round. Or to ask wondrously about the old days, when humans stormed right to a monster’s front door in dastardly hopes of looting. About great battles and deaths in places like Falkirk. No chance to ask more about The Falkirk Fields. That, at least, forced her to pause. Surrounding time to stop rushing on remorselessly for a moment. Everything had to pause for Grandpa Vlad. Seconds given in one delayed gasp as the forces of nature seemingly were left with no choice but to relent to her silent mourning. Breaths slower, but tenser. Buds of a cold sweat slithered down her pale back. The same sentence blaring in her mind again and again. Though never once did it speak above a conversational voice.

Grandpa Vlad was dead.

This freezing silence at once melted by a long yawn. Even its tones prompting a great relaxation to cascade through Mavis. Toppling her to the mattress. Eyes blinking in rapid fire after an icy film had formed in such absence. The bedroom once again pleasantly warm, yet focused. Focused on a human. A decade ago, none had come within a mile of the castle without blood flying from their chest onto the supernatural like confetti. Dracula had preferred to keep it that way.

Now one lay in his daughter’s bed, having penetrated not just the castle walls but her internal ones numerous times. Greeted like a champion every time he did so. Indeed, he had conquered with no battle at all.

“Whatcha thinking about, Mavy?” he murmured. At once everything seemed to warm up again. Time moving from cold to hot several thousand times faster than usual. She could hear a light pop in her neck. Her hair would take a second longer to unveil her lover. Like an orange starfish under spread-eagled sheets, the tang of strewn perfume and a whiff of sex past jerking the memories of last night back in so vividly she had to question if they’d ever left. Curtain still shuddering in a light morning breeze. Threatening to show the whole world beyond of their deeds. No matter.

“Nothing, nothing. Just about Grandpa Vlad.” The words still had to be shunted out. His spark for her chest rising for a little longer. Words for it some way behind still. Certainly delayed by a buzz for what he had to say only awakened by him. Some ginger strands lay like tentacles at rest on the pillow. Far from fluffed an inch or two up. Now merely a flat level just above the other flat level. More than one head dent there as evidence.

“Ya know, as much as he was a scary dude, I am gonna miss your granddad a little. Dennis will, I know that much.”

Mavis giggled. No idea why. Johnny did that to her a lot. “All he ever did to you was stare you down at Dennis’ birthday party.”

“Well, he got used to you that same night. And he did help fight off those bat creature thingies.”

“Yeah. That’s why. Honestly, your old man’s old man killed it on the dancefloor every time I saw him. We were gonna have this thing going. I told him about it a few years ago, at Dennis 10th birthday party. DJ Jazzy Johnny with him as a backup dancer. It was gonna be insane. But yeah, all of a sudden he, like, died on me.”

“What’re you gonna do now then?”

Johnny sat up. Hand rifling through his hair. Eyebrows furrowed as best they could. She could almost imagine a neat little suit, still pungent of a dry cleaners somewhere out in the endless sprawling world, below him as he pitched his brave idea to the world. To benefit the world. Her first.

“Well, I was thinkin’ last night. You see, like, the area outside us? It’s full of forests and mountains and stuff. And a lotta the humans here have come from California like me.”

She flicked her hair back, leaning closer. “So what’s the big plan?”

“I’m not really sure we gotta plan anything. We got this far just fine, didn’t we? I don’t care, all I want is for you to be happy with it. I mean, where I’m from this whole biking thing is pretty big. Maybe we could roll with that. We could see how that rolls, and we can roll with it. Whatever the case, I’ll be takin’ you round the world before we know it. Just you and me, wherever we wanna go.” Eyelids hauled back down as if he had never moved an inch.

“May that day come quick.” she beamed. A bare pale forehead before her must blossom with one black lip mark, bang above the nose. Maybe it’d smudged from last night. They had been going at it pretty hard.

“What d’you think we should add?” he heaved, eyes once again locked to each other.

“Well obviously,” Mavis said, rising with a hand pressing her own pillow into insignificance, “there’s humans in this hotel. We gotta patch some stuff up. Like the bottomless pit, and the torture rack in the gym.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders and slunk back into a deep white sea. Perhaps to be unearthed by some archaeologists millennia into the future after years of excavation. The next words wouldn’t go from her mouth willingly. Rather force her head back. Body upright, staring at that same wall. Its stones which never quite matched, a hundred contrasting years rammed into one corner with the new wardrobe. The passage of life itself hiding in plain life as she’d neglected to slam its doors shut last night. On the apparently same black dress with striped red stockings. Bursts of yellows and greens stuffed into the shelf below. All visible were Johnny’s trainers, bearing a history of their own in the creases and pockmarks they wore like a grandmother wore wrinkles. Neatness swept to the side so they could get back to the kissing and the staring and the moment when they’d still both be young.

All the same, she couldn’t put her hand on her heart and say she’d be okay to see things like the torture rack and the pit go. Even for the humans. And that was without the fact they were once meant to keep such foul creatures far, far away from the treasured Draculas. Maybe not yet. Stick to Johnny’s plan. For once, a distasteful pang didn’t come when a man who seemed to own her sidelined her idea. Not yet. She almost wished it could stay just her and this human. Kissing and f*cking in an abstract rhythm. Moods on top of the whole world. Forever and evermore. She may be a hundred and twenty five, but even now the eternal temporariness of life eluded her knowledge. And it would for just a little while longer.

Meanwhile, for one of her friends below it seemed the same way of life, yapping and snarling in a sea far too much for his heels to be visible, would drag on forever or until his own anthropomorphic body slithered into its own earthy hole-if only to escape the monotonous horror. The effects of which already emblazoned in red on his irises. And that same weary frown. Swamped in challenges but far beyond taking arms against them. Today he wouldn’t slide that easily. Frank’s carelessness last night had made sure of that. And once again, what was his role but to pick up the pieces? Simply how it was by this point. How it always would be. Humans here would only mean more places for his pups to get lost. More for them to hurt. More for him to clean.

Today’s task? Frank’s arm had gone missing. Again. You didn’t have to stare this werewolf very closely in the face to see his eyes streaked with pink gashes. Lids flitting in a battle to keep open. High only in wishing he was. The pallid, long frown below his greyed snout and a remarkably creaseless powder blue shirt betrayed any notion of a father on drugs. Not that he hadn’t contemplated it a fair few times. A pair of glasses hovered above a few paces away. Its lenses unsure whether to point at the ground or another pair close to it. All he’d do was make the picture fuzzier.

“How goes it on that arm, Wayne?” the pair of glasses inquired, syllables at the end of each word sanded over for a smoother ride.

“Eh, we’re talkin’ thousands of humans here, so your guess is as good as mine.” He pressed his nose to the floor. Five seconds scanning was nearly enough to make him drunk off last night’s evidence. More to satisfy an old habit than anything else. “Well, maybe a few hundred times worse still.”

The rims of the glasses slanted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe my nose still has a lil’ bit of its old power. Call me nostalgic, or wishful or whatever.” Hands resting on hard wood encrusted with what’d be inexplicable. Not to him though. A path soon carved its faint vision amongst others. Follow it. It’d always tend to bend and wind a little. Makes it more fun. An entire story living, breathing beneath feet. No surprise the humans couldn’t notice it. But he could. He could detect the twist near one of the armchairs. And a bead of sweat marinating some more five metres to the left. All clues in a near playful detective game. To catch a criminal. Frank rendered harmless. Well, more armless.

And-he’d lost it.

Air shuttled deep into his nostrils. Deep into an ancient part of his brain preserved for past and future generations like a museum exhibit. Nothing felt now but that cold, soulless sensation. Head reluctant to turn back to check progress. Thanks to another friend of his, he couldn’t even if he were ready to face the shame old age doled out. This swathe of human faces that’d seeped into the hotel would take some getting used to. But there’d never been a monster face in a while he’d not had a little smile at seeing. There was Falkirk, a small bodiless voice chimed in his conscience. But Falkirk was the exception. Not the rule. Yeah. Keep telling yourself that. He was starting to believe it already.

“Murray,” he winced at the winding, domed ancient mass of bandages above him, “remind me get Winnie in charge of the pups once she’s finished college.” A deafening crack rocketing across his back as he arched it. Snout pointing like an accusatory finger at Murray’s double chin, and the free short-termist life he’d led and gorged below. “While you’re at it, any sign of Frank’s arm?”

“It ain’t gonna be easy, Wayne. Drac threw one hell of a party last night. I know, cause I was there leading them humans into the charge of battle.”

Wayne snorted. “Please. Battle against what? The buffet?”

“I’ll have you know my body is a sacred temple, and must be duly respected.” Murray retorted.

“I’ll throw my offerings down and say my prayers once Frank has both arms again. And we’re gonna wanna make sure that’s sooner rather than later.”

“Why? Do Mavis and Johnny need renovation help already?”

“Nah. They’re batsh*t crazy enough to have a kid. They’ll deal with that before figuring anything out. As for the here and now, Murray, I only got one word to say. Eunice.”

Murray’s face dropped. A sassy smile bludgeoned to death on there. Replaced by wide eyes and rapidly whirring cogs of his brain almost visible under the bandages. A tremor seized control at the feet. Snaking its way up in seconds. “W-what do you mean, Eunice?”

“Frank can only do her hair and makeup with two hands. And she’s been asking for coffee pretty much since she woke up.”

Murray nodded slowly, edging towards the wider cavernous lobby. “I’ll see what I can do, and meet you at the café bar in half an hour. That’s really all we got till it gets ugly.”

Wayne nodded. Two fingers on either side of his mouth with no delay. He’d done this a thousand times. His personal reservations played second fiddle by now. Johnny. Now Frank. There’d be a day soon where he didn’t have to clean up everybody’s mess. And he dearly looked forward to such a light at the end of the tunnel.

Until then? Fingers in lips-and blow. Wait a few seconds. Then you heard it before you saw it. Challenge to the very foundations beneath his feet. A frenzy of high wails of manic joy thundering forth. Chaos itself. Chaos incarnate. About to rush and piss over his feet. Better them than the humans, I guess. At least he knew what wolf piss felt like. And at least it was somewhat to be expected with some of their ages.

“Okay.” No point bothering with the sit exercise by now. A fool’s game. Like so many other things so many chase to the bottom. “Winnie, front and centre!” he boomed. Right on cue, out came his tiny furred bundle of joy. The other 299 he could neither distinguish nor see as more than that chaos. He knew Wanda would berate him about that as they sat austerely in bed. He didn’t care. So be it. He hadn’t had to shoot those devils out of his own flesh; that may explain some of it.

“Are we looking for something Uncle Frank’s lost again, Daddy?” Winnie inquired, eyes wide.

Wayne grimaced. “Yep. His left arm. The one with a bite mark in it from one of you. I don’t really care who did it, the poor guy probably can’t feel past the stitching. Just find it as soon as you can, and leave it for Murray outside the café.”

“It’s okay, Daddy. It’ll be back before you know it.”

“Alright then.” He dragged himself into a smile. He doubted those muscles would still go naturally in his age. “And please,” he called back as his mound of destruction rocketed across the lobby, “for the love of all that’s unholy. DON’T BREAK ANYTHING!”

He expected the bill for their inability to hear his instructions any second. So time to pull his own weight. Maybe one other person could help. Or at least buy some time. Trotting a little through this place. He’d been in here more times than he ever cared to count. Yet it still felt a little like the lobby was one step away from bearing its massive stone maw on the unsuspecting, swallowing them whole, all with room left for cake. Maybe less so because, for the first time in his memory, guests struggled for space here. Certainly a sight to behold. Nine azure heads never failed to catch his eye. Nevertheless, slight amazement blossomed in that those heads were all he could see. And blaming his age on that one would be a complete waste. Because for once it wasn’t his fault. A flock of kids-hell, maybe even numbering more than his own-swarming Mr Hydra in a phalanx. And parents actually lining up to check in. In the morning! Outside from a sub-cavern at the bottom right, werewolves scratched vigorously and panting, beaming while humans of all backgrounds and shapes stroked them or shared a coffee. Maybe Mavis and Johnny were onto something. The part of him that’d aged alongside his body instructed him to believe it when he saw it. Not a moment sooner. See if this thing held water. Made contact with the noxious gas of real life, and didn’t blow up in flames seconds later. If humans had tried to break such a barrier before, he’d say firsthand they had failed dismally on all counts. You don’t exactly make friends by burning down their house and killing their wife. Johnny had done neither of those things. But who could possibly be sure? It wouldn’t be the first time he’d seen a marriage go south. And his gut told him it would not be the last. Anyone could see he was a good kid. With a good heart firmly in Mavis’ favour. The way he always asked what she thought of something he’d like to do. And when she dived into his arms, that genuine smile and freezing of the natural world around them. Breaking boundaries as if they were brittle all along. May happiness come flocking to them without end. The parents, however? A little more ambiguous. He’d talked to them once about their friend Paul. Supposedly a fellow werewolf. And they’d seemed nice enough. Voices dripping with amenity, of thankfulness. But he was sure that, once he’d sidled away a few steps, he’d looked into the mother’s eye while she surveyed zombies, vampires, mummies, creatures arisen from the ocean’s darkest depths. In those eyes was an expression he’d known on the faces of humans all too well. It’d been a long while. But, as he recalled with a shiver, he could never forget. What service would that do to beloved memories?

That guiding hand round her husband’s waist, piloting them into a corner. That head whipping backwards. Pure venom seeping out of the eyes and mouth. Wrinkles showing on it like scars. Her prey to blame for each one burnt on. He’d seen a similar expression haunt Mavis’ face once or twice, in the final years before Johnny. Frozen. Staring out an arch, a world, an abstract law all bigger than she could ever hope to be. Slight embers of anger in her eyes at a breadth of those she’d never know. But it’d been lighter then. A sense of halting the words before they even flew out at her father. For the futility they’d be draped in was evident in every breath she took inside these walls. And so it’d be forevermore. Until it wasn’t. Tell that to the parents. One girl about their daughter-in-law’s height, same skin tone as Frank (he could’ve sworn there was a stitch on her wrist too and bolts on her neck). A great smile struck cruelly out in one calculated turn of their backs. Poor kid. That same part of his consciousness told him not to be surprised. Never get surprised at normal service.

Okay. Focus. He could never spend all day deliberating in his own head about the theory of whatever had happened over the past few years. Especially someone like him could never be divided. Not now. If he couldn’t keep it together-what hope did the boys have? Especially the one lumbering in front of him right now. The only one remotely resembling a challenge to the lobby’s opulent cavern. A yawning gap on the left where one of his arms would be. The rest of his mass a green mess of stitches and circles and what he could only guess were muscles. More stitching he didn’t care to imagine concealed in a suit, its lack of creases or blemishes disquieting. The reason for that undoubtedly the reason for that sheer terror staining his eyes. A type he hadn’t seen since…Falkirk. Van Helsing. A world and age ago. Crazy what a wife could do to you. And this was supposed to be the dream. The one thing humans and monsters united under to pursue to the ends of the earth, and their ultimately lemming-like lives. For the monsters it only took a little longer. Maybe that’s where those hundreds of years and that nagging voice at the back of his mind came from.

“It’s okay Frank. I got the pups on your arm. Chances are it’s gonna need some new stitches, but I’m sure that can be arranged.”

“I don’t think we have that long, Wayne.” Frank replied breathlessly. “She’s just woken up, I only got away by hiding under the cleaning trolley.”

His eyes widened at Frank’s towering figure. “Do what you gotta do, I guess. Should I get some pups on that trolley too?”

“I don’t think so. Everything else seems to be intact.”

“Huh. Come with me. I got an idea on how to buy us some time.” Thumps compelling his fur to shudder in rhythm. Eyes scattering between corners and groups and monsters and humans (that always threw him off for a second before continuing the hunt). The first time in a while he properly searched for another werewolf. First time out of the shadows. And it wasn’t even one of his. “I know a girl who might be able t’ help.”

“I thought you already had people on my arm.”

“I do. We’re gonna try get someone to do Eunice’s hair and bring her a coffee. That gets you out the woods a little.”

“Wayne, are you sure? That kind of stuff is very particular with her. Remember, she likes her hair straight down, flared on the bottom and up top behind the fringe. Red lipstick, eyeliner winged up on each side. Glittery concealer over the face, and lay it on thick with the perfume.”

“Yep. Yep. Gotcha.” Wayne affirmed. Eyes not daring to leave the lobby’s scan. Some humans had also made an effort. Nearly had her-but no. Last he checked her hair wasn’t in a bun. His own hair growing damp. Salt embedded in with each passing second. Scans quicker after each other. One whip round taking fifteen seconds, not thirty. Conscious of each minute that rage would stick to Eunice’s throat. Blacken her mind. Leave Frank running out of time. Leave his own reservations out of it for now. They’d come back later. He knew they would. They always did. It was part of the loop.
Finally found her.

Another werewolf strutting across to the fireplace. Her short pink girl only ever one step behind, head nearly locked up into gazing at her companion. A snapshot into the future of what Winnie could look like, in a different universe ruled by a different phase in time. Even from this far away, her silent emanation hit him square in the chest so he could expel all that doubt in one breath. One foot crossing over the other so each step paraded confidence. Was she really a wolf, or just a black woman with ears? Any possible relation would be extremely hard to believe. But one thing seemed certain. Or as certain as it ever got for him. This was someone who looked like they could help. Even if Wayne didn’t vaguely know them.

His feet picked up pace, making as little a mockery of running as long-stiff knees would ever permit. He had to try. For Frank. “Hey, Clawdeen! Clawdeen!”

Her turn a casual flip compared to the blocky rejection of that girl’s friend making effort. A grin spreading through, hauling a warmth and optimism which had long since wilted from his scoliotic corpse. “Oh, hey again! Wassup?”

“I need a favour. It’s for my buddy Frank. Lost his arm at the party last night.”

“Aw, bless. Don’t stress too much about it, okay grandpa? Happens to my ghoul Frankie all the time. Like, literally all the time.”

The pink girl nodded. “Mhmm. There was this one time when Frankie lent us a hand-”

“As in, literally lent us a hand.” Clawdeen affirmed.

“Yes, yes! With the balloons and the gargoyle egg! O-M-Ghoul, I remember the look of horror on Toralei’s face.” she squealed.

Clawdeen whirled back, on her friend’s level. Wayne shunted out. “And that one time with Cupid’s bow and all the couples.”

“How could I ever forget Deuce and Slo-Mo kissing, ghoul?”

“I dunno, cause I could never!” Clawdeen affirmed. Did he see a tinge of conflict spark in her eye? Too fast to be sure. He’d seen something. Probably nothing. Not like he was in the shadows anymore. The time for that had long passed. Guess he had Johnny to thank for that. But he’d believe it when he saw it. Never a second before. Besides, right now he had bigger prey to catch. More in the literal sense-for obvious reasons. One throat clear usually did the job.

“Oh, my bad.” Clawdeen reformed, once again staring him down. Wayne suddenly noticed his shirt was perhaps a little too baggy and shabby for him. She had no such weaknesses. “You were saying about your friend?”

“He’s a mess right now. He lost his arm last night, now his wife’s crying for her makeup and coffee.”

Clawdeen folded her arms. “I mean, I can sniff round for it if you want, but these Di-urghhh flares don’t come cheap.”

“No, no, it’s fine. My pups are lookin’ for it. We just need to buy them-and Frank-some time.”

“Wolf pups? To search for an arm and bring it back in one piece? Are you sure?”

“Look, just roll with it, okay? I heard from Mavis last night you were pretty into fashion and whatnot. I just wanted to see if it’s true.”

The quizzical expression glazed over her eyes dispersed. Replaced by one a general might wear as they see the opposing army marching up the hill-but it wouldn’t possibly be their first battle. The chance it’d be their last only atoms bigger. One of slight annoyance. But one of preparation. Bag hoisted and poised as if she were unsheathing a sword. Eyes laser-focused.

“Where’s this wife of yours?”

“It’s my friend’s wife. I could never.” Wayne chuckled. That same resigned frown and stare back into the hotel when it went unrequited. “Yeah no, she’s in room 154. She likes her hair done straight down, flared-”

Clawdeen waved him down. The fire in her eyes matched in each strut she took. “It’s okay. I got this. Draculaura, I’ll have a haunt chocolate with whipped cream and marshmarrow eyeballs. I’ll meet ya inside the café in, like, forty five minutes. Take care of my sketchbook, okay!”

The pink girl nodded quickly, beginning to trot after her. “I’ll go see if Cleo’s awake yet.”

Now there was a werewolf he could be proud of. Her powerful struts up to Eunice gave him that resource which always wafted itself in front of his muzzle where he could register every molecule of its delicacy-only for it then to be yanked away. Time. He spent it in droves. Consequences were for the time after. He’d spend that too. Nevertheless, he could always be gravitated to survey the lobby for a few seconds. No reason. If you checked the rafters properly, a few char marks stood out to you. To remind what hung over everyone’s heads. Only to never be translated in speech. The calls rang out in his head, tricking it into turning to the valleys outside. Warm light confused for pitchforks and torches. Still that, but stationary. A decoration to laugh off the past. A scoff left his mouth, and he couldn’t truthfully say he was sorry for that. Back in the first war, he could still remember going to that bunker. Praying every night he wouldn’t get an impromptu burial. That same advice floating to his consciousness as he saw humans and monsters walk arm in arm:

“Gentlemen, when a man says he has your back, always check for the knife behind it. It’s always there, but you can expect him to hide it best he can. But it’s always there, gentlemen. Be ready for it.”
That sentence kept him alive for the next four years. Hell, probably for the next century. He hadn’t seen any knives around backs yet. But nothing surprised him in old age anymore. Johnny’s parents probably had a whole arsenal down in California. Those eyes behind Linda’s glasses…a shudder rolled icily down his spine. The simple refusal to change etched on her face more than wrinkles. She hid both with concealer, but werewolves like him had an advanced sense of smell.

This merge was an accident waiting to happen, a part of him knew that. As for now, keep it in the shadows. And prepare to clean it all up.

The sun rose with the hotel’s future, feet elegantly progressing down to her brethren. Youth not quite ready to go yet. Eyes wielding a heavy, firm glaze for the first few times and contemplating it. Her body still a little gangly, but starting to form up. Squint and you may see an invisible cape with the collar turned up, blooming behind her regally. One different thing though. A grin painted across her face, well-curled. With no perceivable stiffness. This was Hotel Transylvania for the 21st century, after all. The smile could truly come from wearing a monster’s heart on their sleeve. Do it fearlessly, and the others could do the same. Everyone welcome. Everyone accepted. That being the new theory that would never change. Its antithetical predecessor wilting beyond any power. Whether it was dead or simply dormant was a subject for another day. Maybe a subject for late nights with Johnny when they were too tired for sex. Now all Mavis did was survey her charge. And it was beautiful beyond anything she’d ever seen. Not quite anything in the world. Still it sprawled wide, waiting for her discovery. But the clock ticked down for it. The time for beauty in life to serenade her had started last night.

As had the time for her role. She knew it. Her role in life. Everyone came to understand it, whether in the cradle or in the grave. The rules, the actions, she supposed on the spot, must take a bit of improvisation. But she’d spent one hundred and twenty five years preparing for this moment. In her crawls and giggles above her father’s head. In eagerly listening to his guitar. In those eternal moments of staring outside an arch she would take flight from that instant, if not for the austerely binding law of his word. In her teenage years of begging for someone, anyone, to marry her and whisk her away to the outside world-to lead rather than follow. Now it came, the prize felt a little heavy and unbalanced. She would need to train to get used to it. But it’d be fun. She had fun injected into her days now like a drug. Johnny was the syringe of course.

A witch had already brought her news of Eunice. Another that a guest was on the case. Ah-there came another pleasure alongside the ocean of sweat she’d shed to get here. A community here she became the mother of. No chance of anyone taking anything from another here, let alone candy. Her mind liked to believe it was a human rushing to Frank’s aid. Why wouldn’t it be? It was as she said to Dennis. People like Linda just needed a little longer than others to settle in. When they came round they’d join in the fun and everyone would help everyone. She’d barely need to do anything. The wistful thought of going to all corners of the world, back as if it never left. That too tantalisingly close. She cleared her throat right down to the lungs. Fill them with air as sweet as blood orange until it nearly plunged her into drunkenness. Spread those arms out to deliver the good news. Close the eyes. Think of everything up to this moment. And then…

“Welcome to Hotel Transylvania!” she boomed.

That. Felt. Awesome.

First stop, her old haunt of the check-in desk. A swat at her cheek as the brain deceived her into the image of a headset. Service with a smile; but it actually meant something for her too. It meant something to examine the busy, tired customers, suitcase in hand, sweat practically flooding the desk direct from their brow.

“Hi, what can I do for you today?” Her voice becoming generic, optimistic no sooner than when it left her mouth.

“Hi,” a nasal voice groaned. Body some way from the counter, yet wincing in pain as Mavis saw an additional pressure near the feet bump the desk. “I’ve been travelling for ages. I’d like a very, very quiet room.”
Mavis nodded so sharply an outsider may wonder if her neck was about to snap. For her it simply seemed like the correct answer. Body turning mechanical. A pre-rehearsed routine she knew all the schematics of. Now her turn to put it into practice. Give the best she possibly could.

“Okay. Room 283. Top floor in a corner of the east tower. Do you want me to send up some room service?”

“I would just like a very very quiet room.” the nasal voice sounded. His furred hand snaked over Mavis’ spindly pale fingers, tightly wrenching the key and stomping off.

All she could do was smile warmly. “Have a nice stay here, Mr Foot!”


A man with teal hair. The slightest bit of a fang resting on his lower lip. Shadows beneath hi eyes accentuating a stare up. “Room near the basem*nt. One night’s all I’ll need. And a tour of the hotel.”

“Sure. I’ll get one organised. How about room 024?” Mavis sucked her teeth as she realised who’d have to lead this guest. And they still hadn’t made the map of the hotel. If he had she had no idea. For f*ck’s sake. Try not to show it in her face. Key pressed into a gloved palm. Onto the next. The holster round his back probably didn’t mean much. It’s normal for no guest to be normal. Remember that, Mavis.

“Get the hotel ready for a cruise in five hours.” Richard Syon replied.

Her face lit up. A million thoughts filling her chest like a hot air balloon. All hot air balloons must come down at some point. “This soon?”

He shrugged and returned to a more natural smirk. Average winter’s sky-coloured eyes revealing nothing. That same black suit, copied from a human. Down to the same gold tie. His skin all that really stood out to her. “The boat is ready. It is yours and your family’s choice whether you board.” He stared at the biggest arch in the lobby, digesting them both as merely morsels in an environment still several sizes too big for those youthful like them.

“Would you like-move, so others can check in? Please?”

Syon’s body spasmed, face flipping. “Oh, yes. Of course.” One step, almost robotic, to the left shuffled the next guest forward. His forehead seemed almost transparent, yet tinted with beads of sweat and worry lines. So one could see the cogs whirring at insane paces inside. But for what?

“In any case, a Gremlin Air flight will be here this evening to take you to the Bermuda Triangle. From there, it’ll all be ok.” One breath swelled his chest to the point of bursting. A jet of hot wind coasting above, so loud Mavis had to check back if the plane had landed already. Just more zombies and yetis which stretched to the loping steeples of this place. By now, a caricature smile had grown to infect her face beyond repair. Places she’d only heard of in books. From Johnny. Places she’d never even heard of. All compounding into one fantasy, almost on the edge of her fingers where she could value it forever and ever. Just a little longer. Then the perfection would truly take hold. The phrase ‘All good things come to an end’ was a foreign concept too. Not this one.

“I’ll get everything ready. Thanks so much!” Her wrists shook wildly as fate fell into place. Surely she would look back and think that an idiotic thing to do. But she thought then it would be for such a display. On the job as well!

Syon bowed and walked briskly away. A smart tap on his right ear. Did she see that same white blur as his head whipped round again? No time to check. Only to check in. This was what she’d been waiting for, after all.

Now the man of the house’s turn to make his way easily down. A slight limp and bound with each step as if he was fighting the aftermath of some injury. The lobby’s scene more a revamp of a scene he already knew rather than a complete blank template. By the time he was born society had finally got round to making sure of that. Syon was far less of a unique spectacle. And you saw some people who were like deer in headlights when it came to parties every now and then. Best thing was to make them feel welcome. Help them roll with it as he did. Be spontaneous. An age ago now where he’d unsheathed a scooter from his bag. And he’d revitalised the entire conceivable world in that moment. Even now, and he was sure Mavis was planning this already, the archaic arches and armour suits and ancient prejudices were ironed out. From here, if you looked closely, you saw it get up to his speed. To the humans and the 21st century. Lagging behind a little still. But she would plan and he knew the aesthetic. From there they’d figure it out. He’d developed some handshakes with guests by this point. If this were a different time, he’d have asked that small pink chick out on a date. But definitely not now. He’d found his muse, and she’d found hers. So it would go on for…

Don’t think about that!

Eyes always searching in a wild journey of twists and turns for his lover. She’d never be far in any case. Never far from his chest. That tender feeling only two people could replicate, that seemed to slow everything. She’d keep on giving it to him. And he’d keep lapping it up. So it would continue every night. Meanwhile, in this place there lay a certain sense. Like when he’d been to Wales way back when. Fresh, hungry for experience. Ready to hoard it more than the red dragon they bore on their flag. Each rewarded by another sticker or badge on his backpack. Or laptop when that began to buckle under its own weight. One of the rugby players had talked of breaking barriers. A tangible moment in a game where you can look back. Admire what you’ve done. Remember the impossibility it used to bear. Then laugh in its face. Yeah, that. So powerful in the lobby, around him, he almost got drunk off its smell in minutes. All the same, one eventuality nagging the back of his mind relentlessly. It had since he’d found out she was 118. Since he’d had to forcibly say 121. Gnawing at more and more with every limp and bound. Stave it off with more high fives, that same trademark exaggerated swagger he had. No real rhyme or reason to it. Just do it. But the fact. Lying in her mouth. Not in his. An ocean of calm in his body disturbed and killed by one ripple. There she was now. Checking a queue in almost robotically. And Syon striding off. Those same beads of sweat and darting look permanently etched on his face. Funny guy. But if he new cruises, he knew there’d be a dance party at some point. That should get him better. Like he said, weird dudes like that were a dime a dozen. Often found in their own rooms, typing on their computers at stuff you never needed to care about for hours and hours. Maybe they had some friends on there they talked to. He liked to think that as they lay alone while he partied. It’s not a big deal. Live and let live. Hell, he was probably walking back to them right now. He, however-

As he embraced round her neck, a good ninety percent of him had all it wanted right here.

“Johnny!” Mavis said, a smile drawing to the edges of her eyes. “There’s gonna be a plane here in five hours. We’re gonna go see the world! You and me! It’s finally happening. Tell everyone you can!”

“Is this about that cruise thing?”

“Yeah, yeah! Isn’t it great?”

“I mean, how d’you know that Syon dude who pushed it on you is to be trusted? You know how some guys are.”

Her face fell. “What’re you talking about?”

“Well, there are some guys, like me, who genuinely care about you. And there are some who pretend they do, but don’t. We’re not sure about Syon yet.”

“I mean, why would he lie about such a thing? He’s promising something great. I trust him. Besides, humans aren’t like they used to be anymore. They care about us and we can care about them.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure if-”

“Johnny, I’m sure it’ll be fine. You’ve been nice to me all along, haven’t you? Besides,” she planted her hands round his head, inch by inch aligning their gazes, “we’re the managers now. If we think something’s up, we’ll put someone in charge of the hotel. Maybe someone we know we can trust like Uncle Frank or Wayne.”

Johnny nodded slowly, turning as if summoned by magnets to that arch Syon had disappeared under. Mavis pressed home her advantage for the concluding touchdown.

“We can talk about this later, okay? I still have some people to book in, but I’ll text you. Get Dennis and start packing.” And just like that, she turned to the next guest. A tall blonde woman in block colours, as if clashes had washed off her body long ago like waves in a sea once you get up from bathing there. Not a waxy spot to signal anything extra on the face anywhere. In her eyes a look communicating little. Except waiting, patiently, for what he could only assume was meant to be him and Mavis’-humans and monsters-next move. Her smile warm like his. A nose ring glittering somewhat in that almost stuffy warm light like a wedding ring to these people. A pact made. The leather jacket slung over her lanky shoulders teasing a world of relaxation beyond this world of relaxation.

The woman smiled warmly. “Dr Nina Wnukowicz.” Her fingers making next to no sounds in their movement-almost like a hunting spider-toward the bell. “I’ve already booked. Psychologist.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Psychologist?”

She turned, grinning at him a little lighter with a slight yellow tint to her teeth. Tartar imperfectly lining the front few. “Yeah, for the boat. Thought I’d check in now for after that’s all done.”

“What’re you here for?” Mavis’ voice cut through, clean and surprisingly refined. Switched to some commercial mode.

“The hills and the valleys. Brought my motorcycle over and I’m gonna take it through once I’ve had my fun with the cruise. And also, new managers of the hotel. It can be tough. If you ever need me,” she slid the key from Mavis’ idle hand and re-hauled the jacket over her shoulder, “room 158.”

Hours later, a bright summery pall set over the day. Cracked and bleeding through trees stretching to the last blood of the sun, pulling it down to set a curtain of night over. Air still temperate, but an undertone of chill foreshadowing its penetration. Summer to autumn. Then autumn would give over to winter, in a period so brief you wondered whether autumn actually existed at all. Or if people were afraid to accept the two sides they had to face. Make bridges so everyone could feel comfortable. Face ambiguities over it later. A sliver of moon begrudgingly given in a wrapping of clouds. The skies holding back the full works for later. Some left spattered through the trees so one would have to assemble it to enjoy fully. It clung to the sides of bark, an almost metallic sheen the result. Betrayed only by the true uneven
knots of wood beneath.

A plane lay shrivelled next to the roots, them poking through malachite grass like strained veins on an ageing body. Similarly, this plane’s glory days had long since departed into a distant, pixelated memory. Wings unable to decide whether to keep their plates of light green. Or shed it for the grey more befitting now. Propellers wrought dangerously back, pointing towards the co*ckpit as if to direct blame for this negligence. Some of the fuselage had rotted away. Letters out of sync with the rotting metal carcass. Once they would’ve spelled “Gremlin Air” in bold auburn. Now only “Grim” in authentic rust, jagged at the edge. Down feathers littered the forest and craft’s floor alike. The back end swung its rudder with ancient creaks, each swing pronounced a further pang of uncertainty in its charges’ souls.
Dracula leading the charge one final time. Not the first time he’d boarded. But all the same an eyebrow raised at the sheer ramshackle scale. A ghost of a past life come from the skies as a poignant reminder. Its timing at the cusp of another new start. Or rather, an ending. One tiny glance over his shoulder. His daughter. Grandson in hand. Son-in-law was the technical term, but at this stage he preferred to leave out the in-law bit. He needed Wayne on side at all times. Frank too, screwing an arm tentatively back into place. And it never hurt to have Murray and Griffin along. They were once the five most prominent monsters for arguably the world. Back in those days there was next to nothing they couldn’t do. That meant he’d have to trust the witches, though, he realised with an instinctual shudder down his spine. At least they were true to their word-the humans now the same too. Just a question of if they’d be serious about it. Now that he thought it, he’d not yet asked that question of Mavis and Johnny. He thought they’d be. But once again, one more than the other. Not to say he knew what he was doing at their age. Quite the opposite, he acknowledged in a heavy sigh. One foot landed on the metal. Crows abandoning their cause at once, the atmosphere itself emitting one large creak. Another. The top hairs on his head bristled uncompromisingly against the roof. But it was the fact he was back which played with his mind the most.

Almost nothing had changed on the inside. It looked as if it never would. Even though it desperately needed to. What lay on the other side was too good to pass up. He knew that. Everyone piling on behind him knew that. Four strangers the first behind him: one werewolf, one zombie stitched similarly to Frank, one with mummy wraps encrusted in iridescent blues and golds as she evaluated her nails, and a pink vampire girl who looked vaguely familiar. His mind urged him not to dig further about that. Names like Bloodgood and Grimm he dusted off in his mind-that he’d never mustered the courage to teach Mavis about in the hope she’d never need them. And Syon again. In the foreground even more thanks to his efforts to sink into the background. Maybe he’d get less shy when they were off this thing. Couldn’t be faulted for that. A tall blonde woman oddly new to him, around her a circle of calm somewhat enfeebled by the plane. Then familiar faces who he’d ride on this thing with one last time.
“Welcome aboard Gremlin Air!” a voice screeched. Its tones surfacing in his memory after he thought it drowned. A lost world spurred itself back into life now. Only growing in prominence as they made their new home among the clouds. He could never be sure how to feel about that. Or, more crucially, how others would feel about that.

Chapter Five:
Captain Ericka

Previous plates hanging on by a thread turned into an uneasy orchestra of rattles and bumps as the old plane attempted to soar through the sky. Packets of snacks shot through in all directions. Dracula may be immortal, but a bag of peanuts to his face was still something to duck and dodge. Even turn into a bat to avoid one packet of crisps turned guided missile. The coffee trolley rounded on Murray. Its pilot, a small green monkey-like creature in a natty oversized airline uniform, cultivated a grin embedded with ebony knives from ear to ear.

“Coffee?” an oily voice sneaking from its mouth asked. A synapse of just milliseconds flipped a metaphorical coin. Would Murray choose life or death? Had he forgotten or remembered? Dracula’s hand flew straight to his forehead as he gave an answer. The creature barely able to hold back its laughter as its ploy worked flawlessly.

“Why thank you.” Murray agreed cruelly. Clearly he’d forgotten a valuable lesson. The price paid in one long howl to rival Wayne’s. But one long howl of pure, smooth pain. A liquid hiss. He tried hard as he could to not look back, as if up against staring down someone with facial scars. Morbid curiosity took them both anyway.

Steam billowed from Murray’s lap as the creature cackled. Undertones of cappuccino, heat and rotting flesh rolling through to his nostrils in seconds. A grimace spread through his wraps. Lesson relearned. The trolley shot away as everything leaned perilously down. No warning. For once he made no attempt to calm screaming customers down. He was past it anyway. Watch out! Purple lashings of his magic had been summoned just in time. From above he watched trail mix thwack the seat and fall dead. Missing his neck by no more than a hair’s breadth. Now they brought out the machine guns. Another gremlin leaped onto the coffee trolley. Filthy claws compelled the packet to bleed nuts. At insane speeds, it rammed them down another gremlin’s neck. Painted, cartoonish smiles etched on their faces all the way through. Barely time to duck again before its neck got slapped several times in seconds. Nuts speeding through the fuselage with the force of a bullet. He began to wonder if he’d backed the wrong horse by declining Mavis’ offer of headphones too small for his ears.

“So Dave, got any plans for the weekend?” the gremlin slapping the other’s neck inquired, that same oiliness tinting their voice.

Dave fired a nut square between the pink girl’s eyes, a mouse-like squeal rocketing out equally fast. “Oh, you know, the usual. Gotta take the kids to soccer.” It threw its head back and cackled some more. Right on cue, another round of nuts cascaded into Dave’s mouth. Kicking off with a bang when Syon got hit with a pecan square between the eyes, lolled dangerously between his seat and a blustery jagged abyss, knowing no more. Dennis scrabbling the floor like mad; possessed by a primal will to eat as many nuts he could clench his still baby-like fists on.

Murray scoffed at Syon. “That’s one way to sleep through the flight, I guess.”

All he had to do was ride it out. This charade was to be expected of course. Even Mavis had taught her son the lore. Feed a gremlin after sundown-and may chaos fall upon your life relentlessly. A brownish creature towards the back with large orbs for eyes confirmed this nursery rhyme. Tucked behind a seat so none of the nuts went quite near enough. Not the first time Frank’s bulk had saved his family’s neck. Remainder of his old crew squished around Frank, Wayne’s fur thrashing to more jagged panelling. Memories floating back into consciousness. Their fragmented nature haunting him as if ghosts sauntered round his brain every waking moment. Of Falkirk to say the least. That pink girl, her friends a few seats back, scorched his eyes every time he glanced at them. His mind couldn’t be surer he knew her. Had tried to forget. Had tried to run. Yet who would’ve thought Vlad would look still so untouchably young this far forward in his mentality?

Not to mention...Martha. The breath that lingered between their lips. Top secret briefings followed with even more secret meetings in the back room and hushed conversations. Her sympathetic, youthful face a remedy to the washes of guilt he felt each time with their commencing kisses. A therapeutic, hypnotic voice telling him not to worry about Sparky or Chinese gods. Oranges outside their windows topping and tailing a magical time bygone. Such a long time with someone who made him feel so safe could never hope to repair that feeling of always not getting quite enough when it was all over. Her naked body held like a prize vase in her arms. No clue of how valuable it would become. Tossing it over and over in his memory. Recollection of those persistent flames and burning stakes until he wanted to scream to the cruel skies. Beg to be with her. In whatever life befell monsters. He didn’t care. Legs propelling him down from this saloon of unintentional torturers before he could stop himself. Guess he should’ve expected one would be right behind him. The fruits of his own labour poised to poison him. Grasp for a door. Any door would do. Feed the notion that he could bury himself in new lives, new beliefs. Forget old motives which led him there. Fool!

Eyes scanned every possible corner for a ramshackle way out. A loose panel. Or a hatch. The cargo hold would have to do. Reasonably sure no one would hide away. If he was wrong-a possibility of monsters set back hundreds of years only for him to calm down swam in his mind like a rotting plank of wood. Light footsteps disturbing the peace a few metres behind. Nearly too petrified to glance behind and check. Another shudder of pure ice rocketed down his spine. Mavis. Poised to ask questions. A currency never easy to deal in. Least of all now. One more thin cloud of violet smoke propelled him between two crates. Non-tangible terrors conquering an entire consciousness. Physical form would be too much. That name tossed and turned relentlessly. Martha. Martha. Martha. Fangs. Flames. A black satin bump. Second offspring. Secrets and dual lives. Wood ablaze. Heat to biting winter air. Sweetness snatched from life. From eternality. No prizes for guessing the culprit. A tingle in his hands. Worn like Mavis’ gloves over wrists too. Breaths louder. Faster. Reaping energy. Martha to Mavis. And that feeling again. One quick to ram his soul full of dread. Seconds before the next feeling came.

Oh no.

Thoughts plucked from their time. Ripped to shreds. One by one. Then in batches. Again. That new feeling. That red pall. It’s all happening. It’s all-

“Dad?” that often sweet voice sounded. But the final piece slot into a terrible puzzle. Long shadows purged light. Raking through that dingy dark box. Then the red. Seeping in. Like noxious gas.

Then came the roar.

A mutated growl. Born to symbolise death and pain and the savage crunch of human bones all in one. Even in Mavis’ heart sat a new idea of deepest horror. For a moment, ideas flashed through both their minds. Of being finite. Of souls. Of darkness. The great count’s body moving. None of his control behind it. One intent which hadn’t been his for a long time. Fitting imperfectly. But comfortable to some.
The intent to kill.

No. Not just kill. Destroy. Mutilate. Maim. Limb from limb. Blood leaping from the first seen. An orchestra of screams. Hearts and intestines and brains lining a path for his kingship. Remind the human world he was Count Dracula himself. One who could not hope to be killed. But one who could take a life by the bones. Snap it into shrapnel. Reap sustenance. Toss it aside. Onto the next in seconds. To get high off the smell of rotting flesh. To recreate Falkirk. That illustrious to this foreign part of him. No feeling in either arm. Brief shrieks to come back. That weakness suffocated too.

One face in front. Maybe he knew it once. She would spill blood.

“Dad? Dad!” It screamed. Begged for mercy. Pathetic. No offspring of his. Fine to destroy. Another snarl of death itself. Claws struck its neck. First whiff of blood. Warm to the fingers. Sustaining. More. Slam it down. Another success in two heavy slams. One last blast of wind to urge him more. All light blocked from prey now. His heavy breaths infecting its own.

“Dad!” One final loud scream. Truly not his own. No child of his would blemish their eyes with tears. “Dad? Dad, please!” A cold, smooth hand whacked his cheek. Fresh spike of anger. It would die today. One claw back. To feed. And then-

The tingle had won in the end. Death an afterthought. One last image of a baby, from aeons ago. Flitting before him. That could only be one. Past swirling to present. Only now to realise...

“Mavis?” he stuttered. A meek crawl to his feet. Her going with him. His turn to put tears in eyes. “A-are you okay?”

Mavis nodded, though her gaze betrayed her. Shaky. Pale. Those round, innocent cherubs of cheeks slimmed by a new darkness. No time at all before a tight clench round his hips. A stasis there, as if she were about to sob irreparably. No speech needed for what she’d thought. Then came the gut-wrenching shame. It’d been a while. But on his own daughter. Looking at her was too much.

But when he turned his head, another regret stabbed right through the heart.

Above stood two figures. One white, one black. Female, male. Both had the same expression. Eyes sinking a revelation in. Mouths plastered shut. Staring him right down. No idea how much they’d seen. It didn’t matter. No words for them either. The best hope was they forgot. Like past humans. His gut severely doubted it.

“The plane will be landing soon.” Syon said plainly. His eyes pained by that same corpse of innocence. Though far more vivid in his eyes than Mavis’. The turn away was slow, pronounced. Eyes laser-fixed with that pain on Dracula as if he were a scar. No. He would never forget. It revealed itself clearly now. In his right ear lay a white earpiece, jammed a little uncomfortably in there. One final stare back. Pain at its peak. Then he turned and sidled bashfully off, out of sight again. Little mercy in the woman turning slower. Then he had no choice but to stare his daughter-his guilt incarnate-full in the face.

“Are you okay Dad?” Mavis whispered.

A synapse of silence before he dared answer. No use in lying now. The secret had revealed itself. But could she take it? Would he stumble into something even worse? One thing that required no lies:
“I’m really sorry you had to see that, Mavy. You should not have had to see that. Now, let me check your neck.” Still a hot spring. Warmth on his fingers cold in meaning. Memory of where he was surfacing in patches. On another hunt, in crates and boxes and suitcases for something. Anything. Try as hard as possible to resist the compelling metallic taste wafting through.

“I…don’t know what came over me there. I need to make sure you’re okay.”

Mavis winced, clutching her neck. “I’ll live. It wasn’t anything like those wooden stakes or pitchforks you talked of when you were my age.”

“Y-yes. Yes. You’re right.” Something white teased from the lid of a suitcase. Toilet paper. It would have to do. He ripped it from the lid. An uneven scrap forced onto her neck. Blemishes of blood forming almost instantly. “I’m so sorry, Mavis. I don’t know what came over me at all. It was like…” his head shot from side to side. “Never mind. The important thing is you’re okay.”

“Yeah, but what about you? Why’d you even come down to this place?”

She had him on the ropes. Quick. Think of something. She didn’t know so far. No way he could start now. “To-uh, get away from the gremlins up there.” That sounded natural as it could internally. “Yes.”

Mavis raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

“Yes, yes. Oh yes. It just reminded me of when humans used to be all nasty and throw stuff at monsters like me. I just needed some time out, that’s all.” A white lie sat with him a little easier than a full one. Nevertheless it churned his stomach to a thick soup.

“Fair enough.” She smiled warmly. “But remember, Dad, you don’t need to worry about that anymore. Humans are like Johnny now. Nice, sympathetic, there if you need help. Besides, we’re on holiday now. At long last. You deserve to relax and enjoy it. So how about we do that? Cmon, let’s go back up. Won’t be long before we land.”

He nodded gradually. “Thank you, my little tarantula. Who made you such an amazing, caring daughter?”

She laughed. “Okay Dad. Cmon, let’s go. We’ve got a vacation to enjoy.” Her grin grew even wider as she said to herself, “A whole world to enjoy!”

He eyeballed the first step up for a second as though it might sting him. One heave of his chest. Enough to supply him for now. Thoughts of what may be above in this Bermuda Triangle. What was so good it had defended its area from every plane, every stranger, who dared come near. A brief synapse between the first slicked-back, luminous hairs emerging from a rusting hatch. And a deep, pure smell of salt nesting in his nostrils as a whooshing sound repeated every few seconds. That same sense of calm from the tall woman. Only prevalent now. Actually meaning something. When the crowd finally cleared, and a billion conversations stitched together into one generic monstrous noise keeled over, he saw it.

A brilliant partition of the ocean itself. Blues rolling over into a light turquoise into a clean cut on three sides. The excess even, cascading down to a well at the foot of a beautifully uneven pile of old ships and their bones jutting out like makeshift bridges. One skeletal mast pointing above, what would once be sails pointing in direction to land far beyond anyone’s bother to view. All that mattered was the hypothetical waiting in the centre. That whooshing only louder as he grew nearer. Atmosphere growing dank, yet temperate. A horn tickled the ground beneath him, even from a height like this. Its origin?

“Look, Dad, there’s the boat!” Dennis said.

“O-M-Ghoul!” a squeakier voice announced in response. “I see it! It’s gigantic!”

Sure enough, a wall of metal sliced through the sea. Great grey clouds of smoke billowing from four chimneys, each tall enough to slot a tower of the hotel inside. Cleanly littered with small glass circles, their orange light inside dappling the ocean’s glowing peaks. Shadows of life beneath a supposed graveyard. On the front hull emblazoned in gold, glamorous and unmissable to any monsters in the moonlight:

No sooner had he fully laid eyes on it than the plane landed at the triangle’s centre. All silenced by an iridescent sea, and futures lying on the deck of this leviathan boat. All staggering, as if in a trance, towards it. One hatch opened where the boat and the bridge intersected. Direct pathway. Oddly sturdy as the sea stirred beneath. Yet each step felt weirder and weirder for Dracula. Something under the flowing silk cloak, the sharp black suit, felt out of place. Being this far from a place which he'd worked to foster for as long as he cared to remember. He could almost see his eternal life as a timeline, sliced cleanly into lifesize portions every couple of centuries. The last divide an age ago. An age he’d tried, and preferred, to snatch from his mind into nothing. It remained nonetheless. He dared only venture from the hotel when Draculas were in danger. Or perceived danger, he realised as Johnny-one of his family prides-held another. Never thought he’d feel a pang of pride sound at his core. Not at that. One final glimpse behind. Only a plateau of blue until world’s end. It was definite, then. Chilled air sucked through, tingling his fangs on the way in. The break became clean, clear. He’d reached the age where Count Dracula, Prince of Room Service, withered away to exist only in the relic room of history. It had come to replace a younger, wilder, hungrier…darker Dracula, one of the Big Five. Break done in one evening. A cold, crisp one which turned the world on its head. Tonight had a similar atmosphere. Who knows what this next chapter held? One final deep breath. A hand clawed round Mavis’ shoulder. Johnny and Dennis almost sprinting onto this unknown universe.

Here we go.

Almost immediately the salt’s rule over his nostrils dissolved. Tangs of a sterile corridor, lined healthily in doors leading to a billion places which would all wear their uniforms of individuality given time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please follow us to the main deck where our captain would like to greet you. You will be given the keycards to your rooms momentarily after.” a soulless voice sounded. Unnatural breaks between words. A few tried to open their mouths. But the origin froze their lips solid just by sight.

Robots. Dark silvery humanoids with lanky arms, spindly sharpened fingers. Each tall as Dracula. His mouth oddly dried beyond questioning when they stared him down. Only light in one ray of cyan to survey charges. Light clanks as they walked, silently and expressionless. Across to monsters then to humans. Or vice versa. None stopped at a single end of the equation. Fingers spindly, pointed. Some in bulletproof vests. Syon just behind. Beads of sweat resuming posts on his face. Eyeballing his collar. One tight hand to adjust. Head straight down until they’d left the corridor. That same tall woman rested a hand on his shoulder. So light-like a butterfly resting on a flower.

“Do you want to come to my room after the captain’s greeted us?” Nina asked under her breath. Syon nodded, each jerk minute beyond certainty. One didn’t quite miss it.

“Is something wrong?” Mavis inquired. “Has something not gone as you planned? You were the one who led us here.”

Not daring to move his head, Syon replied: “Feels a little weird being on a cruise ship without human staff, is all.” Nods sharper. Poker face merely a little rattled. “It’s been a while.” A thin dark finger pointed above. That too vibrating. Towards an opening where more of the royal blue sky and a slit of moon shone on this daringly diverse group. “Main deck’s up there. Come on, the captain will be expecting us.”
Steps in the crowd gained a sense of urgency. Strides longer. More pronounced. More powerful. Even for something no one knew if they wanted. Syon happy to take the background again. His position revised, though. Towards that tall girl. Almost enveloped in her leather jacket. The clean-cut plateau of his hair at a direct level with her smooth, brittle shoulder. Again that salt swelling in Dracula’s nostrils. A foreign smell he would get every nuance and turn of. Whether he wanted it or not. A turn right to Wayne. Pink invading the edges of his eyes.

The deck hadn’t waited to claim its individuality. Straight after peeking his head up, Dracula’s eyes were punished by a string of lights in all colours and directions. That same waxed, glossy finish below on even planks. A whole luminous spider web above-and one white figure at the very top. Already Frank, Mavis and Johnny taking it as a dancefloor. That somewhat warmed his heart to remedy the air nipping at him like Wayne’s children. Still. The idea of a hotel he didn’t run. He didn’t control. That would take some getting used to. A wonder, spreading faster than an itch, at the person who did-

“Ladies and gentlemen,” that same robotic voice boomed, though hundreds of times more potent. “Please give a warm welcome for your host aboard the Legacy, Captain Ericka!”

Right on cue, the white figure morphed into a rapidly rolling ball way up high. One string her home. Then another. And another. So it swung this way and that. Until one final pirouette landed the captain squarely, flawlessly, in the centre of deck.

Then came her face.

The second it landed with Dracula’s, a feeling he’d never ever thought he’d see again burst into life. A pleasant warmth, like that of a winter’s night round a campfire, abounded. Knees weak. Nothing else in the entire world mattered other than her face. Natural forces slowed. Forced Magic circling the edges of his eyes. Only one word could possibly describe it. A sound, though it made none.

It was as if his heart saw her…and went ‘zing!’

“Ahoy there! Nihao! Ciao! Bienvenido! Kamusta! Konnichiwa!” One growl to stretch the effort truly globally. “Welcome aboard the Legacy, the hotel on the water and one of the only hotels in the world open to not just humans, but monsters as well! I am human, but don’t hold that against me. As we travel around the world this coming week, I can’t wait to get to know you all on our first ever monster cruise!”
A storm of cheers erupted the millisecond she shut her mouth. But to Dracula they may as well have been whispers uttered underwater. Every detail scanned down to specks of dirt and salt in the faux gold. Vague facial features familiar. Surely there was a name somewhere to link it to. One he’d known well in the past but had forgotten in his relaxation. So satisfyingly familiar. Like he was sitting in his favourite seat back home after a long holiday. A mind, full of jostling thoughts and fears and recollections he’d hoped and thought he’d forgotten-all pushed away. Entire room for this one stranger. Her a little shorter. Yet the pupils in their eyes formed a perfect line.

“I’m delighted to see so many monsters from all around the world! Werewolves. Frankenstein’s creations. Mummies. I don’t see the Invisible Man, but I’m sure he’s right behind me. And-what have we here? Even Count Dracula himself!”

Staring directly into those pupils. Then fate was sealed. That same purple magic ran a ring round her eyes too. Only he on side to see it. Relief finally taking over his entire body when he spotted Mavis a few paces behind. Engrossed in a selfie with her own family. Him and Ericka. Alone. Found to repeat a history they’d both tried desperately to forget. Hands an inch away from meshing together. The sigh expelled itself way louder than he would’ve done normally. But no sense of matter came to chastise. For now, fingers merely dancing in tune. Neither hand knew which would strike first. Its own temptation to do so buzzing in the background. Not wanting any of the guilt for coming first.

“There is something so…hypnotic about a man whom you can simply enjoy company with.” Ericka concluded. Voice cut silky smooth. At last the moment ended. But he’d seen what he’d seen. Knew what he knew. Found alive what he thought for sure had long since died-only its skeleton left as a faint pain in his heart. The magic had been cast. Fate certain to make its move in its own time. With any luck the wait wouldn’t be long. Faint whispers to his side once more. They didn’t matter. But his whole heart backed that assertion this time.

Until he saw their owner.

“Drac? Drac!” Wayne barked. A furred hand flying wildly in front, cold air swooshing directly in. Sharp sting right on cue. “Buddy, you okay? You’re completely spaced out. Haven’t seen that on you since-”

A smile, stretching easily from one ear to the other, filled his face. “She was…just like her. I think-I think-it happened again. I felt it, Wayne.”

“Felt what? Did the fireworks make you this way? See, I tell everyone they’re dangerous and way too loud, but when the time comes to duck under a table or go inside for safety nobody listens. Drac?”

“There’s nothing else I could’ve felt.” Dracula murmured, not even altering his gaze from the spot. “I’m sure of it, Wayne. I’m sure of it. Me and Captain Ericka…we just-we zinged.”

Wayne screwed up his face. “What?” His whole head shook harder than if he had some dead animal by the jaws. “No. That’s so impossible on so many levels. It’s gotta be those damn fireworks. Cmon, let’s go below deck and sort’cha out there. Can’t think straight up here.”

And then came the inevitable Mavis. “What’s going on? Dad?”

That wonderful tingly feeling which conquered his body so quickly began to dissolve. Those same shoals of hurrying emotions too quick to quantify. Back too soon. “No, I’m sure! I felt it. We zinged, Wayne.”
“You’re only supposed to zing once.” Mavis countered. As her father was pulled away, she moved only a few muscles the same way. Surely something had sent his mind awry for a second. Or maybe age had finally caught up to him, now the cocoon of the hotel became little more than a distant kingdom. An era bygone, almost. What if he was telling the truth? Not sure how that rested in her mind. Certainly not easily. On the one hand, good for him! To find this level of happiness and love. Something that’d been without equal for the stretching, eternal centuries she’d known him. Maybe a new lease of life really did exist on this ship. For him to find. Maybe for her.

But on the other…

Something which made her spine shudder at the mere thought. Something which, even though she refused to even contemplate it now-she should’ve thought of all along.

Quick as she came, Ericka trudged down far below deck. To a lair she could never seem to leave. No matter how much she willed it. But of course they’d need a report. They always would after tonight. That’s what worried her. The reaction would come when they knew something hadn’t worked to their design. Or worse, something had. All the lights she’d basked in before could never hope to breathe down here. Instead, a world of pipes and dials and mechanical hisses proved her enclosure, as if she was the prey of a leviathan steampunk octopus. Glistening whites and golds of her one-piece made her an easy target. Not long before she strayed to familiar, yet dark places. Maybe this was how they’d died. How she’d never met them. How the monsters had stole them. Stole them away in the dead of their night’s evil realm. And snatched away a poor child’s parents. Never to be seen again. Left her with vile people who she could never hope to see as family. But she had to pretend otherwise. Keep up the usefulness.

Each step she took rang out to a green smoky abyss. No one else to offset the punishing solitude. It seeping deeper and deeper into her chest. For she knew what lay waiting for her. She always knew. They always knew. Then it stood in front. The challenge ultimate.

One plain, rusting door. No handle or window. A wheel in the centre. She could almost see the sweat in her hands from that morning. Emblazoned on as a mark of shame. She’d be shouted back out if she came with uninvited guests, so her head circled round quick. So she didn’t have to look at her own deed. Pushing her into a sub-cavern of darkness. Where evil reigned. Not monsters, though. Never monsters.
She sincerely doubted monsters would ever be as cruel.

Green light shifting to a blue. Piercing in pockets. Silenced everywhere else. Once told by its inhabitants it was a metaphor for society-or something or other. She may have spoken English but that kind was a definite foreign language. Part of her poised for when that person would make their move. Could be any second. A small whirr, like a bug’s flitting wings, a few metres ahead. That same sound. That same prick of safety in her bloodstream as it registered. Merely a speck in this dungeon. But certainly something. A reason to move forward. Sure enough, a few paces ahead was that familiar face at his workbench. Computer screen, and the metal carcass before it, hogging his attention. A well-loved copy of Plato’s The Republic skewed off to the side. Two spindly arms, the same as his subject, from the laptop. Holding that robot like a limp rag doll. Artificial life to be toyed with, a mistake made, broken-then fixed by a responsible one. For the loop to begin again. Maybe its perpetrator, the human perpetrator, was all too similar.

She knew she had that in common with Dr Syon.

Though it warmed her heart against the cold air to see him happy. Smiling and poised like a child with their main present on Christmas Day. Each slight twist of those arms negligible to her. Rammed with meaning for him. Rhythmic taps on his keyboard. Altering an obscure line of life’s instructions to try something new.

“Hey Ericka,” he smiled, head not shifting one degree. “You know, you did great up there!”

“Thanks.” Ericka sighed, perching on the edge of the tech master’s plain, yet secretly illustrious, table. “I mean, you got them here. You didn’t do so bad yourself.”

His expression darkened a little. “Yeah. That’s what worries me.” he said under his breath.

“Not a single bit of your intel was wrong. We’re definitely putting that in your reference. In fact, it was better than 100% right.”

He nodded grimly. “I don’t really wanna talk about it, if I’m honest. But this robot-” an arm twitched to bask it in a pocket of blue light- “it’s fascinating. I actually did it! The first ever security robot that’s fully powered by vegetable oil! Not only that. Said oil can be made from seagrass. Ericka, do you know what this means?”

She shook her head. Dumbness a pretence and currency she wore in her eyes and mouth.

He rolled his eyes and chuckled warmly. “It means that our security can be completely carbon neutral! And potentially several thousand security institutions around the world! Just think of it. Capitol Hill, the Houses of Parliament, Google’s headquarters, Pfizer’s top labs, even the United Nations! In this small little lab here, I can help to protect democracy itself.” Before he could stop it, another dark cloud descended on his complexion. “Or…whatever’s left of it.”

Her powerless except for a slow nod. “Still, cool robot, though.”

His new smile stiff. “Yep. Cool robot. You know, I was gonna call my sister just now. Wanna join and say hi?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure!” A genuine up note in her voice and face now. First time all night. Or as long as she could remember. What with the scripts and all.

“Alright, lemme set her up real quick-”

“Your sister can wait, Mr Syon.” A third voice snapped in the darkness. Air carrying the virus of death itself on every syllable. Then a clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Instantly their backs went rigid. Mouths frozen firmly shut. Not daring to open again for the foreseeable future. Both knew they were secure then. Or maybe secure was the wrong word. Nevertheless, there could be no mistaking that accent. Born and bred in Yorkshire itself. Maybe once joyful, merry, freely offering guidance to visitors on the train up from London, for the universities and the empty seasides and the attractions you didn’t get for the same price down south. Over time, perhaps inevitably, its soft edge had been sharpened to a brutal sword. Each rake of the blacksmith’s stone on the blade as all good things came to an end; and the train disappeared at high speeds back to where it came. The invisible spaces between words cutting deep into Syon and Ericka’s souls. That clunk tainting their hearts. Forcing both to reflect in beats only keeping them alive on one sinew.

You always saw the eye first.

Red. Glaring through the sea of darkness. Staggering forth. A sickly, soulless white inside. A thick metal rim which once must have been fine and glossed. Now the bolts were peppered with dull browns and greens. A wild kraken of once pleasant autumnal curls hung limp over the side. The other eye pushed into defeat. Into a deep, scarred socket. Stuck, as if it were permanently rolling. A frown-the wrinkles of its entourage-etched into her face beyond repair. Nose wrinkled. What was left of hackles raised itself. The rest of her body a great mass expanding to summon the darkness in. Always tense. Fists automatically clenched. In the light you could only see one thing for sure. Two words on the left arm.

Solidarity Forever.

Instantly her eyes went to Syon. Evaluating the arms, the limp robot, the once again scared and powerless man at a computer leagues too sleek for him. Confidence, warmth, sucked from the room. No draught. But the corridor’s atmosphere replaced it. This. This was the reason why Ericka always wasted a few seconds before drawing that same inevitable, yet deeply uncomfortable, conclusion.

“You did good, boy.” the woman said. No hint of a smile tainting her expression. “We now have everything we need.”

“You’re welcome, Professor O’Donnell.” Syon murmured. A side glance all he could manage.

She grunted, her gaze whipping up. “And what about you? Did you sell it?”

Ericka nodded.

“Good. Good. We set sail at dawn. Start with the States, then move to the UK. That should be enough to get ‘em sold for sure. Least it will be if you pull your weight.”

“When have we ever-” Ericka started. One head shake from Syon all that was needed to remind her. Best to scrunch back, head down. Like she’d never said anything.

“The question you should be asking, young lady, is when you might. Your fascination in Count Dracula empowers you. That much is certain. But you must always remember what men really want. Only a kiss. Maybe one night alone. But never any more. That’s the way it’s been ever since my body grew into curves. And this, Ericka, is the one thing you must remember. The more you want something, something important, to change. Even if you need it just to carry on. The more likely it is to stay resolutely the same. So when you see Count Dracula,” a firm arm extended from the darkness to give a familiar glinting object, “remember what you’re there to do.”

Another, slower nod. Seconds where her smooth hand ran over a tough, bumpy one elongating to five eternities. One for each finger. Holding that object. Handle a familiar path whether you angled it down or up. Gentle strides towards that same place. Its edge almost pointing, carving the way, to her future. Her place. Her role in this tiny room. It didn’t matter as much she’d never known her parents over here. Because in this corner, among the cold, the pockets of blue light and the eerie silencing darkness, lay the sense of an ending. In sight. Tangible, even. Focused on the portrait, at eye level. A few scratch marks on the rim from when it was stolen. She’d eyed its subject a thousand times by now. Rips here and there from the last few. She stared it down for even longer today-and she knew what she must do. She’d always known. Now came the time to put theory into practice. Eyes not moving one inch, she strode forward in one go and sank the knife in. Deep into Count Dracula’s painted forehead. Pressure built up over two decades. All focused into the silver blade. One firm twist, as if revving a motorbike, for good measure. There it came again. That twisted smile. That cold feeling running up her spine. Welling as pure power in her heart. Eyes narrowing to slits. There it lay. In his stupid f*cking grinning face. His days were numbered.

And her role was the counter.

Turn back round. Hungry for validation as always. Professor O’ Donnell? Not a semblance of movement. Back still turned. And Syon. Staring at her. All she could see on his face was something of muted resignation. Begrudging acceptance. His sadness, his pity, turning infectious. Maybe lying in wait for a twist of fate it knew must happen. Just a human with no parents again. Best to lay the knife soundlessly down on his table. Shunt it into the dark. She should’ve thought of him before taking it. Of his feelings. Of his struggles.

“If you’re gonna apologise, save it.” he said, clearer than usual in this place. “You do your role. I do mine. Just how it is.”

“I forgot you were-”

He held his hand out in front. “Save it. I gotta go upstairs. As for my…other project, guess I’ll work on that after. Seeing as you need it so much.”

The venom tucked inside his last few words still rang deep inside Ericka’s ears as the thick wheeled door slammed. Her in the darkness. Sticking out like a sore thumb. Unsure who came, who went, who stayed.
All three, in their own wastelands. Alone again.

Chapter 3: Chapter 4: Conversations


In these two chapters, Syon takes the next step in his relationship with Nina, loving every minute but not yet able to rid himself of the old insecurities which he carries alongside him, from Singapore to Transylvania to the shores of Plymouth and the Boonited Kingdom. Meanwhile Mavis and Johnny continue their love way above deck, while Dracula and Ericka are hopelessly drawn to each other despite the old memories. However, in Plymouth Clawdeen and Draculaura can't help thinking of home, of their place in the world. That night, on the Dawlish sea wall, they won't be the only ones.
As always, society becomes unavoidable. Its oppression, its unfairness. Everyone starts to realise that, with varied reactions. The question remains, what will this mean for their futures? How will their actions develop into consequences?
Personal news: I spent all my half term writing this and more to come soon because I got sick and didn't go outside lol, but I got a uni offer from Southampton! Yaaaaay! Even if no other unis give me a place, I'll be super happy with that. And I got more Monster High dolls as you do, G3 Abbey and Twyla are SO f*ckING GOOD
Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Six:
Conversations at Night

After a while out from the deck, all sea looked the same to Mavis. The odd ripple here and there. Diving under to pop up somewhere else. All under the same indigo carpet. Clouds and distant hills no longer distinguishable. Yet still it snared her attention. Not daring to let go. This was, after all, said outside world. Every iota of it had to be cherished like a family heirloom. She concluded that it must be all places having their good and bad bits. It happened in the hotel. It happened with Johnny. Surely happening here. That’s okay. When the good bits came she had no doubt whatsoever they would more than make up for it. They had to. They would. Syon and that tall doctor woman and Johnny were merely its preparation. A compelling trailer for a movie to stand the test of time and memory. Not long now at all till release day. That same well of hope gushed again. Adding to her already full bucket. It barely existed until about a decade ago. Think of that!

It was these evenings, then, with Johnny on the other side of a great boat cutting into a fine point to the sprawling seven seas, which made it all worth it. One finger magnetised his chest. Another to gently lock hers in his arms. At the very edge of the world they could stand on. What could she do but point her arms out? Laugh at the freedom of it all. The rush of air again. But salted. Flavoured to be exotic, fresh. Though not lifting a foot off the ground, it felt as if she was a bat. Soaring majestically over an endless ocean. It felt more genuine, more loving with Johnny this time. NO deadlines to be up against. No danger. No dumb sh*t to worry about. Time more of a guideline than anything else. Complete license to fly as long as she wished. With the man she loved more than life, than her son, than her father, than where they were going.

Being with him alone refreshed and empowered her more than enough.

It wouldn’t feel fully right without a quick, naughty peck on the cheek. A little giggle to compliment. There. That’s better. A small tickle as she heaved that accented air in, and his arms were gently pushed into expansion. Memories weaving a patchwork of happiness. It started in a hotel. It culminated in a hotel.

Maybe it would end in a hotel…

She too bludgeoned that thought from her mind stone dead. Almost refusing to believe it even existed. Only her and Johnny, and the silent uniform sea. There was a silence, but it had its place as they had theirs. And she would never be satisfied for how long he held her like that. The gentlest of clasps to ensure she’d never fall through. Those reassurances. Of coming back to the here and now when her father sent Dennis off a tower, when she’d uncovered his fake village and pitchforks. Of the millions of badges and stickers of places she never managed to pronounce or even fathom. Far off existences waiting to be discovered. And they would discover it as a pair, surely. It would never be another way. Maybe it would decades down the line. Though Mavis would never allow such a reality into her consciousness for more than a few milliseconds. No chance of bearing it. Just the here and now to focus on.

“Hey, you see that moon in the distance?” Johnny neglected her body for a second to point out. No support left, so she was forced to stumble right. Fear injected for a moment-but his help arrived in the nick of time again. Both bent to almost kiss the floor.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Mavis grinned.

“Perhaps.” His childish smile offset by a few ginger hairs, enjoying a fiery childhood on his chin. That gentle, loving clasp relocated to her back. Enough width round there for a whole hand to find a home. Soar to the skies once more, though in a magnificent tornado this time. Her hand now out to the sprawling world with his. The feet’s turn to edge forward, his going first. One, two. One, two. Light taps for a point where the entire deck lent itself to their love. A tiny grunt of pain soon after.

“My bad.” Mavis giggled.

Johnny shrugged. Time to haul her back up. Grunts and wheezes only adding to the ambience. Stagger back a few steps. Recover. No sooner his hand sailed up, twisting her round in a storm of laughs and whoops. End right back on those eyes. How could she ever forget them? They’d zinged into each other, after all. Never pass up an opportunity to sneak a kiss on those irritatingly plain smooth cheeks.

“Alright, which country you learn that from, Johnny stein?”

“I kinda made it up on the spot. The spin round thing I learned in Barcelona once upon a time. Before I met you and settled down a bit.”

“You make it sound like that’s a bad thing.”

“Well, there’s great things in both. And in time, who knows? We are on a cruise round the world. Maybe they’ll take us back at some point.”

No need to say a word for them to survey a new home. Not a sound dared live anywhere else on the deck. Those great funnels enough to keep them warm, belching further clouds out to air still rich in royal blue. Had the world gone to sleep or was it stirring? Impossible to tell. Impossible to care. Not least because of how far away a mainland, a main world had distanced itself. All that mattered in her tiny, undead chest was the towering man in front of her. It took times like this, times when everything else in the world cleared for them as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea, to realise that privacy really was rarer than diamonds. Places of rest where she could take in all his authenticity, his care, his relaxed posture and nature ebbing into her own.

“Where d’you think we’ll go first?” she asked, head pointing eager at his chin like an energetic child.

“They’ll figure it out. Though we are near the Bermuda Triangle, so maybe Haweewee isn’t too far away as you like to call it.” he chided.

“Stop it. It’s Hawaii. I know now it’s Hawaii. But you really think so?”

“I mean, it’d make the most sense. Unless they’re going across the Pacific and looping back. Guess we’ll have to see. But either way, I heard that one of the destinations is the UK. That’s probably gonna be my highlight. Haven’t visited London or any of the other cities since I was, like, in my gap year. Not much older than one eighteen.”

Mavis smiled archly.

If he’d been trying to develop a confident traveller’s exterior, it soon began to melt. “See, I can’t even remember the names! I think there was, like, Cornwall which is the second largest city, bout a hundred miles north. And there’s Birmingham right down south. God, I don’t remember much but I remember Birmingham being one of the most gorgeous places on the planet.”

“Then it must be like a little slice of heaven tucked down in the south.” Mavis replied dreamily.

“Oh, nothing less. I mean, maybe it could use a Walmart here or there. But other than that, it’s almost as beautiful as you.”

“Jeez. What then, after Hawaii and Birmingham? Like we’d ever want to leave a place such as Birmingham, but still.”

“Could take us further into Europe then. It’s winter, so skiing’s not off the cards. Could take Dennis down the slopes real fast. He’d love that.”

“Maybe I’ll take him down, considering where he got to at Dad’s party. And we both know what happened the last time Dad and his friends tried taking him on their adventures. See if he’ll be any safer with me.”

Johnny laughed and shook his head. “I kinda deserve that. But it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

Mavis sucked her teeth. “Yeah. Guess you could say that.”

He rammed his argument home. “Things usually work out that way for us. Everything’s gonna work itself out in the end, Mavis. May not always feel like it, but it will. If it doesn’t work out this time-which it will, I’m sure of it-then that’s cause it’s not the end yet. Maybe even things working out aren’t the end. But one end or another, things always work out in the end for us because what we got is something special. Something new. Something beautiful. What we have is built off a love and respect for each other. Said love that’s gonna continue for as long as we live.” Another head bow. Fighting a sullen expression infecting his face. “Or at least, long as I will.” he muttered.

Mavis sighed. It was little comfort to know he felt the same way. She tried to swat the very idea from her mind. A hollow promise to tackle it closer to the time. Focus on his company tonight. Minimal effect. Unless…

But that would set monsters back several hundreds of years. Nothing short of shameful for a descendant of Dracula. Everything they’d strived for would fade into meaninglessness. Everything their relationship meant to those stubbornly unwise. No. No chance. Just enjoy the cruise-enjoy him-and pretend it didn’t even exist in her mind. Let alone linger in pockets of solitude. One more remedial kiss. Seconds later, she would deeply regret placing that one on his neck.

Their relief in the whole world being asleep to their love lay blissfully unaware of what lay stirring floors below. Of two other humans, sharing their thoughts without even realising it. Though the sea lay flat, uninspiring, her partner here may even say boring, Nina sat fixated on it. Of its symbolism to her. To the minds she pored over not too long ago. And would again soon.

“What’s out there that’s so interesting to you?” Syon asked. Voice growing a confidence he’d never hoped to find anywhere, let alone hold.

“I dunno”, Nina responded softly. Another tug on the jacket at her shoulder as she turned, smiling mildly. “Guess I just like the ocean. It’s calming, you know?”

“You’re calming enough.” he responded. Even his smiles were warmer, less mechanic. Not a clue as to why.

“Ha, thanks.” She surveyed the entire roof before breathing again. “The atmosphere helps. When you study, when you work in general, or even live, it’s good to have that nice calm space. Like when I’m done working for the day and wanna meditate. See here. Warm light. Wooden floor helps it feel more authentic. Like the plant on the table and the white porthole. And, yes, the sea. It all helps piece together a nice, calming puzzle.”

Syon turned confused. “What about your motorcycle, then? How is that relaxing?”

Nina shuffled closer, co*cking her head to think. “Well, I see your point.”

“Yeah, They’re noisy, fast, and apparently not the most comfortable either.”

“And all of those things are true. My bike is far from an exception. But it can also help clear your head. Tell me, Richard, when was the last time your head felt fully, completely clear? Focused on one thought, one thing, and one thing only.”

“I can’t even remember.” he replied in an instant.

“There you go. Our minds, in this age of information, can get so, so busy. You have to remember to slow down every day so you can focus on what matters. Get a better insight into it. What better place to do that than riding a speeding motorcycle?”

“Wait, that kind of makes sense. If you’re going along really fast, and have to keep your balance, then you can only focus on what’s in front of you. What you have to do in the present moment.”

“Exactly. You have to stay focused. So your mind is cleared of worries as you attempt to be.”

“And you have to really try, because if you don’t then you’re at a great risk of dying.”

Another moderate grin. “You get it. When we get to land, I’ll hire a bike and show you. Do you wanna see a picture of it?”

“Sure!” The last time someone had asked his view must’ve been some while ago. His memory of it had mothballed almost completely. Nina delved into a jacket pocket. Rifling vigorously for a second. A smile only a few seconds behind as she found that familiar place. On the resultant photos whipped out she stood, proud and grinning bright as always, in front of a triangular tower bearing confidently upwards forever. Clad in lit scaffolding as if it were never meant to be finished on its climb. At the foot, beside her hands on her hips, a sleek red motorbike. All sharp angles and refined points.

“That looks fast to say the least.” Syon trembled.

“Mhmm. The technical name for it is a Ducati 1199 Panigale S Tricolore. There, you can see stripes of the Italian flag.”

“Isn’t that the Eiffel Tower, though?”

“A little artistic licence never hurts. Besides, this is a worldwide cruise. We’ll get to see both France and Italy if we’re lucky. Two countries. Both filled to the brim with love.”

Syon eyed the bedside table. Already she had got to work in giving the room a name, a backstory, a sense of purpose and self-knowledge. Herself echoed in a Lego minifigure, bent deep into a similarly angular red bike. Italy’s bright, imposing reds and whites and greens on a tourist flag wedged behind the digital clock. A small notebook labelled “365 Ways to Treat Yourself Right” centre stage. Another larger one- “The Body Keeps the Score”-peeking through underneath. Only place left reserved for a pocket camera, nozzle still protruding for the next great adventure.

“Love how you’ve made it your own. Especially the Lego. That’s cute.”

“Thanks. Really helps when a room is truly yours, doesn’t it? Yeah, the figure really helps top it off. My uni lecturer gave it to me on my final day. When I left to do my research.”

His body perked up promptly. “You did research?”

“Mhmm. Well, still doing. It’s about the psychology behind dating. Dating in general, with a specific focus on dating someone of a different ethnicity to you.”

He crossed his arms. “And how do you address that?”

“I mean, it varies on the person. But overall, what I’ve found so far is that when considering someone they might love, younger people take a more holistic approach than their parents might have. Partially down to the internet. Partially down to where we are in terms of equality. Very simple example, half a century ago it’s very unlikely that us, a black man and a white woman, would be allowed in the same bedroom.”

“There is a strong chance relationships of that sort would simply be done in secret.” Syon replied. Eyes narrowed. Unable yet to locate Nina’s intended path.

“Yes, but all the same it would be rarer I think.”

“Eh, maybe. Depends a lot on what you hear. At least, I like to think of it that way.”

Syon sucked his teeth. “Yep. Get what you mean. A lot depends on what we know. What we base our opinion on. Even if it may not be the whole picture.”

Nina giggled. “Wow, feels like I’m talking to my dad again. Where were you before the cruise, out of interest?”

Gaze lowered so he saw nothing beyond her plain sheets. “It’s not that interesting. Where were you?”

“I mean, I was travelling. Just got outta uni, so it’s that time. While I was there I see another girl, someone who did like Engineering or something, pull up to my dorm on this motorcycle. And I ask, like, who she got it from. If it’s her boyfriend’s or her dad’s. But it’s hers. Her bike, which she bought, out of her own money, for herself. I dunno, guess that felt powerful. So when the time came to do my research, I thought it’s best to get the most angles on it. Cause, in psychology, a lot of the decisions people make are based on their childhood. Their birth, where they’re brought up. So if I get as much of those little perspectives as possible, then it leads to better research.”

Syon nodded. “Now you mention it, I’m here off uni too.”

Her notable shuffle forward certainly wasn’t a move he anticipated. “Which one?”

“Nanyang Technological University back home. In Singapore. Did Computer Science. I’ll go back in one or two years’ time to get my masters and maybe add some Management. I dunno yet. Depends on what my placement says. You did Psychology, I’m guessing.”

She shook her head, a vigour so thick he worried for a second her neck would suddenly snap as if it were some brittle plastic tube. That same smile not uncanny yet but dipping its foot on the border. “Politics.”
Syon’s mind so full of thoughts all jostling for attention. Yet so blank too. At last his mind had regrettably reverted. Unexpected for the Professor to not trigger it as she usually did. Yet there that word stirred again and again in his brain, refusing to let go. Politics. If it even meant anything. A cardboard box of a world. Either one could stuff it full of their own meaning. Good or bad. Good and bad. Or leave it lying there. Promising vainly one day it would mean something or go entirely. And there he was, in a horrible limbo between the two. Had he put himself there? Of course not. You only needed one look at the TV, there taunting him beyond the bed among another photo of that angular motorbike, to see who needed to be held accountable. And who never, ever was. Professor’s lessons making their uncomfortable berths in his consciousness. Comfort only in that blonde woman, almost puppy eyes cursing the room, inching closer and closer to him till the tangs of perfume and fresh toothpaste and airy croissants all populated his nostrils right to the back. Those dim sounds, heard as if he were drowning under familiar waters, stained with the ugly flags of blood and sewage. Politics. If it carried any weight. Who’s to say it wasn’t all just one irrelevant smokescreen to distract from the greater forces at play? The puppet masters controlling those besuited puppets. One with a blue tie, one with a red, dangling from the same clawed hand. What did that make the people who watched them dance, debate, look silly? Nothing of relevance. He knew that all too well. Hardly anything else to show with twenty years of life. Even this room, only them to enjoy only each other, felt tacky and weathered. So it was with a certain stasis, unease, that his arms went round her, and the warmth blossomed from her to his chest.

Still, something was better than nothing, he realised in a gentle smile. An impulse to kiss behind that shaggy forest dyed all sorts of browns and lights, but he thought it down. Keep it good without overselling it for now. But he wondered all the same. Wondered of what it could be. It’d have to be given time. They had plenty of that out here, in a deep blue unsalvageable nowhere stretching onto infinity. It would have to end. That inevitable end taking the prime berth, and all sense of innocence and hope outside this cabin with it. Of course it would have to end. But that was an entire world away. Maybe that world, waiting in the wings for things it knew it would have to showcase, would offer a way out. A way out, zooming down a country road on the back of her bike. That’d be very nice to say the least. Another inkling of tenderness in their hug sounded a beautiful note deep inside. Give it time. Maybe it’d grow. Maybe, just maybe, there could be wonders on this ship. Even for him. Above and below.

A small chance, the outside world reminded. But a chance nonetheless.

A tiny rap at the door. Like prey, fear jerked him from Nina. Eyes wide as nay number of outcomes materialised. Nothing new in the room. Outside anything could call him back to duties, away from this sanctuary. Back into the inescapable torture. Once again, an iota of comfort when Nina towered towards it.

She turned on its handle. Piercing white smile may as well have been emblazoned there by this point. “What’re you so scared about? It’s just a door. Maybe room service came early or forgot to clean a towel.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Just thought it was someone else.” An artificial laugh to tail.

The grand reveal as the door creaked open. His mouth ready to drop in time and tune. Only for him to have to look down as it swung aghast. At that boy. The spitting image of his father who’d made him feel like nothing more than a speck of dirt inside. Him too young yet to know the hubris. But only one of them knew love. Not a surprise if only one of them ever would. In that alone the child’s gaze, powered by nostalgia, changed allegiances. Against him as well. That same kid, unmoved from the doorway, like an apparition to remain till he confessed his guilt and shame. Expression pensive for now, bar a textbook wide yawn.

“I can’t get to sleep. Mom and Dad can’t get to sleep either, cause I heard them outta their room. So now I can’t sleep. Mom screamed and laughed; it woke me up.”

“Why would you want us to get you to sleep?” Syon asked, more than a twinge of tremor in his voice.

“I didn’t know you were here. Honest. Honest I didn’t. I just wanted to find them so they could get back to bed and stop waking me up.”

Nina made the first move before he even fully opened his mouth. Bending down so she almost hovered among the floor, in one tender mass covered in the shades of heaven. A minute disconnect, so her head hung limp around his neck despite the bright orange flare atop his head like a burning torch to the way forward. “Okay. What’s your name?” Her voice soothed pain to the point it froze when she put the intent in. Plastered it beyond pain even when it didn’t. Even away from their bodies’ coupling it jumpstarted his heart a little. Not enough to take it further. Not even close. He wouldn’t be enough anyway. Still, something to pick up on.


“Okay, Dennis, you want us to help find your parents?” she simpered.

“Yeah, maybe it’d help. But Dad never took his backpack, so the sooner I can tell him that the better.”

An arm slithered round Dennis’ back, piloting him into the room. Syon beginning to notice the plume of bright ginger curls, the rapidly advancing stubs of legs. A short clone of his father. Anatomy replicating a Funko Pop more than a vampire or human. Let alone Dracula himself. Dracula herself. Nothing to remedy the thunder of relief whooshing from his mouth, louder than a jumbo jet ascending. Only the voice had haunted his ears out there. Nina’s slender figure, shaped as if by an expert potter at the height of their career, doing little to remedy endless possibilities on express duty through his conscience.
When Dennis’ eyes widened, they did so with a blank gloss yet to be painted over by life. “Woah. There’s a lotta motorcycle stuff here.” That same gloss in a virulent smile Syon could never hope to bite back. Despite what the Professor would say. Again he’d feel the consequences tan his hide later. No doubt about that. The kid had this way with adults still. NO doubt in its waning years as the pimples and the daily anxiety and the mysterious lack of flavour in this dark synapse of existence evolved. He’d learned such a lesson far too well to possibly ignore it. His attempts making little difference. As with everything else. Be it a ballot paper, asking the punk girl in his Data Analysis class out for the aftermath of one fateful Friday evening, his bleats of one rule for everyone instead of basis in birth. And everything else. Another reminder from the Professor. The least he could do now to stare back at the son. A glaze in his own eyes which tried dearly to be the same-nevertheless standing as a polar opposite. Another wooden smile at what Dennis still possessed. Bless him. He’d have to break the news one night. Tonight could remain vacant from that at least.

“-and that there is me with my Ducati at the Eiffel Tower!” Nina gestured, a performer rewarded with a childish ‘Wooooow’.

“How fast can it go?” he inquired, tone dripping in childish wonder.

One size fitted all when it came to her smiles. “Top speed is, I think like, one hundred and eighty five miles per hour.”

“What’s it like to go that fast?”

“Oh, I’ve never ever gone that fast. Only eighty tops. But one day soon, kid. One day soon. I’m gonna find a road, flip down my helmet, and become a speck on the horizon in seconds.”

“Are you gonna ride solo?” All Syon did in time was clamp down his hand in shame after.

Nina turned, hands pressing into her hips. Without moving she grew inches more over him, his tiny insignificance more unavoidable and unbearable than already. “Maybe. Unless you wanna ride bitch. I mean ride pillion. So sorry I said that.”

“I do want to ride!” he responded, quicker and in more stammer than he felt at peace with after the words had done their damage. “Very much so. It sounds very, very exciting indeed! Yes. But what do you mean…ride bitch?”

Her smile dissipated. That same glaze tainted by adulthood and inevitabilities even got to her too, it seemed. That perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was one that threatened to tip an entire sector of his knowledge upside down and shake it senseless. “It’s-an old expression for people who ride on the back of a bike. It used to always be the man riding up front. The woman hugging him in the back. Thus it became known as the bitch seat.” She shook her head at the plain roof.

Any disgust he felt at such knowledge had long since made itself familiar. In permanent residence. And yet. Maybe it wasn’t totally inaccurate. Not in their scenario. “Let’s just call it the pillion seat.”

“Can we also get my mom and dad while we’re at it?” Dennis redirected.

A slow nod emerged into her neck. Shaking off a past blunder. Perhaps to prepare for another. Or rectify another old one. “Sure. Sure. You’re right. Me and Richard here will help you find your parents. And then-we can all go to sleep.” Her turn to force a smile and forget to add conviction. “Hey. We could even wake up in a different country with a whole host of opportunities for everyone.”

“Maybe an opportunity to ride your motorcycle at one hundred and eight five miles per hour?” Dennis reminded. His own smile ebbing into hers. What was rightful on its feet and reclaiming.

“Yeah, that’d certainly be nice. You know what, Richard? Come along with me when I do it. I’d like some company.”

All he could possibly do to conceal caricature jumps of elation when Dennis rounded on him. Hunting for his equal input. No chance of going under the radar here. “Do you think there’s gonna be these opportunities for you, Syon?”

A sigh concealed best he could as mere breath. Tossing the question this way and that like it were a coin. Heads with one path of fortune. Tails bringing up its antithesis. What may happen. What would happen. What had a path. What didn’t. What was his. What was others. What direction he’d take out of choice. What had been planned out already.

“Oh maybe, Dennis. Maybe.”

One final linger on the ground below. On the horrors already whirring into life. Their entourage strolling these decks, guns and metal in hand. The time to use them not yet there. Coming. And who was there to blame when it all spilled over? When technology asserted its upper hand on something he wasn’t totally sure he believed in? There could be no alternative. No hiding away in a uni dorm with coursework on this one.

One way or another, he knew then.

Not everyone would make it off this ship alive. But he would. Blood stained beyond redemption on his hands, knives sullied by his fingerprints on the hilts, the blades lying in kind chests, souls reaped for a mere idea lent to him as some twisted heirloom. He would escape unscathed. Except for the thoughts which would darken him more than his skin already was for the rest of his-blissfully finite-human life.

Maybe it was in her blood, but tiredness never hoped to enter Mavis’ mind even in these small hours. Johnny only slowing down by the tiniest of fractions. Maybe it wasn’t doing anything. Arms all that stretched out, dangling aimlessly over the banister. Hanging, as if by the neck, over the equally stirring water. Maybe it wasn’t needing to do anything. Silence had its place. Not many others could boast such a claim. Occasionally one would glance back. Another’s sluggish reply. Bursts of laughter. A joke. One criticising another semi-seriously with a smile. And so the silence eased back in. She was more here for the atmosphere. One which only ever made itself inside him. Even from a first look one could detect the free flow he promoted. Many directions of which you knew none beforehand. Nevertheless you hoped and expected for the best with him. He had a way of making it the best. When Dennis was miles away, inches from death at a malachite grass floor and rotting scaffolding. When a trust built like ivy over her whole life had hung like a loose tooth. His endless curiosity at mountains and their glistening white caps, at the skies, at the orchestra of nature and life itself, had bandaged the wound a little. She tried not to remember what he did straight after. It’d worked out for the best. That’s what mattered. On the other end, when he’d collapsed into the hotel lobby uninvited and unexpected. Unrelenting in discoveries. Her life on one track swiftly changed to another she never imagined before. Ever. The answer of who she would marry a decade ago would’ve been murky to say the least. Probably a vampire elder-a Valentine or a Fangtel or some name like that, its very pronunciation coated in dust. Doubtful her father would let her marry outside the vampires. But that tumbling boy, a distant descendant of Frankenstein, in stitches that in retrospect she had no idea how their painted nature had eluded her; only one answer existed then.

The ring, speckles of pure white dancing with the waves, as their trophy. Her hand unable to stray from his any longer, sliding next to his own idyllic diamond finger. And yet, part of the air around them felt vacant. Something out of place. Or missing entirely. If they had forgotten it, then maybe it didn’t matter. Everything they needed could be found in the partner. Ignore a slight tug in her core to go somewhere for now. Impulses like that come and go sometimes. Best to focus on the lifelong one no more than a day away from finally being fed-no, feasted.

At last it finally mattered. Johnny’s face grew colder inch by inch as if someone had cracked an egg atop his head.

“We’ve forgotten my backpack.”

At once the serenity of such a far away atmosphere became valuable and brittle. Her mind was rushing. Again. As if it had never stopped since that first morning after truly relishing each other’s company. Alone. In her bedroom. Where senses, thoughts and feelings mattered most. Stretching into decisions which sculpted an eternity she’d live for.

A sigh came out far bigger than would’ve saved the moment. “Is it on the plane or back home?”

“I dunno. Don’t think I had it with me on the plane cause I’d never leave my backpack.”

“Well evidently you have.”

“There’s probably some stuff in our room we can use. Maybe that funny Syon dude has a laptop we can borrow. One or two of my GarageBand songs might be saved to that cloud thing, it’ll be fine.”

Bearing it no longer, Mavis cut straight to the point. “Didn’t I tell you to pack our clothes in there?”

“Mine, yours and Dennis’? I mean, there’s gonna be a place to buy some clothes somewhere. They’re always small shops too, so the price won’t be that bad.”

She shook her head, trust once again overtaking her. “If you say so. You’ve travelled way more than I have.” A wave of tiredness finally injected into her chest, but she grinned and bore it. Tried to remember the good times. When it’d all worked out in the end. Sailing on into the future, able to laugh it all down. Nevertheless something talked to her about ends and means. One used to justify, even rectify, the other. And amongst all this, once again Dennis had slipped through their fingers. A stale feeling of boredom ready to rise in her throat. Only managed back down by a tidal wave of moderative love. Then another memory. Of when they’d made that first treacherous step into his world, and planted those weird metal rectangles which could somehow send messages rocketing over all faces of the world in seconds. When he’d talked of his eagerness to go back to dating, after the bureaucratic birth and the pains and shunting dad out of the way. Dennis was still a baby starving for milk; there was nothing she could do. And his response. More and more she flipped it, like a burger needing heat on all sides for true succulence, in her mind. More and more it jutted out of place like a dislocated bone.

His claim: “I need to feel loved too.”

Did it matter that much? In one sense, of course it did. To be expected after they’d broken so many boundaries with such a deep, resonating appreciation for each other. But that word. Need. Like a crawling gremlin begging for food as the clock struck midnight. A remedial slither over his hand. Yet even their rings clinking together seemed out of place. Wished for warm skin, all she got being icy metal.
A hurricane shoved itself out of her mouth when she heard those familiar patters on wood behind her. At last Johnny’s failings began to ebb into insignificance. That same figure, though. Skulking behind. Shrouded in darkness. Feet falling almost silently, save one clean rap per step. Steadily marching forward like death itself. Another behind that. The human form of life, then, if he was death. Maybe it made sense. Life’s milk was white. Death’s pall…black. A part of her strained her with all its strength from such an assertion. Such a wrong. But the truth can only be avoided for so long. No full reason formed inside as to why she looked at Johnny with that statement either.

“Can we go to bed, guys?” Dennis yawned. One of the many reasons she thanked him for having a human father. Thanked herself. She nodded, that motherly instinct of knowing what came next resuming its rightful place. An arm mimed to scoop him back up. They’d gone beyond that point now. Remember that. It’s weird to say the least. Guess it had to come sometime. Syon and this tall girl didn’t, though. Their reason for substituting her out, perhaps due to her own skips in attention, still unjustified.

“You know,” Nina said, “there’s something about the night that’s so special. So therapeutic. A sense of the truth being revealed when no one else is looking. People doing things they might not necessarily feel they can do by day. I like that. More freedom. Especially for monsters.”

Syon nodded, a landing bay in her armpit once again docking his meek body. Now that Mavis paid some closer attention, something about her jacket struck a chord. Black, but not as she knew it. Shining in the moon. Unafraid to stand out. Different. Powerful. Her blond hair cascading down like a waterfall over her back. A few studs underneath dancing to sparkle. And only for a second, her own one bearing down on those same black-clad shoulders ebbed into her mind’s eye. Definitely another thought, another confidence boost, to savour for later. For now, merely get a hand round Dennis’ back and pilot him into tomorrow.

“Johnny? You coming?”

He shrugged. “We doing anything in bed tonight?”

“Do we have to every night? It’s late.”

“You’re a vampire, though. You’re supposed to have the most energy at night. And I’m completely fine to go.”

“I-don’t really feel like it. Another night.” she conceded. “But not tonight.”

“Alright.” Some undertones you couldn’t disguise even if you tried. At least she didn’t turn her head when she heard the sense of defeat. She heard it. Definitely heard it. It’d all work out in the end. It had previously. It would again. All she had to do was tell herself that. All they had to do was land on the first place and wonder would ensnare her again and never let go. Johnny would be right there to back it all up. Even so, something felt out of place. Something which doubtlessly originated from him. Maybe it wasn’t important yet. What was most important lay a few miles ahead tops. Her dream.
Best to prepare for it.

Chapter Seven:
Plymouth and the Sea Wall

You heard the horn blare through first. A fanfare to their arrival. To land. That mystical thing which swiftly turned from normality to luxury after setting sail. Sealing it like an ornament behind velvet curtains of clouds. A gilded glow straight on the face, that morning’s irresistible makeup. Skies blushing pink, rolling back the last of that night where crimes were allowed even if for a little bit. Saying sorry for all that. Today was a new day. Best to seize it. Distinguish between past and future. Present shifting with the gentle, yet soulless wind felt tickling your nape. That would get some getting used to. He’d made a point, over the years, of staying where it had a personality shaped by the white powders on the mountains, on the featherlight pines over the hills. For his safety. For everyone’s safety. He’d spent a lifetime of taking the wheel, steering it away from any shore suspected by those in the shadows of their own crimes that may have crags underneath. He’d taken one. He would not take another.

It grew tiring after a while.

Only now, in a bed he’d not told anyone to make, made from clouds he saw from that porthole, did he let such an idea find its peace inside. The sun finally made itself known. A great yellow glare of accusation enraged enough to fully show its defences. Yeah, right. No more defending, defining, attacking. Squirt that same icy white river on his neck. Run it thin everywhere not covered in smart velvet. Let the thought roll away like the wave heartbeats below. The time of running in the darkness had long since departed. It would not come back. The past was the past and that was final for certain. That said, best to keep it under floorboards. If anyone ever found it, best for it to be a new owner. Use it for their own issues and their own ideas. None of his own. He would cater to it no longer.

He was Count Dracula, after all. Best to dust off some of that opulent title. Wear its majesty once more. All in good time.

The first thing which struck the morning after was how sterile every surface compelled itself. Every floorboard in some straight formation, ready for inspection. More light, soft pinks and blues and other hues than sharp reds and stone. One of the cleaners must’ve found a pumpkin plush from one of the old customers and misplaced it. Some other story, long dead. Its meaning long since lost to a cipher. No matter. There still lay a certain charm in the baptism by fire that was centre stage. Some ran for it. He understood that long ago. It took time for everyone to acknowledge a truth, he conceded with half a heart as toothpaste extended on the brush. Sagging to its own drop in the gap between the two tufts of bristles. A special design. How they’d known that was more a delightful mystery for the time being. A prompt to take stock of something new. Something unknown. A future far beyond those verdant infinities which all led to nowhere. Only that voice, that clean voice quick to steal his heartstrings over the speakers, mattered.

“Good morning, monsters and humans all! Our first stop on this cruise is jolly old England, we will be arriving into Plymouth Dock in approximately two hours’ time. Please take advantage of our breakfast offer before we land, our crew will be more than happy to help you discover all England’s rich heritage and culture has to offer. Please note that this stay will be forty-eight hours, leaving from Scarborough in two days’ time. Don’t worry, though, as you will be guided to our hotel outlets across your stay by our ceaselessly helpful crew and me. Once again, our first stop is England where we are scheduled to arrive into Plymouth Dock in about two hours’ time, so get some breakfast and pack everything you need to seize all the United Kingdom has to offer!”

Music to his ears. A sense of urgency quick across his whole body, reawaken before some natural order. Like a vampire being brought out of their coffin. Only, for a change, the coffin was pure white padding without borders. A light oak to replace that ancient spruce with its own cape of fine dust. Maybe he’d get used to it. Another part of a new beginning.

He couldn’t wait for it to start.

You could see a brown lump, peeking through satin skies. A mere speck on the horizon as of yet. Some smoke billowing, its own trunk to form a smoke tree. Other aromas, ones strangers to his nose for lifetimes previous. The sweet tang of honey. Now he thought of it, he’d not smelt it, let alone tasted its gold syrupy heavens, for at least as long as Johnny had been alive. The most familiar was the wild berries. You got some semblance of that in the hotel’s last chapter. Even that here felt more authentic. Though with some degree of staleness. As if it had grown somewhere else. Come a few miles before meeting its first customers. But he wasn’t going to pretend his food back home had been any better, come to think of it. There was still some adjusting to do-taking eyeballs out, maybe some regulations here and there. That mountain of paperwork he happily thrust to Mavis and Johnny. They had far more energy to sink into it than he could ever muster nowadays. The hotel now held their future. His past. May the two never cross over.

Heart skipping a few beats when that tiny pink girl shuffled past with her colourful friends. Not because he loved her, of course. Ericka got there and held his heart in a stranglehold. Even as he woke up that morning, for a brief second he felt her hourglass- shaped silhouette carved into the bed and then taken away. Only the cutout left for him to love and miss. She’d stolen back those feelings Martha had taken to her grave. Dug them back up to blossom. The pink girl was completely different. A reminder of a past he’d prefer to forget in her cheeks, eyes the same dull colour, thin lips. At least she’d gone and made her own way, her own tribe. Even then-the werewolf, zombie, mummy. All in their tight circle. No one else daring to enter. Each knew for sure the other ghoul had their backs through thick and thin. Reminding him of the old days not quite put out yet. Their final damning embers small.

But more than enough to illuminate the dark dealings he’d done.

Once again he found that craving, as if it had never left, in the core of his soul. For Martha to hold, hug, reassure. A little room far away from it all. As it had been then in their dishevelled dwelling, tucked as an afterthought behind the Hawley Arms and its undying odour of cigar smoke. Barely time to unpack from the train. Barely time to repack for the train back. But Martha made it seem as if there wasn’t a war on. No ghostly killers and new morals loose. No orders to do this and that. No order to be the one on moral high ground, to instruct lowly monsters what to do. Martha gave him his own canvas in pure, naked white bedsheets.

Plenty of time for them two to paint it any colour they liked. She made everything seem so relaxed, judgement banished from all corners of the place. Gentle trickle of tea into two cups its replacement, as he felt two pleasant warm impacts on his legs. First the china. Then her. Each second of her body in his grasp made him high off the sweetness. Compelling him to desire more. Her laugh too. The soothing way she spoke. The million and one worries he had racing through as the train puffed through the West Country, through those farmlands and accusing stares. All gently shushed down like a mother to her crying baby. Her interest in bands from abroad rather than the ones playing their archaic tunes in the West End. It all slowed everything down. So he could savour life’s sweet notes behind its dull, churning beats. The room, like them, had cast off its delusions of grandeur a fair bit ago, but kept some semblance for the average passerby. One ornate frame, the dark green walls, a bust only defaced if you turned it to the right. Good enough. It was people that made the place, after all. Bath had convinced him more than enough of that. How an abbey to rival Buckingham Palace and beyond itself could become boring was wholly the blame of Hexiciah and his mad troupe. Even Temple Meads a few miles further south, a station he swore he saw bats fly from the rafters there once at night, had become a chore by now. With all the meetings and minutes and concerns so urgent they had to be put a few places back in lists.

All terrible things. Thinking themselves far too terrible for him, or he thought any of them, to ever see.

Martha almost too radiant for him to deserve.

Of course he’d f*cked her. In another time or place he found it hard to believe anyone would blame him. Hexiciah would find his ways, presumably. But he seriously doubted, what with the new headless girl, he practiced what he preached. Sparky was merely a plaything on the side. A blank canvas to be filled to the brim of all those grandiose ideas, of inventions and creations and all sorts of other crap with cogs and bronze way above him. His meek lawyer self could never hope to understand. But Martha understood him. Nothing else even existed in this place. Opulence set by someone else crumbling as they went in, out, in, out. Breaking rules, breaking borders physical and elsewhere. A certain pride, even hubris, welling in their hearts. She snorted a little when he grabbed. Small giggles and exclamations adding to something that could be purely theirs. Not preset by anyone else. Even after he still wanted to linger. Part of him knew he’d have to. There had to be a price to pay for all this, and that would be squarely his. He didn’t know at the time how much interest would be charged. But he had to be sure. He had to be total.

That horn again swiftly pulling an old eternity away. A new one awaited, after all. Little white pimples among the brown mass began to gleam. So did the rises and falls of the sea. Everything in the nearby atmosphere designed for the one purpose of wowing him. Even those four girls on a sofa designed apparently from marshmallows and other curves existed to pique his interest. All to provoke thought like an elaborate piece of art: this is life away from what you know. Almost out of the frame, a train exploded out of a tunnel, thundering alongside the nonchalant ocean before another tunnel swallowed it, all eight indigo carriages, whole. A strange caw new to his ears, its originators a menacing circle of white birds above the beach. Closer and closer. Yet the town paid no attention to such a cumbersome ship. Nor its unavoidable funnels and gold lettering. To them it was just another gigantic cruise vessel with scores of temporary inhabitants, and no more.

Life slowly stirred to its feet, the hive mind groggily returning to its sense of urgency. Those four girls skipping back in clacks of their spindly heels right past. More giggles, a secret language he never aimed to understand. Maybe he was there to decode it, among many other things which proved themselves foreign the more he stayed onboard. Urges to move on. Battled only by his conscience. He may as well go below deck and prepare for boarding. It’d been far too long since he’d inhabited the rolling hills and distinct culture of this place. The United Kingdom. Threats to break always proving too weak. In truth, despite all he’d done there and all it held as he looked more at a harbour unsure if it wanted to be of the past or future, he’d missed it.

But when he next set foot on land, he didn’t do so with the lightest of consciences.

Equally, Draculaura’s mind filled itself easily with so many thoughts she was continually surprised her little pink head didn’t pop. She was here, far away, on a break with her four favourite people ever. Great Scarrier Reef as soon as they’d finished here. But what they’d run from. What they’d seen off back home. Certainly food for thought, especially at this time of year. She had her ghouls right by her side should Valentine try to strike a third time. It was more the principle. A woman, packaged to the brim with her own ideas and powers and feelings, could be taken right under a man’s wing and from there nothing they said or did mattered in the slightest. To top it all, that was the predestined goal. Something about that didn’t sit right to say the least. A will to be yourself, be different, confined to frumpish frills and pinks she wore. They pleased her, but didn’t hold a candle to such a total desire. Maybe only Valentine, his own style stuck as if she could source it from a Thomas Hardy novel, embodied that. Had Clawd not cared, been there, been honest, loved her? There the picture began to fill somewhat more. Even then, though-glass a mere half full. Maybe it was more she missed him, and would dutifully remind herself of the delight she felt in his arms under his stewardship. A long shot at best. But love to at least look forward to and bathe in freely nonetheless.

“I wonder what shops this place has to offer.” Frankie grinned, her usual tone lacquered in childlike curiosity.

Cleo rolled her eyes. “Frankie, dear, the only place really worth shopping in the Boonited Kingdom is Londoom. Everybody knows that. I won’t be seen dead in shoes from a small harbour town.”

“Yeah, sure. You’ll say that until we find a Ghostier.” Clawdeen scoffed.

“Ghostiers are at least fashionable wherever you go, and expensive enough to be in my price range. Probably the main thing keeping this dump afloat.”

“If we’ve already decided this place is a dump,” Draculaura interjected, “why aren’t we saving our money till we land in Boo York or Scaris?”

“I can’t just go to a place and leave empty handed.” Cleo retorted. “Not least because my father would never let me hear the end of it. Besides, either I spend this money or Nefera does, and I am not spending all my time this spring break after the Great Scarrier Reef swimming in her cigarette smoke!”

If looks could kill, the glare Cleo gave next would be enough to kill Clawdeen stone dead. Her fingers thought better of the wrapping and tumbleweed-like substance sandwiched inside, fidgeting for her handbag so the error could be corrected. Eyes flitting between the sparkling blue on her chest and that above. “Nice weather this morning, huh?”

“Tell me again, Cleo. Are you against smoking cause of health reasons, or?”

“It’s not so much the act in general,” she responded, rearranging a deck of credit cards in her wallet. “More when my sister does it. It smells like the old tomb. And at least when Deuce does it he offers me a drag too, and bothers to brush his teeth afterwards. Well, most of the time anyway.”

A thin, freshly rolled piece of paper rocketed to under her nose. “I’ll give you my lighter in a sec.” Clawdeen added.

Cleo made one of her rare, home grown smiles at the four. One finger from the finely wrapped mass elongating to a large, dull block defended by a row of houses and the water, emulating quaintness as best they could. All most noticeable by the gaping green sign for a McDonald’s inside the block. Her own clacks immediately gaining frequency, Draculaura struggling to keep pace on her own legs which kept her in an infuriating, close relationship to the ground.

“There. We’re shopping there.”

Clawdeen’s turn to roll her eyes, first puffs as curled and silky as the caramel waterfalls beneath her pierced wolf ears. “I’ve known you for two years now, but the fact you of all people are addicted to McDonald’s is always a surprise.”

“Shut up.” Cleo replied, before the same hand covered her mouth and the cigarette slightly thinner than herself coming to existence in a miniature flame. “Their nuggets are just-Oh my Ra.”

“If you say so.” Clawdeen didn’t feel any need to sprint to pale fries and burgers she suspected would be cannibalism if she ate them. More of a spark when she hung back with Draculaura. Far more. But best to keep that hidden for the time being. Not least because of what they’d done before boarding. What everyone at school had witnessed. Draculaura acted as if a part of her didn’t catch onto it. Ironic that werewolves always had the most famed senses of smell, yet neither of them had the full will to snuff such an easy coupling out. “How you doing, Draculaura?”

A few seconds before her mind pieced together an answer. “I don’t really know. I-maybe could use some time shopping. That always seems to help.”

“Feel ya there, ghoul.” Another puff swirled across both, triggering a dainty cough.

“So much has been going on lately. I’m now 160, Valentine came back, two trips to the best places in the world in two weeks, it’s my first holiday with friends-I think I need some time to sit and process it all for a while.”

Clawdeen nodded. “Well, I’m here. Cmon, let’s go find somewhere quiet to sit down. I’ll text Cleo and say we’re gonna be a little while and maybe meet her, okay?”

A weak smile as her eyes found a bench. Away from those glaring brand names and their rough orgy of bright colours. “There. Near the little boat.”

“There’s lotsa little boats out here.”

“I mean the one with the small dolphin on its front.”

“Oh, yeah. I see it. You want anything to eat or drink?”

“If I don’t get, like, a muffin in my body soon, I’m literally gonna live.”

“Gotcha. Think I see a coffee place near the harbour. One muffin, one haunt chocolate, comin’ right up!”

No sooner had Draculaura sat down than she felt a small warm pad in her lap. A rich smell of molten chocolate wafting life in, reanimating everything. Worries moved from one huge backpack to more a noticeable laptop bag. More birds cawed every two minutes, as if to denote a changing of the guard over all who dared walk with their own crumpled packets of food. That same salt more of a background sense by this point. Normies moved in little atolls, few who paid attention to their appearance empty-handed. One or two drowned under brown bags and chatter, no doubt of what lay in, with iridescent teeth. Those who didn’t were often so thin she could mistake them for shadows. More bouncing alongside the water than walking. Some held pockmarks in their bony cheeks. A few drawing the last embers of light from thin cigarettes. Attention not daring to focus anywhere else. Only those white pipes contained all the happiness they could ever demand or need. One suck couldn’t hope to be enough. There always had to be another, unrelenting, in quick succession. All the while the ads flashed on, the atolls at the other end of the spectrum ensnared and drawn in without a second thought. You had to wonder who benefited the most from all these people coming and going. Even the packet, the comfort she clutched, branded ‘PRET’ right in her eyeline. A dark red star to confirm the glory as if this ‘PRET’ were its own fascist nation. Nevertheless, the thoughts waited for no extra ships or time to calm down, and she immediately found herself shunting chunks of airy chocolate loaf down her throat.

“What’s on your mind?” Clawdeen inquired, a shuffle closer to her friend as she sipped her hot chocolate.

“I was thinking-men seem to control everything we do or even say and think. Whenever you get a date, it’s always with a boy. The best boy possible. If not you’re urged to find said boy and get him before another girl does. We’re always taught by men.”

“What about Headmistress Bloodgood?”

“The last time any of us saw her was when Cleo and Frankie knocked down that statue. Besides, there’s her, Miss Kindergrubber, apparently new S-pain-ish and Social Studies teachers are coming but that’s it. Our main teachers, Mr Hack and Mr Rotter? Both old men. And all these ads you see, all these companies who sell us all this stuff. Even in one shopping trip after school on a Friday evening. It’s always the women acting surprised at a product, with a big tag round it for a price or function, or the men pushing it on us. On the news, whenever I look an article, it’s always a man in a suit explaining everything as if it all belongs to another world. We, the women, are almost invisible nobodies to them. Even back home, when was the last time we had a woman President? It can’t be that hard. If there can be a Father of Scaremerica, there can totes be a Mother of Scaremerica as well.”

“Yeah, that’s weird to me too. But you know what’s also weird about it? The fact that even if there was a candidate, they’ve never been elected.”

“Totes! Sometimes I feel like we have more compassion than the men anyway. At least we care about something other than casketball.”

Clawdeen’s cough morphed into a laugh with quick spats of smoke. “You can say that again. Maybe that’s why the NBA’s so f*cking huge for no reason.”

“Hmm, maybe. It doesn’t make sense, though. If, like we suggest at school, everyone can be themselves and everyone can be loved the same, why is it that men get more love than us? Is it something they’ve done that we haven’t?”

Clawdeen shrugged, relenting on the hot chocolate for another drag on her cigarette. “sh*t, there’s ashes in my drink now. And some on my flares. f*ck. Anyways, it seems to me that somehow having a penis makes you somehow superior. Dunno the logic behind that. Last I checked, Heath having a dick didn’t make him nearly as fast as me during a full moon.”

“Oh my ghoul, I remember that!” Draculaura smirked. “Yeah, if Heath can get ahead of us in life just because he’s-well, Heath-then something’s totes wrong with the world. But yeah, I was mostly thinking of Clawd and Valentine. And, like, what I am to them.”

Clawdeen’s face darkened a little. A heavier drag for this one. The ensuing grey curls wouldn’t gloss this static problem over, but it helped. “My brother really appreciates you, Draculaura. That much is clear to me. If he wasn’t then I wouldn’t allow him anywhere near you. You know that as well as I do.”

“I know he loves me. But there seems to be a little bit of me appreciating him, being thankful for him, accepting whatever he has, letting him complete me. Maybe something of what I am to him. But it feels like one of us has to fully complete the other. Not both of us coming together to complete something bigger, better than both of us. And that’s when the boy actually loves you.”

“Said it before. I’ll say it again. Valentine is gone. For good. You won’t see him again. You don’t need to think about him again. Any thoughts you have about him now are little remnants of his power over you. Don’t let that win. Not now.”

“It’s not so much about letting him win, Clawdeen. It’s the principle. I didn’t even realise I was only a tool to him until you ghouls pointed it out. See what I mean? In the best case scenario, it’s like a competition to see who can complete the other more but you have to appreciate all the boy has to offer in his love. In the worst, all you are is an emotional tool to please him and give him what he wants until he’s done with you, and just pushes you away without a second thought! And this is supposed to be the big thing everyone says is the best thing ever in those songs, those books, those TV shows? It doesn’t add up. At least not for me.”

“I see what you mean. But…” Clawdeen hesitated, ensuring to inspect and handle each word before lining it up in a sentence, “what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if, instead of having to have a man and a woman together, it could be a woman and woman?”

Only a quizzical expression made it from Draculaura’s again swirling mind. “How does that work? Biologically, you can only have a child if we, as women, have sex with a man. If we could make the babies ourselves there would be no need for men at all. You’re the only ghoul I know who even likes casketball, let alone plays it.”

“Yeah, but-what if you don’t have a baby? It’s not like you automatically get given a baby the second you start dating someone.”

“No, but once again isn’t that the goal? Go to college, meet your man there, get married, have kids, get them through school?”

“You said it yourself-the goal doesn’t seem to add up. The way I see it, if us ghouls are more caring than the men, which I think most of us are, then maybe a relationship with two women may work better cause we can, like, respond better to each other’s needs and sh*t. In relationships, if you weren’t meant to be happy and only go for babies, then I’d be pregnant with Heath’s kid right now.”
“That’s not an image I really want to conjure.”

“Exactly! The way I see it, maybe it’s better to think maybe a relationship with a woman might be something to consider. Women in general should be considered more, in love and in society.

“What are you trying to insinuate? I have Clawd, I guess I just need to go back to him after the cruise and I’ll realise how good we have it. I don’t know, it seems more natural to me that men and women go together. Maybe it’s more about finding the right man. Yes, we should be considered more. But with the right man we can be.”

Clawdeen shook her head. One final, ultimate drag sucking her cheeks fully into the cigarette, before a sharp lob into the nearest bin. “As long as you’re happy, Draculaura, then I’m happy.” Her gritted teeth barely able to conceal such a venomous lie. She’d have to. That innocent, almost babyish stare from her best friend. Completely unaware of the slice to her heart she’d delivered. Reason, against all else, kept her at bay from the truth. If only for this conversation. Unlike maybe most others, when she looked at that cherub-like face again none of the warm tingle in her heart dissipated. That was the iciest part of all.

Ericka lingered back a few seconds. Even though she was the one perhaps most acquainted to land out of the adults here, everything about its solid rock and sand beneath felt foreign and fresh. Still that delightful new-ground feeling to supplant her, a young conqueror, on her next target. Southaunton somewhere far to the left. Penzance a journey of pure wonders to the right. The stage was set. Everyone would have their show. All in good time. But she must remember to adhere the Professor’s guidance, even this far away from her scarred and devious mass. In the light alone, her master so like the vampires she spread bile and vitriol towards. Well, sometimes she thought of it like that. Nevertheless it had to be the truth. They’d kidnapped her parents. They’d left her alone in the depths of a nationless place with the Professor. They’d had the hubris to return to their crime scenes. They’d tried to cover it up by marrying another human. The least she could do, as a Van Helsing, was play her part. Syon would play his, out of fear if nothing else. The Professor lived, breathed and slept hers. No doubt the other Guild members, in far corners of Wales and America and even other realms, did too. That left her.

She wouldn’t let the family name down. Not after all this. And yet…

When she said to herself she would back their destruction, commit her all to it, hesitation always crept its way in from the clean break of action. A thought she dared share to no one. Not even Syon in those moments of blissful solitude. For if she did, she’d have no one and nothing. Back to the gutter with her. Only this time, there would be no friend of a parent from university to rescue her. A hereditary dream would slip through her fingers, never to return. Then she’d be at the monsters’ mercy even more. Ads for Google, VW, First Great Western, Bupa, BP, South West Water all to remind her what had been stolen. The rights she’d need to reclaim if she wanted to be truly secure, not merely feel it in pitiful grains of sand. A peeling ad for David Cameron two years before to remind that the clock was ticking fast. That they would go to ruthless lengths. All that really stopped her was a small off chance. An off chance that maybe there was a second meaning to them. Maybe all was not what it seemed. Who knows-maybe her parents died in a different way. However those intrusive thoughts, for her sake, could only ever be that. She must think of the bigger picture if those she loved wanted to survive. Down a dingy alley in the port, where few would think to first glance, two skeletal men dealt tiny packets. Yet regarded them as if nothing could ever hope to equal their value. One clawing the contents out, sniffing it immediately, forgetting to mute his howl.

Both human. Both degraded.

Dracula and her gaze locked together last night certainly changed things. Opportunity, yes. An obstacle? Oh, definitely. Nevertheless, one thing stayed true. He would have to be more careful than she would. For once, what she wanted and what she needed to do pointed in the same direction. Give the count some more bait. Feed this infatuation. She had three days to make her next move. Keep him guessing and pleading all through the world. Then, at its very peak, when he’d followed her right towards the goal, strike. What to strike with remained a mystery. No matter yet. Maybe Syon or the Professor would provide answers closer to the time.

A hundred or so miles north would be Bath itself. The centre of it all. Where the crime scene was. Such a move from here to Scarborough would place their target in the thick of it. Very clever. All under the guise of the considerate tour guide. Harking back to one of their customers’ homelands where he could take centre stage. No one would notice, under his boasting of what he founded here, where Dracula had ben taken. His death would need a far greater sense of scale, obviously. He’d get one. The final frame on the family home in Mayfair, complete at last. A centuries-long task which had grown importance and convolution to no end. She would be the one to finally complete it all. True avengement.

But where to start? The caws had, for now at least, subsided from the mainland, permitting her to inch forward. She had him on the hook. But what good was a hook with no bait? Doubtless the average family here would give a confident answer. Her own kept one thing consistent about the Big Five. Their leader could be subdued, if only to delay another nefarious escape, by garlic. What better way to welcome him into the new world he’d missed for so long?

Yet again her own delay crept in. That need for a sense of scale. Or maybe even, as they’d go into that fish bar which found its being as a near-clone of another fish bar down the road, to sit down opposite him. Analyse him thoroughly. Find out what made him tick. His end of the story, with a family he’d kept. Expanded. Well, nearly fully kept. Even such a tragedy could provide a bridge. Before, he’d been a creature reserved firmly to pages of stories. A cautionary tale. The one to watch for at night. To be kept at bay by good deeds. Or lack of bad. She’d heeded all those warnings. Yet their eyes still met. Something inside her had triggered. For a second, a mere second, when it was only them separate from the world, it’d felt infinite. Never before had she really felt what she thought underneath all actions could be front and centre. That she could have her cake and eat it too. That anything, other than her assigned purpose at birth, could matter. Let alone be her central thought. Then it became a great deal harder to determine the intrusive thought out of the two battling for her head’s control.

Finally, a fish bar which didn’t seem to stink of managed decline as much as it did of salt. Across Plymouth those sprawling ads and the thundering trains would deceive some into thinking they were the main attraction. Yet some houses still feigned majesty on the sea. The result a conflict, heavier than her own conscience, in what to be. Port town for business or seaside for the people? Attempt at jack of all trades? At the moment, a master of none would fit better. But this diamond in the rough, this lofty Georgian building as a façade for the same lobster and battered haddock and chips, would serve the purpose, play the role, it needed to and she needed to. Inside, humans barking orders with enough sweat on their face to pour both a glass of makeshift wine. All under one name, plucked from a real attraction someplace else so the town had something to beg tourists in with. So when she took Dracula himself on the first of these fateful attractions, she would take him to The Dawlish Sea Wall. That warranted her to puff up her chest at least. No one else in her family had thought to ensnare their enemy by making him their friend. That’s why she would succeed. She would bring it home. Or maybe, as they sat down, she’d find another side to the subject of her life and be completely besotted by it. Perhaps that was the source of her anticipation. Never mind the duty and the Professor and that spineless Syon. Take Dracula to The Dawlish Sea Wall so she could fully fall in love.

Though in reality, she would never see the sea wall. Not the real one, anyway. That night, as whatever scraps of warmth were cruelly sucked away, Syon would find his own. His equivalent of Erica’s bait? Fish and chips in a grubby plastic box. All flavourings confined to a small pot, thrust among the chips. The best he could afford. Their dank heat on his palms all he had to prevent the cold invading to his bones. The cleanest thing for miles around that same suit he wore.

Or the clean roar he heard grow closer and closer. A remedy against the night’s ways into his soul. The groups on a night in town. A boy and girl kissing with all their might against a wall. A gang of women laughing their way out of a pub, screaming boys’ names. Each laugh a further stab into his very being. Reminders of Singapore even on the other side of the world. The roar filling more and more of his ears the only thing stopping him from accepting that as simply the way his life would go. There came the light. One path-one path only-to give a possible change. At last. Two clean white slits as a distraction from the past’s shame at every turn. And a white, heavenly figure atop it. Hair whipping to tickle the clouds underneath a shining helmet. One rev as it got close to tease his heart in a jump. It all finally came together. One final look at the gaggle of girls, swaying to and fro, teasing the water below at each step and no doubt the boys ahead. To an extent the worries and those thoughts which weighed his stomach down and sapped his energy did so less.

For in front was Nina. His heart on a trampoline inside him as she revved wildly for his attention. Her helmet lifted to reveal a godly river of blonde curls. Staring him down, as all the other girls back home did. But smiling at him, like no one else had.

“You like my bike?” Nina laughed.

“Yeahhhhh. I like its rider even more.”

“Oh my god, you should see the look on your face. It’s like it’s melted.” She patted behind herself. “Cmon, sit down. I found a little spot I’d like to go.”

All too quick to oblige. Hugging a woman would take some getting used to. But he was confident he’d grow accustomed in time. Her jacket always a good place to start. A new discovery in the small tag on the back, serving a way to lighten the fear which injected itself in even more on land than onboard.


“Eco leather brand. They take cows that’ve already been killed for meat, and their hides are used for premium quality jackets like mine.”

“They don’t skimp on style, though. Or at least, you certainly don’t.”

“You’re a funny guy, you know that? Though a word of advice before I take you there. Stop worrying so much. You’re tense, you’re trying to please me. It’s all gonna be okay. Is there something you’re worried about?”

No thought to hold the truth back, as he felt everywhere else. “Well, the bike for starters. You’re gonna ride it super fast, aren’t you? I’ve just-well, never been on a bike before. Are there seatbelts?”

Another laugh, this one longer and achieving a snort. “Motorbikes don’t have seatbelts, dude. It’s okay. I’ll start slow for you, alright? Hold onto me and you’ll be fine.”

“So do I just give you a big hug all the time?”

“Yeah. Hug me and you won’t fall off.”

“I-think I can manage that easily.”

She shook her head, grinning. One final turn back, as if to fully ensnare Syon into the death trap. Blue eyes to counter his brown. Long, flowing hair while his short baubles stayed erect. His cloned suit against her untidy biker jacket and yoga pants with a turtleneck, the lot dotted with motorcycling badges and yellow bursting reminders, urging him to believe mental health mattered. A fresh concept. No idea of what it meant. But, as with seemingly everything as he stared into Nina’s eyes, he was sure she had the answers.

“Are those fish and chips for me?” she inquired smoothly.

“I-uh-was hungry. But yes, I was going to share them. Sorry they’re not restaurant stuff.”

“No problem! Sometimes food tastes better when it’s not overcomplicated anyway.” Spindly pale fingers snagged a chip from the box, dousing it in the meagre pot of sauce and swallowing it whole. “Mm. Oh yeah, that’s good. That’s really good. Thanks so much! You can really feel the freshness in those chips. Cannot wait to eat more of that. Alright, let’s go.” A decisive snap of her helmet back down gave him no other options. Already his stomach prepared to flip several times over. Breathing threatened to grow heavier, quicker. Beyond sustainability. The motorbike growled below, prompting a glaze through his eyes which made him look to an outsider as though it was about to sting him. A short, sharp warning vroom instructing his hands round her chest. Once again, her as a source of comfort. The freshness of hips in his hands, neck rubbing to make a beast with two backs. Three more vrooms to determine a new direction. One screech as the world spun round, and faded to a blurred, blazing arrow. Short bursts fading into one nasal exclamation. What could he do then but scream? Already people, places, objects, boats, trees faded into side notes of scenery which itself promoted to nothing but lines. Lines guiding generally up. No idea if that was a hill or Nina’s own doing. Edges of each finger already numb as they dug past the zips, past even the leather, into seemingly her own hourglass-shaped flesh.

Love and fear. Battling in his very core. No way to determine which was stronger. The idea of death, lingering below as the bike screamed forward, only a few inches from his brain at most. That of love, directly in front, at the only person in the entire world who could get through, make him part of something. Invaluable. Unheard of. The way she took him, body and spirit, up and away from a past of pure pain. To pure goodness. One place out of everywhere where his opinion wasn’t merely listened to. Though that was the first of many great differences. It, he, was taken on board. Appreciated. Sided with. Seen as an equal. Loved, maybe. A dear, tender hope to complete the set now more than one of it came home to roost. Temptation to reach forward, like a biting viper, to kiss that sliver of neck amongst the twisting dance of blonde locks was almost too great to keep in. Yet he had to resist. Even in this safety, he could only make so many mistakes. Nothing was known. That’s what worried him. Alongside what he knew being great worries already. She may be a remedy for those. He wasn’t about to lose that for some stupid, penis-motivated mistake. He couldn’t pay the price and he knew it. Not after all those loops. Round and round.

By now the cluster of yellow light was nothing more than a distant memory. Only a speeding bike ticking his ears till they would relent and bleed. A few pairs of headlights racing by for comparison. The object of this whole mad deal hidden in the darkness completely. Save for those wheat-coloured tentacles pulling his face into some Davy Jones’ locker on tarmac, not sea. A few light fingers of shadows to wrench the blanket over. The world of the living, of civilisation and what he knew, had been left in the dust. As if the vampires and the…incident-he’d witnessed on the plane weren’t proof enough, he and Nina were now firmly in the other. The wild one. Far from home. If he could hold back a gag when he called it that. No question it had looked pretty and let him thrive. However you can’t get rid of knowledge once it’s lodged. And he knew now, as if it came to him with ease, that such a privilege housed itself in people equal to places. It bled in those hands bitten cold when he clutched on. It transmitted in necks mere inches apart. It flourished in the warmth between his front and her back, presuming what might come next given time and care. Physical proof in another cluster of those orange pockets. Zipped by in a second. Two triumphant vrooms exploded behind. A smooth laugh like sticky toffee pudding served at the end of Christmas lunch; you thought you’d had enough and seen it all but you’d be proven wrong so fast and so much.

“Is this one hundred and eighty five miles per hour?” Syon screeched at the top of his lungs. A turn of the head her scrape together of whatever didn’t dissolve in the wind. Even as fear circled round, cold fingers raking his ribs, her face provided that fire so strong.


“Is this top speed?” he asked, more than a hint of apprehension written legibly on his face and in an accent of his speech.

“Oh god no.” she laughed. “We’re barely doing thirty! We’re a little red snail at the moment. Wanna go faster?”

He shook his head till the sinews in his neck threatened to quit. Only that same laugh in response, fending off a world of ice and doubt.

“Oh come on, course you do.” Two more vrooms, each a knife’s flat raking parallel to his spine. “We haven’t got that long neither. It’ll be fun!”

“I’m scared, Nina.” he panted. “I’m very, very scared.”

Round again she swivelled. A final pair of revs howled from the exhaust. One eye above the leather slowly etched out a small central dial climbing. A thrill froze his full spine in a second. “Take a deep breath for me.”

Instinct already tamed to oblige. Air tickling those curls again.

“Actually hug me now. You’ve been tickling my hips all this time and it’s kinda underwhelming. Reach round and hug like you mean it!”

No need to tell twice. Another slow, massive exhale cut short as a chin dug into the smooth leather. Itself thrumming slightly with the monster underfoot. Yet still the arms inched round rather than do it all in one go. No telling when he’d make a mistake. All it ever took was one. What with his body and what he did. He kept surprise out of sight as far as possible when no whip round to chastise came.

“That feels kinda nice. You’re like a jetpack, you know?” Nina affirmed.

“Really? You actually like it?”

“I mean if I didn’t, you’d be walking right now and I’d be a speck down the road. Yeah, I like it. I want you to do something though.”

“Anyth-I mean, what would that be?”

“I want you to trust me. Trust yourself. We got this. I’m not letting you fall off. Ever. Hug me tight, trust us, we’ll be fine. That alright with you?”

“I-I will-try.”

“Just a little longer on here, okay? Alright, let’s rock!”

Bang on cue, the howl erupted behind him and everything faded to a mere line soup. His mortal brain could only believe he had died in that synapse. On the way to heaven. Hauled effortlessly by a Valkyrie. Yet something else began to creep in, as the skies felt more and more tangible. Borders between down and up more guidelines than rules. Maybe they were never meant to be laws. Only solid thing was that jacket, that embodiment of freedom and authenticity and uniqueness for them both. The channel it and his hands made of pure appreciation that the other existed right here, right now, out of happy coincidence. All else had been blown wide open to the art of interpretation. Life and its entourage of doubts and fears. Curiosity at the monsters which touched down inside with complete lack of warning. All of it, gone before she even enticed him into their destination. A peaceful hill, far atop more orange atolls and a clean break to a tranquil sea. At last things could be more than lines. The ads swooped over hungrily as they usually did-lacking delay completely. A million conversations and pleasures he’d never be let in to. But she made it easier. Really it was only them, perched on the rock, already clawing at fish and chips before its usefulness died alongside its heat.

“Mm. Shtill warum.” Nina mumbled, a chip dangling from her mouth. “Still amazing. Where did you even find this?”

“Local place near the ship. I didn’t have enough money for a real restaurant. Really sorry about that.”

“Eh, don’t sweat. At our age, no one has any money. Not in these times.” When she laughed, despite the constant game plan he knew he had to play to, he couldn’t bring himself to join her. Only shake his head in shrewd knowing. Hesitating out of a little fear, he plucked a chip and discreetly parcelled it into his mouth. He had done well. At least this time, when someone said it, he could agree without bile threatening to erupt behind. The compliment triggered a warmth against the bitter, snapping February winds rather than adding to it. This woman only fuelled the fire. No imbalance. And really unlike the last time, he was ravishing for as much as he could get.

“Oh no, I should’ve asked for a knife and fork.” he lamented.

She only smiled innocently. At once, a chunk of pure white meat in its battered armour came away. A sizeable load of shrapnel in its wake. Only this time around, she wouldn’t serve her own mouth. Joining in this game was all too easy. With no apparent rhyme or reason, both laughed and shuffled in. His cold thigh heated up by hers. Her clammy hands relieved by the hot fish as it delved into his mouth.
“Here comes the aeroplane.” she teased, waggling a thinly connected clump of fish. Steam curling, as did her hair, into a starry eternal sky.

Immediately his head broke into a chortle. “That’s, like, what I’d say to my nephew.”

“Well, your nephew isn’t here, is he? It’s just us. And this jumbo jet needs somewhere to land fast.”

His eye roll lighter than he’d done it a few times in high school, in the first two years of a world promised to be better. He would do anything for most women he liked the look and talk of. Yet it made itself far sweeter when she didn’t rudely go for someone who would never do the same. Nina a rare exception to a laborious rule. Even the fish was luxurious, sliding between tongue and teeth, freshness abundant on every plain shard. He could hold back no longer. Diving, waterboarding a chip in the small pot of white flecked sauce. That too a pleasant symphony to call the sun’s blinds down.

“Mm. Mm-hmm. They don’t have this sauce in Singapore. It’s so nice to be able to have fish without having to drown it in spices every once in a while.”

“You not a big fan of spice?”

“Not really. I like it mellow, maybe in my mum’s chicken stew. In, for example, a fish head curry, sometimes they ladle it on super thick.”

“Curry with fish heads? Why?”

“Don’t ask me. I find it just as disgusting as you.” Eyes wide as soon as the double entendre whacked him in the face. “I didn’t mean it like that. I swear I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I agree-”
A gentle shushing all that came to calm the storm, brush it aside. “I get you, I get you. Why’re you always so worried about stuff? I’ve only known you for a day or two, but you always seem to be worried about what others might think. What they might say. Getting something wrong.”

“Well,” he responded, knowing that with the Professor and that project at play he’d have to choose his words with extreme caution, “I just don’t really have that many friends to tell the truth. And once the mistake’s been made, I’m easy enough of a target. I doubt people do more than laugh at me when I’m not around.” An urge. A freedom, even. To let everything slip. The sense Nina wouldn’t tell. No one would find out about that little subversion. But then came the law one must always remember. When someone says they have your back, always look out for the knife behind it. If there was another law he’d gladly be an abiding citizen to that. But if he wanted a future, a hypothesis where he could continue on with a degree and whatever came next to drag the world back from its sorry state, he’d have to obey. The jaws of failure, serrated and wide open, awaited if he lapsed. Or maybe they’d remain his home if he lapsed. His duty, then, to crawl his sorry body out.

Nina’s face fell to an almost puppy-like expression. “Why’d you think people laugh at you?”

“It’s easy. I’ve got a belly. I’m a nerd. I get anxious easily. But most of all, I’m black. Singapore, for all its tech and futuristic towers covered in trees, it’s still the same racist hellhole I’ve known since I could walk. And the funny thing is you’d think, for such a diverse community, it’d be otherwise.”

“People laughing at you, then, is a reflection of their flaws, not your bad qualities. I mean, it always is, but especially if they’re doing it out of prejudice that’s never okay.”

“It’s never just prejudice. Girls don’t really like me because I’m not really what they want, am I? I’m not rich, look at this stomach, it’s like I’m pregnant.”

Her sole response was a head shake, gentle as all else. “I don’t think of you like that at all. All I see you as, right now in this moment, is a kind man who’s brought me fish and chips. Very yummy fish and chips at that.” Another thick potato finger drowned in the speckled sauce, her own orchestra of taste beginning inside. “I don’t really care if a guy looks like some kinda model or has money to burn. Maybe cause I don’t think about it that much. No one needs to sit, waiting sadly, for some guy or girl to rescue them with love. I think a lot of people think that because they don’t want to be shamed. People will always desperately avoid doing their own thing if it means being shunned by the crowd. Maybe that’s why so many girls convince themselves they’re after the biggest muscles, the deepest wallet, the fastest car, the most angular jawline and obscure, weird bullsh*t like that. Maybe some genuinely do, but you have to ask yourself. There’s billions of girls out there, you’re bound to be a good fit for at least one. So why make yourself date someone who’s not a good fit? Who doesn’t appreciate what you have to offer?”

“So what do you appreciate in a man?” Syon asked as conversationally as he could pretend.

“In someone I always look for one thing. What they’re like to each other-and to themselves. A person can look great. Put a lot of effort into it, even. That’s always nice and something I like. But sometimes that can act as more of a disguise than a compliment. If a person’s not nice to themselves, then it’s gonna be harder for them to be nice to others, and take care of themselves. It’s way easier to like someone who’s kind to themselves and others. That’s the main thing I always look for, and I wish more people did it too.”

“What about someone who has their own motorcycle?”

“I’m not a big fan of riding as a lone wolf, I’ll be honest. It can get a bid cold riding alone this time of year. Even a little lonely. It felt nice today having someone on the pillion seat. You kept me warm, you know that?”

“So that’s why you invited me out here?” Syon concluded, half-joking. “All you want is to be kept warm on a night ride?”

“Well, I also like spending time with you. I don’t really know if anyone else here’s my speed. I did look a fair bit in school and uni, and I’ve had my fair share of flings and little blips. But no one’s really been right for me. Sometimes it’s felt like I don’t really have many, or indeed any, friends. This is one of those places. Everyone seems to be in such a rush for everything and not using a holiday ship to, you know, have a holiday. I don’t like that kinda stress. But you, you seem to be separate from all that.”

“I don’t have that many friends here either.” he mumbled. “And I do try to slow down, but-it’s not always possible, is it?” A glance over the ledge to the quaint houses below, lined up in a regiment next to one lolling curve in the railway line. All that separated a sea which may be tranquil today; but who’s to say it wouldn’t want to lash out one day and tear the whole thing down? One last train hauling its way, currently a mere speck at the far end of the divide proved his point. The point of not slowing down. Yet also its backdrop keeping from simply leaping away from this world into a dark unknown. Even at night, the soothing anthem of the sea in peaks and troughs. A shadow of a hill, the frame of a sky always gorgeous. The woman equally gorgeous beside to enjoy it alongside. One more chunk of white fish, washed down in a hearty dose of the tartare sauce-and he was fully immersed. The cost of eternal darkness, eternal peace would be too great if moments like these were on the line. Life could be nasty. Brutish. Short if you relented to such powers. The train tempting somewhat as its bellow made itself known closer and closer. That despicable branding on each segment. “First Great Western” glimmering inescapably whatever the hour. As always, eavesdropping had had to suffice to tell the tale. A HST. Intercity 125. World-beating. A modern classic. A vessel for an era which emblazoned that in history forevermore. A marvel of what Britain could do. Taken by those with their levers of power into merely another mule for the fat cats. The besuited monsters with their friends there to give them first pickings every single time.
Yet with all this, with the chains of far-off offices and money fanatics plastering their destructive names onto whatever they could touch or buy, he saw his breathing and his sight in this night as nothing but blessed. Powered by nature. Taken further by this weird, fearless girl who’d materialised like a genie to serve three wishes. When the train passed its growl shook the grass below, disturbed the peace. All before he pondered the qualms of it being diesel on such a beautiful, brittle part of the world’s symphony. Yet it was only a part. It, and its brethren of other names battling for territory if not world domination, would force his mind into suffering soon enough. But not today. Today was a day to live. Live in sweet company of nature and others. Never thought he’d be able to say that sentence from back home.

“You want to kiss?” The words out before he had the chance to leash them back in. Hands flew over his mouth. But the damage was done. No going back. Really no answer to what he’d expected in return. What he’d hoped to gain. Of course the answer would be no. Idiot! Par the course, though. Any idea of dating a girl, or being any more than a notes bank (and punching bag more often than not) could never be more than delusion. Hadn’t been before. No chance of that changing now. Really, what was he possibly-

A light, fluttering smooch on his cheek. Only a stammer he found to muster a response. That same fiery leather digging into his same unimaginative suit.

That same giggle after. “I thought you were gonna kiss me on the lips.”

“I thought you were going to say no.” he replied sheepishly.

“Don’t be silly! It’s so romantic out here, watching the trains go by as the sea rolls in over lovely hills-with some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, mind you. Besides, you’re not half bad yourself. Certainly your own worst critic. And definitely someone I would very much like to kiss me, nice and proper, square on the lips.”

“Point made.” He sucked his teeth, eyes and body squaring fully up to her face. Clean, void of makeup or piercings bar that honey gold nose ring. Rivers of wheat-coloured hair parted so another facet of her idyllic beauty could take hold on his conscience. Eyes an unobtrusive slate grey, calm and merely seeing the world. What to enjoy. What to heed. What needed some work. None of the defeat you see blasted into a teacher’s pupils. Nor the manic buzz one might expect to see rivet through a biker’s. Only a calm, yet laser-focused, gaze to analyse all the outside world had to offer and let slip. See it as neither good nor bad. More things that happen just because. You only had to take one look inside hers to know that she was ready for it, but made no effort to ram such a point home. That she’d be there in your best interest. An oasis of calm in a hectic, bustling desert. Able to wait in his own soup of battling thoughts no longer, he pressed their heads together and crudely coupled their lips. Feeling a new thought, a new liberty. To only do what he could. It’d be disappointing, even for her. No deep analysis was needed to know that. Only the facts. He’d never kissed a girl. Tried to disconnect such fanciful ideas a while back. In the moment it took a few realignments, adjustments, steamy breaths between connections. Amazing she wasn’t turned off by him, even at this stage. Though, he realised, if she was she would’ve made it clear from first sight like everyone else. With anyone else he’d be waiting-eagerly wasn’t the right word-for the off chance she hid it. Like everything else, though, she soothed it to the point of numbness. This far away, on a little hill to frame sunsets and a resting sea, as the trains branded their false royal blue and dull badge of corporatism only for thirty seconds each, she granted him something infinitely precious. Safety. Freedom. Care.

That in itself deserved another kiss. Less stress in lining this one up. Never thought he’d allow himself to be reckless. Go with the flow. See where he landed. Best of both worlds in a soft cheek and pastel pink lip. Those same wondrous locks tickling the beginnings of a beard which would hang shamefully on any other day. Tonight, here, they mattered so little. He was safe kissing Nina. And he lapped up every second. Somehow, in that little tingle between them, an ascertained sense that she did too. They became each other’s source of tranquillity. Hills, houses, rocks fading from a green haircut to orange face and then brown shoulders pimpled with chalk, and whooshing sea in and out free of relent once again a background. A postcard jammed full by hidden messages of purest, familial love already.

No guilt whatsoever in savouring it, savouring each other, for the first time as much as he possibly could.

Chapter 4: Chapter 6: I Don't Know How to Feel


Happy New Year! And wow, it has been literally forever since I've done anything with this page. My apologies. I really need to get a posting schedule going. But here's more at last, after a great Christmas and a very underwhelming New Year, and mocks and Cambridge interviews and all the rest of it. The next season of Misadventures of Morbid Hearts drops Valentine's Day (obviously), and that should be a huge success as it's Valentine and Spelldon, who everyone loves, but I'm actually good at writing now and it's about my homeland, the UK. Expect my autistic hyperfixations to come into play big-time. In the meantime, you get this, which is good writing and explains why Mavis has performed such an about-turn in character, and sets up Overtron for the future while making Hotel Transylvania 3 actually good.

I'm on Snapchat now, @itsurboikieran while my Insta remains as @kieranthenexoknight.

Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight:
I Don’t Know How To Feel

Oddly, before the train for their next adventure pulled in from Penzance Johnny was by far the most awake. Behind him a wavering line of people, all important in other corners and pockets of this world where they’d been stitched together so like the towering Uncle Frank, stood like him. Eyes blinking, misshapen. Bruised by a time too long. Chiding blasts of wind finally getting the upper hand after a ceaseless onslaught for months on end. Still mingling in groups of monsters and humans, of course. That could never die down given one upheaval after another even in past weeks, let alone since he burst into that hotel. Following nothing but his gut. Compelled by flames glimmering inside a forest. Mountains, hills and the sweet scent of adventure had already drugged him partially. A spooky forest and action inside merely seemed like the icing on the cake. It had proven that and then some. No question. More a case of him seeing better times than these lot, falling asleep as the platform still teased in emptiness. Thick white sheets bundled and creased under arms. Efforts of both the tall headmistress and the portly headmaster to ensure both theirs didn’t get dragged under by a gloomy puddle. Wayne’s hat casting shadows like an old detective film, lit only by a dingy lamp casting the final squeaks of orange lights over a select few pockets. Him and Mavis. Those four girls-even he had to admit the pink one had a vague resemblance to his wife, buried deep within her cheeks. Then again, he had the same kind of eye shape as her assertive werewolf friend, and they really were not related. These things happen sometimes. Light hands that, even in Mavis’ slumber over his shoulder, made his heart skip. The next lamp to his right, Dracula talking to Dennis, embodying a smile getting warmer every time he set eyes on that kid. Or his parents. Born from authenticity, rather than bathed in it hastily as it was when fangs were an unknown. But it was no longer for that reason. Everyone on the same page there. So it had begun. They’d unified. Tore through a barrier standing hundreds of years as if it were a finish line ribbon. And now Mavis, a little kid again as the whole world ladled itself into their arms. To enjoy together at unprecedented heights.


A few lamps away a raggedy man waltzed erratically. Delusion of respectability fighting a losing battle in dual curved curtains dangling over a barnacled, wrinkled face. A sizeable lint of liquor inside a bottle dancing madder than he did. Bellows, some understandable in an otherwise ceaseless ramble. Synchronised breaks where the ramble would die down to glinting drink raised high, gulped down, fuel to begin again. Two thirds full for now. Not the first time he’d seen one of these. So different, yet so samey across the world. It wouldn’t be the last. A mere two words enough to denote this one as an outspoken socialist, charged by a night out at the pub. Perhaps a last oasis of community out here. Britain got like that more often than not. Here the two words came again:

“Solidarity forever!” the man screamed. Voice sanded to roughness and hoarseness by age and parade of a lost cause. Tears revealed in scraps of light. “The capitalists of this great country have robbed us blind, time and time again. I remember a time when all my neighbours were actually at home, actually here to bear the winter hand in hand with the rest of us. And your vote meant change! Your vote meant doing good for Plymouth. Now all it means is keeping in more of these Tory rats. They fudge it all, you know? Those men in business suits come together in Number 10, and pick from their favourite Eton and Oxbridge boys to f*ck over our lives even more!”

“Will you stop that?” the headmaster barked. Voice weary yet still cut smooth from the beginning. “It’s nearly midnight, for goodness’ sake!”

On barged the drunkard after jetting out a blistered middle finger. “There it goes again for five years, and never once does anyone think of the people on the ground. That’s where it all goes wrong in Formerly Great Britain. Under this system everyone steals from each other, and no one cares for their neighbour! That never happened under Stalin, I promise you. In those days people acted as people should, for a greater good! A greater good, I say. You there, boy!” Another finger craned to Dennis, who recoiled to his grandfather.


“Remember this night, this holiday which is all your family gives a sh*t about, for the rest of your life. And remember. We need a revolution! If ever we are to be free from the monsters who hold us, exploit us, take us for granted, a revolution is our only salvation. Under capitalism we can only care for ourselves, and look where it’s got us! Only your generations can save us. Help us care for each other as we should. We’re only human, after all. Remember this long after your family’s gone and forgotten all about this place beyond its pretty little seaside. Don’t let the monsters and the elites at the top win! They’ll never be happy until we’ve been bled for all we’re worth and dead. Remember that we need a revolution, and we need one now!”

“Sir, if you don’t leave this area at once I will call the police!” the headmaster roared. “Your neighbours are trying to sleep!”

“You’ve forgotten, you old bastard. I have no neighbours. Only posh twats from London who want a second home for the hell of it. If this country is to be saved, the future generations must know that a revolution is our only hope of saving it. It’s not my fault c*nts like you are too scared to admit that the many shouldn’t sacrifice their hopes, their dreams, what they need, for the benefit of an ungrateful few born into it!”

“Dad.” Dennis still had that same puppy-like, pre-fang look to his parents. Prevailing this far from Winnie. “What is the man talking about? Do we need a revolution?”

He could never hope to have an answer. Only to roll with it and wait for the best. Piece together a by now fluid response to the bottle-wielding socialists all Britain had to offer in dribs and drabs. “There are some people in the UK who don’t like how their lives have gone. So they blame it on the government and want change.”

“What’s so bad about wanting change?”

“That’s the thing, Dennis. They’re not looking for reasonable change. They want to overthrow everything in one violent go and start again with a different system called socialism. They forget it was tried years ago, and all it did was make everyone poor and unhappy as they are now.”

“I don’t understand. Back at the hotel, with you and Mom and Papa Drac, everything’s perfect. We’re getting to see the big wide world as Mom always promised. What’s so bad about that?”

Less of an answer available there. Best to go for the classic tactic his parents had always used. “It’s very complicated. I’ll tell you all about it when you’re older.” His own little twist added as an afterthought of best rolling alongside fate. “Basically, for now all you need to know is some people aren’t happy with their life for many, many, many reasons you don’t need to be worried about. But we’re lucky, as we got a great family, an amazing wife and mom, and we’re on the best vacation ever! All you gotta do is be thankful for that right now. Think you can do that for me?”

“I guess so.”

Unable to resist himself, a hand spread into Dennis’ ginger plume and ruffled it despite the same complaints. “Besides, I got the best son ever. You, Mom and Papa Drac alone make my life perfect.”

“Me too, Dad.” A small hug at his waist as a deafening sound echoed into the platform. A proper, white light burst through. Behind it, the noise’s source in a fuming, titanic locomotive. Orange lights, though more refined and welcoming like at the hotel, dragged behind in a squealing rake of carriages. Last grey clouds erupted into the sky. Shards of grass quaking in their ill-gotten front row seats amongst platform tiles. Shaken, but far too sizeable to be dislodged. A blur of stained clothes rushed past before the final ebbs of thunder could finish before them. It had been years since Johnny had taken these up to a mythical London, ravishing only more for adventure with each step. Yet still each carriage had it emblazoned on. First Great Western. Heritage wedded uncomfortably to one of the big, untouchable names. A garish magenta in the doors amongst its midnight blue and the pleasant greens and pastels of the town. Reflected again in artificial waves leading to each door. Parted only by First Great Western. Central to each one. Largest up front, a distinct smell of fuel boiling inside his nostrils. Raw power shoving it all forward filling his ears till they’d break.

Then a flash of greys and browns. A wild yowl forward. Then nothing.

Nothing save for a grinding, eternal crunch and damp undertones.

All else into the wings at once. For a brief moment, its subject had stopped its onslaught. There that train remained, dead silent after such an avalanche. Atmosphere, people, a wind’s whistle mourning the sun’s fall, all stopped totally. But only for a brief beat skipped. Only a few seconds until the world spun again. Beyond the station, a façade nothing had ever happened. Nothing of note had transpired. Let alone ended. By nature he hesitated to break a natural cycle. Nevertheless he peered forward. A hand straight over Dennis’ eyes when he saw it. Saw the body, limp, ribcage limp and twisted out of its skin cell, askew on the tracks. For all its ubiquitousness, definition confined to heads in this clique and beyond, there could be no mistaking who’d disturbed a natural world order. Yet all that for fifteen seconds of fame. A mere blip, and no more. Ushered onto the train by those same slim robots on the scene at once. Ready for the net scene of wonder the world held for them. Not to be marred by some crackhead. But even as crowds assembled towards those doors, bustled into the realm of comfort and heat they all knew, Mavis’ snoring stopped almost as abruptly. One glance back all she needed. Granted the crackhead’s last gasp for desperation, for freedom was just an obscure memory. Yet it would stick in her head irreparably. One push to define an unscheduled direction. No doubt about it, even as metal arms shoved her back into the carriages and their homely lights. Even the most common, forgettable of nobodies would be found by her and Johnny to be more significant than the most powerful of kings or presidents.

Once again, their couple sat in the same room. In silence for a few minutes before a deafening roar ahead, an alarming jerk, and slow movement past the little city of Plymouth. As if it was merely a piece of art meant for a second’s subjective thought before the next piece winched itself in front. Rinse and repeat. Johnny on the other side of the bed with the last quaint houses. The world in one corner of a room. All she loved in that childish sense of wonder. Thought dead till he reawakened it. If another force did it, that force could only be fate. Common knowledge to Johnny by now. Another kiss for revision, and maybe a little relaxation too.

However the life beaten out of her usually sparky, ocean-coloured eyes he had no explanation for. Maybe she’d seen it. Unlikely given those robots again. An itch inside him to find the cause. Nip it in the bud as soon as possible. More natural than the last diversion. Because at least both sides shared what was at stake.

“Mavy, what’s the matter?” Hand sliding over her shoulder. Inch closer till she felt only their warmth.

“I don’t know. I just…don’t know how to feel.” Temptation to move away shown in a flinch. A mere temptation which too went without significance.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s-” In her colossal breath, not once did her eyes meet his. “It’s probably nothing. We’ve got a world to see. Maybe it gets better as we go further. It’s probably not a big deal.” All words said almost without punctuation, in one tangent of breath. Her shift away more pronounced. Darkness outside the carriage won over any scraps of town left. There’d been several times before when silence had shut them both up. Smiles and sadness alike. In grand arches, forbidden passageways. Up on a roof when he’d shown a mere sunrise to him. To her a revolutionary beauty confined by no castle walls. Then the silences had come of their own accord. To be one thing and one thing only. Silences to appreciate space beyond them, how they could decipher it in enjoyment together, and no more. Never had there been such a stasis, an urge to say something and break such a horrible silence, before. Not even when her father had landed, no clue of his shame, with his grandson who remarked joyously “I flew, Mommy! I flew!” Then, as she lectured how lucky he was to be alive yet how unlucky to be so with Dracula, there had been nothing to say. He had tried to play his part and failed. That was that. Here it felt wrong, deeply wrong, to simply let this silence wallow. Let it rule in a room with walls so close to their heads, a bed so devoid of anything other than function. The soundtrack an occasional bump. Nothing but pure black in the grand world outside. He’d started the day by letting her down. She would come around in due time. Everything would work out fine. But he couldn’t just leave her to disappointment. A part of him, wedged way inside, screamed out at what that might lead to. For the first time, yet in a thought that had run itself raw, it occurred to him that a day would come where he’d be surplus to requirement, barely even there, forgotten for a new man, himself wandering endless wilds tainted with sadness and wisdom, put an end to the doll-like woman he hugged in lieu of a teddy bear every night. A prospect he knew all too well. It wasn’t in sight. Yet every night it breathed menace down his scrawny neck. To her it would be a mere blip. An urge, then, to lap up everything in that wasp-waisted figure while they still breathed the same air in the same room. Move in while he still grasped energy. Round her own neck. A craving, animalistic craving, for lips on smooth, undead flesh. Ready to steal it. Savour it while it was still common. Lean into it like-like…

A vampire eyeing a beloved neck.

“Johnny, not now!” Her words as much a shove as in her arm. First time she’d done that in a bedroom. “Maybe later” ushered in the silky tiredness he’d expected. Concession of a weak smile. Muscle memory readying for a hug. Instead, a wide yawn and a thud. Bouncing him up as she sank down. His downfall revealed, lodged in her teeth.

“Nice day out in the big wide world, wasn’t it?” A sentence which would only come through partially gritted teeth. At least that response was predictable.

Only a static breath out as response. Eyes open wider. No telling if it came from time or emotion. A slight grimace gave the slightest of hints. A double bed seemingly made for one tonight. “Like you say,” she murmured alongside a wooden attempt to reverse her mouth, “it all works out in the end.” One eye peeked behind him, to a small table. A card tossed on. The case for every sleeper. None of the precision or meticulousness a witch of Dracula’s would dream of. Neither the small packet of biscuits askew.

“Keep those biscuits in your pocket.” She sighed. “We’ll need them, won’t we?”

Straight into shorts. Other crumbs from six continents encrusted there to make some miniature museum. One last look at his love. Of those fangs, taunting how little time he’d matter. Let alone the time he’d have left. One last forewarning as he collapsed. So near to her body the skips in his heart became a flavour. Yet so unthinkably far from usual courses in caressing, kissing, two bodies becoming one. One last black pall shoved over his consciousness as Mavis and Johnny lay as two separate entities. Monster with human in light. Apart in the darkest hours.

Humans even more together next morning. Rushing further and further into a centre of a bustling beast diseased with various colours and lights. No real knowledge of where limbs ended. Where a heart begun. Or how to kill it. On and on it went with each passing banknote. In for a penny, in for a pound as they say. Ericka had said pound and then some, sliding inside a grimy tunnel miles below her clean and diverse entourage. Her only company here said such a thing only in his crisp suit and glistening white earbud. One other clean thing, pressed inside the palm of her hand as if by a mother or husband. Open again. A child on Christmas with a new toy. Or their parent with a perplexing book.

For her a shell.

Plucked among the ships and preying gulls now a sidelined memory away. White, speckled in rusts and greens. Forgotten among a wider desert. Free to be washed up by the sea. Never to feel significance ever again. She’d saved it. Saved all she’d loved. At least that’s the debrief from below deck. Best to believe it was a rare pocket of happiness. Something to keep her going alongside the prospects she now cradled in her palm. A glance to the right. Glad to see Syon didn’t need his own sustenance as he often did when it came to work. In his eyes previously lay a defeat you usually saw not in people like him with an entire future and equal life ahead. More seen in teachers, bus drivers, cleaners, the elderly. Even in a few of the sous-chefs doubtlessly waiting at her familiar destination. Why she’d always travel by the Tube as those below called it, for all its soot and manic screeches. Disheartening to see a life snuffed out by one wrong turn. Even if no such prospect darkened her doorstep. Maybe a reason why she only came for what she needed below deck. At least Syon had got rid of his for one brighter, more alive. The robots and their vegetable oil must be realising their impact over a longer term. Good for him! It’d keep him going. So they kept moving to the goal.

“The next station is Green Park. Change here for Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. Exit here for Buckingham Palace.” a lifeless female voice blared above another familiar yell of the tunnels. Not haunted but it deceived her as a kid no doubt. A reminder of who they did this for as near the doors, a family’s youngest members clamped hands over their ears, staring wistfully up at young parents with hopeful eyes. Asking simply for the Victoria line to lament its problems another day and no more. They knew their place. She knew hers. Shell back into a front pocket. A hand on his shoulder. Warm, not stuffy, as always.
“Is it time?” A little up step from previously, though that desolate gaze threatened its return as she towered over. One nod rose him up too. A complementary smile, replicating the parents, at those stumpy hands clamped over ears. Releasing as the Victoria line’s darkness and screams finally showed some mercy, bursting from a dingy tunnel to the clean white bricks of Green Park.

“Oh my god.” A freeze (deadly even for a second on the Tube) as mosh pits assembled in the small caves under a grandiose name emblazoned next to coloured lines and arrows for decades.

“Here.” A hand from Syon’s back. “Slow and steady wins the race on the metro.”

All sporting UK flags on their faces as they edged through. Young. Old. All races. Shouting in one word soup. One word discernible amongst it all. Shouted in peaks and troughs. Greeted with cheers as it was condemned. Shouted near. Shouted far. The same, foreign word.


Greeted with the same almighty cheer, raises of fists. A cramped tunnel roof would have to do as the sky’s replacement. Challenged regularly by posters of the Olympics, of the indomitable and great British flag. One great cry, an amalgamation of grievances, final cries of oppression before one godlike figure suffocated them, to fight back. Always a sense of desperation in such large numbers, crammed into a tiny tunnel hundreds of metres below where all the important stuff happened behind fanciful walls emblazoned with their own big names. Once again, all that changed per country was the complexions of this sorry makeshift army. Assembled to fight, fight dearly, for one afternoon and then carry on as if they had never spoken out. One brandishing a sheet of card with “Leave the EU now!” scrawled on in marker pen. A show of homelessness amongst all other performing arts. For Ericka, only ever seen from the safety of a window, as a kid or at lunchtimes alone. Bread and circus stretched to absolute ornateness. In the thick of it, more cries of a holy future outside this ‘EU’ and the tang of the collective makeshift army dribbled chilled sweat on her own forehead. Syon, however, soldiered through, her arm clasped in his. Not even a flinch at the placards or protesters. One arm clean out to slice a path through. That too more instinct than consciousness. On the escalators, stretching up to infinity, more clamoured for Brexit, to be rid of this cursed EU, in a neat little line. Not even trampling over each other on the other side, reserved for higher urgencies, despite the almighty ruckus staining her ears without end. A cult-like rhythm.

“What do we want?” a voice with no body blared.

“To leave the EU!” a far larger one retorted. Nearest a sea monster, fins in lieu of a beard. Another a troupe of pale, slim people, all revealing fangs in mouths for the battle cry. Equally, those dotted between had no fangs to show. Some had ears instead. Some had nothing.

“And when do we want it?”

“Now!” came a cry loud enough to prompt amazement she survived. Venom cranked up to a hundred now she didn’t merely watch the bear pit, the throng of meaningless lives crying out for meaning. Though no chance of resisting a fought for the small family a while back. No doubt hands clamped over ears for dear life. Enough to magnetise her closer. A vain attempt to be free from the revolutionary horror. Up the fast side. Only attempt at stoppage, to compel them to the cause-a remark at her trousers. Her turn to pay no attention and soldier on. At last, light beckoned beyond the ticket barriers. Their humans long since departed for small green lights on each. A few pockets explored in haste before that slim plastic shard met her palm. Other breast pocket. No change yet she still fumbled as if it were the first time. He slapped his down on the reader, two beeps, then onwards and upwards. Not even looking at his card. Despite them both being the standard one-day Oyster.

A continuous vomit of the same chanters, an intermingling of the natural and supernatural, out one gate. Their little homeless cardboard signs and childish sense of orderly disorder ever present. The other gate offering its spew in drips, far less colourful and quiet to the point of irrelevance. Blinded by the light as the vampire protesters were, though it was only alien for twenty minutes at most. Its combination with the remnants of night’s punishing winds delivering the only true sting someone like Ericka could feel out here. Everything else came as second nature, or as close to it as her mind would allow. Houses from hundreds of years ago, stretching high with the new buildings so any clouds came as a real treat. Prets and McDonald’s outlets spread across like pimples, almost ready to pop, on a teenage face. Indeed, most houses came with their bright names and signs. Immaculate, sharp suits and cars in every window. Some gawped at a window, but never for more than a few seconds each. Often ending at the small slip of paper beside each one. A few would open the door. But only those in suits gilded, razor sharp as hers, with the same backgrounds and no doubt living down the road or hundreds of miles away by chauffeur, dared open the door. Who they were meeting had a few times. Never her parents. They’d obviously had the chance to. But never with her. What they were after would put such a wrong right. One final head on the wall after a ceaselessly horrid gap. The one thing her and the servants, still toiling there, shared.

One straight road cut the entire thing in two. More houses, old and new, encasing the towering new buildings, all with their bright names, on and on as far as her eyes could see. Branches equally as cutting to prove no façade. At least not on the outer streets. Second branch. Three houses down. That same buzz in her chest, the one bred when the portrait of her smugly grinning enemy, raised inside. Ready for the fight to come. The shower of glory after. Even the walls, lined with the past still tangible she’d grown to see as guiding her to put this all right. There. Those marble steps among the mere sandstone porches. Her childhood no longer able to contain itself among the past’s dominance over every wall.

“Nanny Hubner!” Unable to stop herself running, as if to a family member kickstarting a holiday. The spark would probably be infinitely better with an actual mother. But she’d made do with this. And this was more than enough to send a smile rocketing across her face. Syon, once again, a few feet away. The best he could hope for was to peer in on someone else. At least this time neither woman was someone he hoped to be around for longer than he needed to. One on business. Ericka was nice. No question. But the same principle as that rake-thin, white-haired woman she hugged applied.

“I understand you needed something from the family archives, Ma’am?” Nanny Hubner spoke in an accent cut to refined size a few decades ago. The home accent, ‘ar’ a toss up between that and ‘ah’, a habit north of the Professor’s origin, nothing more than a forgettable undertone. “I collected the required tome from the family hunting house in Axminster.”

“Thanks-oh! I mean, thank you, Nanny Hubner.”

“My pleasure, Ma’am. It’s inside. Do come in and have some tea first.”

A pause before Ericka looked at her again. Instead, as Syon did, choosing to gape at each intricate window frame. Gargoyles withering somewhat between each. One or two with heads lopped off. Meanders and
accents carved above and below each. Resulting windows more akin to a painting at the Academy down the road.

“Okay then! Your tea and biscuits were always amazing.”

Nanny Hubner’s gaze narrowed to two deadly slits. Wrinkles, a map of servitude long since caught up to her, turning to bolster the frown at Syon. “What do you need, young man? This is private property.”

“I’m with Ericka.” Syon said. Actually trying to refine his accent. Not as he usually did when he was scared. London, for all its glamour and bravado, had all the same pitfalls beneath the Georgian surface.

“He’s okay, Nanny Hubner.” Ericka affirmed. A glance of apology over her shoulder, then back inside.

“If he’s your security, he can wait outside. This is the oldest monster-hunting institution in the world. No monster would dare come here.”

“No, Nanny, he’s my partner. Work partner”, she quickly corrected upon incredulous eyebrows. “Hired by Professor O’Donnell. We were sent to retrieve the artefact together.”

Nanny Hubner’s eyes narrowed once again. Now to merely more wrinkles charting an age-old face. “Fine. He can come in with you. Just make sure he goes through the scanner on the way out.”

A cold air hissed at the back of his neck while he drew level with Ericka. A prison of malachite walls and maximalist, gilded framings soon swinging its door right open. Any spark in his eyes given from whatever force, she easily saw was struck stone dead again. “The scanner’s to check you haven’t stolen anything, is it?”

A loping sigh when she fell powerless to give a response. Both’s willpower just enough to keep their vision bolt upright. Into an ever-creeping world of opulence. Still ornate, as if frozen into a couple centuries past. At once the massive portraits started. Of great frowning men. Hair the colour of wheat. Eyes of pure stone. All frowning. Chests puffed to the max. Draped in uniforms, gold epaulets, medals spotted as if in a rhythm across portraits. Blonde curls and a walrus like beard on each the true uniform. A unique symbol of majesty, of fear struck into monsters’ hearts across the world. At least Ericka and her ancestors liked to think of it that way. Walls of the first room told a different story.

Sure, she could guess a pang struck Syon’s heart as he gasped up. Feel her own pride from it, even. Eyes drawn straight away at the cleanly severed heads. Each in their own frame. Their own works of art. One from all corners of the world. A chupacabra head, screaming in song or despair, a rose hanging limp in its mouth alongside a square frame coated in silver. Werewolf heads frozen mid-howl, fur grey after an autumnal reddish brown, in a clean spruce rectangle. One frame, pure gold encasing diamonds like a twisted wedding tiara, left bare at the very centre. No prizes for guessing whose name was on the pithy note inside.

“Eighteen seventy-four. Eighteen seventy-nine. Eighteen ninety-one.” Syon whispered. Then a question which, once again, were all too quick to turn Nanny Hubner’s eyes to slits. “What’s the date of the newest head here?”

“And why would that matter to you?” Nanny Hubner spat.

“Just curious.” Current linger, his own eyes narrowed in deepest analysis. A little inscription, varying in language below each date, prompted his mouth to open again. A realisation of the ice’s thin nature before more hot breath wafted out.

She pointed with only her finger. “Over there.”

A stone face. Nothing but hatred carved into every molecule. A crown of three points, each to rival a full blade, atop his head. Mere sockets where yellow, lamp-like spheres had once burned. Frame a purer silver, flecked with an iridescent cyan sheen. In lieu of the ultimate prize, who still swanned himself amongst a mixed family and that couple he’d strayed upon that first whirling night, it did well as a substitute main event.

“Lord Thundrar Hutning of Thurso, Ninth Lord of the Throngheld of Stavanger. The Northern Reaper. Death Set in Stone. Falkirk. Eighteen ninety-eight. Wait. Courtesy of the Earl Valentine?”

Nanny waved him down the second those cursed words departed. “Yes, yes. They-erm-they mean the taxidermist. Yes. The taxidermist Valentine in Oxford Circus. It’s on all the plaques. You can check them if you want.”

“Why would a taxidermist be an earl?” Ericka shook her head frantically right through.

“What I’m curious about, Nanny, is whether we still have the Far Eastern herbal tea in the pantry!” One nod to her, then aside. To him, her eyes rammed with desperation.

“Yes, Ericka, you’re quite right. I shall fetch three cups once. The tome is on that desk behind your-partner. Page 149.”

A minute before the uneven clack, and the body bent into work posture which pretended to be natural at most, died. A second before she rounded an inch before his chest. “Don’t do that again.”

He shook his head. Closing his mouth up tight again. Best to leave the desk unobstructed by the likes of him. One flat book, dust more contents of the pages than a later addition. All the cover’s coating attacked at once with Ericka’s hand. The contents her single sustenance.

“I’m tempted to ask what it says.” Syon admitted. No reply. Answering straight up would make a bad situation worse. Not least if the Professor got wind of it.

“Well we’re one step closer.” Ericka affirmed. That same dance of checking each pocket. Breaths slightly shallower, faster. “Where did I put it again? Come on, where is it?” At once everything internal began to rush. Curses at how she never learned from such a common problem. Through cards. Slips of dog-eared paper. The latest iPhone only meant to be a burner. One long rifle through the breast pocket. “Is that it? Yep, feels like it. Whew.”

“Where was it?” More than a hint of frustration in Syon’s question.

“Breast pocket.”

“Is this that thing the Professor sent you to, like, the depths of Cornwall to find?”

“Mhmm.” One eye shut as she paraded it through two fingers. A white marble oddity paraded in a tiny, opulent catwalk.

“Professor O’Donnell sent you to get a seashell?”

“Well, you see, this is meant to help with the master plan. It can-shall we say-provide a vessel for what’s to come next. One seaside from Land’s End itself.”

He shrugged. “Surely one from the local beach in Plymouth would’ve done fine. Hell, I could’ve done it for you on the way to…” his eyes darted. “I could’ve done it when I was in town. Or is there some super-hidden meaning related to the mightiest of monsters to ever live that I’m not getting?”

She faked a laugh. “The Professor said to me that if we want to-” Her turn to stutter and cherry-pick words.

“Do our jobs?”

“Y-yeah. Yeah. If we want to do our jobs, then Dracula should feel everything flash before his eyes in the process.” Unable to mask a malicious grin any longer, words lost their spaces to one hopeful rant. “See all his family, all his mistakes before him!”

A loud exhale from Syon, eyes and arms rolled and crossed respectively. “Right.”

Ericka’s new interest lay in pages flicked through. A fine white cloud soared from each one. “Yeah, here it is! Land’s End. The first place Dracula met Van Helsing. That’s gonna really matter. Through this little shell, he will be forced to remember all he did wrong.”

“Sure, sure. Are you still gonna need my project for all this?”

“Only as a backup. I’m a Van Helsing, after all. This is in my blood. Why?”

“Just thought I’d show you a new part of it.” He grimaced, producing his own phone. A portrait of Marcus Garvey the first thing she saw below the digital clock. Jerk up, away from her gaze, as he tapped the screen six times. Two left swipes. One tap. Top right. Tap. Tap bottom left for volume. One whip round. As she expected, especially from that first night with the portrait, he did not whip round with the screen. Only the same, puppy-like expression of regret. At once a high-pitched whirr emitted from the phone. A miniscule blue shard vibrating at incredible speed. Attached to larger, grey wiring. And a metal hand.

“The blade section of each gauntlet’s now complete.”

“What does the vibrating do?”

“Kinda hoping you wouldn’t ask, to be honest. Ugh. Basically-it’s an alloy of silver and aluminium- coated in garlic. All connected to the same electric current. The vibration,” he held a gag with all his might, “basically…it-shears off any bone or muscle in the blade’s way.”

She furthered her torture. Practice, here in this book and this pathetic little boy, almost. For the final run. “And what does that do?”

Each sigh larger than the last. Glance changing from teacher’s defeat to a smattering of vitriol. More able to stare her down. She really shouldn’t be smiling and she knew it. Yet the prospect was too great. “It triggers organ damage and blood loss more than a plain stab would. The garlic also begins the poison cycle.”

“Poison cycle?” No mention of that in any archive. Of course garlic was carried by every Van Helsing who ever lived. Though none truly explained why.

Again his frown hardened. Gaze focused, like an eagle on a mouse. “Garlic poisons vampires. Anyone knows that. The Professor already said she’s fine with it.”

“Yeah, well.” One more irresistible gander at the ancient pages. Her turn to steal away when he tried to make this equal. “It’ll only be a backup plan. I’ll kill Dracula. You stay behind and watch from the sidelines.”

Her collar shoved forward. All breath knocked from the neck in one second. Syon’s eyes she saw? Or a preying animal’s? Teeth bared for pure anger. A vision of the blade now. An extension from his raised fist. Poised at her neck. First blood imminent.

“I told you not to mention killing him!” he thundered. “You know what I think about that!” An audible slam of her back on wood. His breath far shallower than hers ever hoped for. “You knew this was coming, didn’t you?”

“Syon. Richard. I-I’m sorry.”

Grunts metamorphosed to a manic laugh. “Tell the truth, you bitch! You wanted to test me, didn’t you? See if I actually had it in me. Give me that goddamn book!” The gap in her cupped hand still there for a second or two. All the while those fiery eyes stared her down. Bigger fear than she ever felt against any portrait. Telling Professor O’Donnell that he’d flicked through the pages didn’t even cross her mind. Let alone found the same one. Scanned it. Nodded.

“So…that’s how it is.” Breaths returning to depth not soon enough. “Just backup, yeah?”

“That’s-that’s the plan.” she gasped.

Both refocused on Thundrar’s head. One grimace sapping the other. An abundance of firmness, of resigned hatred, remaining. “So what’s next?”

“La Almudena Cathedral. You’re up for that one. The Professor wants to see your tech in action I guess.”

“Course she does.” he spat. Pure shame back to her as his hand expanded. Her ragdoll body collapsing on wood fully. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

One last gaze at Thundrar. The last kill. He only whispered. Head craned. Shoulders slumped. But it was loud enough to send shame rocketing through all directions of her body. “Eighteen ninety-eight. Courtesy of Earl Valentine. Just backup. Tsh. Bullsh*t. Guess I have a role though. And I gotta f*cking play it.”

Chapter Nine:

If you had asked Wayne to take the swathes of New York that time and the Senate forgot, and position them precariously over a sheet of light grey sea, he concluded you wouldn’t be far off what Scarborough was. He’d seen ads for it, in train stations as clouds of steam puffed their way in, on the community posters alongside Weston-Super-Mare and Brighton and Blackpool, all back in his heyday. The difference was he’d moved on from such a time. If the local boardwalk, with its ferris wheel palely copying that morning’s sunrise at Londoom, was anything to go by for the rest of them, the landscapes had no small amount of catching up to do. Nevertheless chatter ensued, from a strip of sand rammed full of humans and chasing children, all the same. Funny how that worked. Even on the Oregon coast and New Salem, when all the buzz from Dr Dre and dream-like coastlines before centred firmly in California, paltry alternatives still found themselves full of people and their pockets no emptier. No biting February wind got a message through. Belated Valentine’s Day celebrations dotted across, no doubt, in chunks of lobster easily confused for lovehearts. Brandished by many a man who’d left his shirt at home. Allowing composures akin to a snowman to flourish all round. Frank and Murray, though they didn’t voice it, waited for him to tut at such activities and move on, hat brim a shadow for his eyes, onto the next trouble the humans caused. The next trouble he’d have to haul his four comrades out of.

He wasn’t really up to that today.

It wasn’t even the sluggishness which crept into his core with each passing breath. Nor the niggling ache in one leg. Or the fuzzy ambiguity each word prompted in his ears which it didn’t a few years back. Those were more symptoms of something else he avoided no longer. His consciousness preferred to rest this tiredness on a happier acceptance, perhaps. Maybe some humans were just at the seaside for the day, with the girl they loved, to soak up the sun and fresh lobster. A chuckle-though it sounded more like a hoarse wheeze-when a skeleton next to one of these couples caught his eye. If he got here with no trouble, then maybe some guys here had finally seen sense and the beach was, at last, in all its shoddiness, for everyone. The same way the streets of Birmingham they’d loitered in for a while, the halal shops on seemingly every corner and the constant blue trams meandering through, held mixed pockets of mummies and humans bandaged equally exiting the pub. Even a few of his own kind chatting up a thin girl with cherry-red lips on the door of a club. And her rolling with it! That certainly had moved with the times, he acknowledged in a smile as more werewolf boys, their fur long, a head-turning girl in each arm and a bottle in all hands, strolled across. An instinct, two fingers coasting under the hat’s brim. For once, he could put the constant stare over his shoulder to bed for the night. Simply enjoy how much it had all changed.

As usual, the other boys had dived headfirst into it way before he had. Frank’s left hand ducked behind his back. One would think that after losing it so soon, he’d be more grateful. A turn back. Hands on hips as usual. It may be only in appearance this time, but that resigned frown returned to its well-worn plinth on his face.

“Whatcha hiding your hand for, Frank?”

“If I tell you, do you swear not to tell Eunice?” he whispered. His hunch so far into Wayne he struggled to find ground between his back and the sand. Though for Frank it wasn’t so far.

Wayne rolled his eyes. “I swear, Frank. What dumb sh*t have you got yourself into now?”

Once again, he’d soon wish he hadn’t asked. When Frank produced his arm from behind, the normal sand-green hand and its uneven stitches did not follow. Instead, at odds with his suit sleeve, smelling still of the rotting depths below, was a colossal lobster claw. Its sharp edge a vast contrast with the five stubby green sausages he held on his right. All with their own miniature stitches, all in different places. The claw, instead, held nothing but fresh beige pockmarks in the red and a clean white border just visible beyond the sleeve.

“Where the hell’s your hand?” Wayne asked, not particularly desiring an answer.

“Oh, I got this through a bet.”

“A bet? Oh jeez Frank, you said you were past that! Who did you place a bet with? Murray?”

Bandaged hands up instantly. “I ain’t part of this. I already got plenty zombie hands in the crypt. I wasn’t even with him! Griffin took care of him from Birmingham, remember?”

Wayne shook his head. “Whatever. Whatever. Griffin, how did Frank lose his arm?”

That levitating pair of glasses above his head crossed. “I think he, like, ran a bet with one of the locals. I dunno, I couldn’t exactly stop them cause, ya know, invisibility.”

“What could he have possibly bet on where the locals wanted his hand?”

“Hey, don’t ask me. I’m not the one who even had visible hands to bet with. One second, we were walkin’ around town, looking for somewhere to hole up for the evening, and he goes into some fish shop. Next thing I know there’s a lobster claw on the table.”

Frank recoiled back into the sprawling, linear beach, barely able to look at Wayne. “Aw, buddy, I’m sorry. Look, I know I said to Eunice that I’d stop all the gambling. But hey, you gotta admit this claw looks cool.”

“Just tell me how you lost the damn arm.”

“I-uh-well, how do I put this, a guy said I had a nice Halloween costume and that he’d pay me for it. He was constantly lookin’ at my hands. Said they were inspirational. But I noticed that he had this massive lobster claw strapped to his back, so I offered to play him for it.”

Wayne planted his hand on his forehead with a smack. “You coulda at least traded, you damn fool!”

“Well here’s the thing-we did best of three, and I lost the first one. So he got my hand. I won the second which gave me this claw. So I offered a tie breaker. Winner gets both hands. For the thrill of it, know what I mean?”

“Hold on, why didn’t he just take a photo with a phone or something?” Griffin pondered.

“There’s no fun in that, Griffin! Look, guys, I dunno about you but as far as I’m concerned so far this cruise has been pretty dry. I needed somethin’ to spice it up. Anyways, I tried the third bet and lost. Least this claw is awesome. Look!” A sharp clack between two pincers. Frank staring up, smile as wide as his eyes. Cheers, indirect congratulation for something fleeting, as it raised. Wayne held only the power to stare back, at remaining Victorian buildings conveying only ever imagined grandeur, and wish Eunice saw the funny side of it. However miniscule the chance of that was. As the blunders of dropping lobster into the sand, or falling headfirst into a wave’s belly, were laughed upon by families. On life continued for them. As the ship, towering over all waves and all people with its billowing funnels, would continue life for him and the boys tonight and into tomorrow. Onto the next vignette of the world. Hopefully it would be seen from more than sleeper train windows, in one hour or two to scope out an entire city, in a culture crammed into passing. Londoom. The Big Smoke. All that to see more of the wires above train tracks than buildings. A brief jaunt on the London Eye reserved only for Mavis and Johnny. Even then they were lucky to get fifteen minutes before time whisked them off to another tourist attraction. Or back on the bare white rooms on rails which, ironically, you saw most of this grand world from. Spending more time travelling between Londoom and Birmingham than actually examining them. Chances were he spent more time travelling than in both cities combined. More time trying to bypass the million and one thoughts from bygone, turbulent eras in an endless water carpet. The promise of drowning it all in a new world with new tolerance hanging over. Such a promise was hand-fed, no question. Yet such a hand always came with the tremors of clenching it in the tightest of fists.

Then there were those shadowy people on the platform at Birmingham New Street. Gone, quick as they’d come, on the train before theirs to Wales. One turn. One damning, midnight purple look at Drac. At that black guy with his newfound girl. Mutters of some ‘Evil Queen’ and ‘raven’. Most of it probably crazy bullsh*t. Same as that alcoholic back in Plymouth. Most of him wanted to dismiss it as only that. Ericka took any chance of that and threw it on a bonfire. A few hand signs from the shortest one to her. Her nod back. More signs. Whispered speech. Of ‘the boss’ and ‘other places’ and ‘the big picture’. Any chance of that sliding too was long gone. Thanks a lot, Hexiciah. It was settled then. Settled as that colossal hull made itself known on the other end of the endless, levelled beach. Attracted oohs and eyebrow raises from lines of pot-bellied humans redder than their food. He'd get to the bottom of this. For his friends. He hated the fact he’d always have to be the one on clean up. On rescue duty. That, when Frank touched back down in Transylvania with his idiotic lobster claw he’d have to be the mediator in negotiations between him and Eunice.

“But at the end of the day, guess it’s kinda like having kids.” he reasoned under his breath. “They do dumb sh*t all the time. They piss ya off. You gotta clean up their mess and it sucks. But you’re there for them cause you love ‘em. Cause that’s what friends and parents do. We got this far from danger. We got on the humans’ good side. It’s not fair that that goes to waste.” Another reason he had to admit. A little queasiness in his mouth alongside. “And I ain’t seen Drac this happy since Martha. Perhaps the least he deserves is to be happy with this Ericka chick.”

And so, no more than two days after touching down on one sandy shore for a brown mass of buildings displaced from their era, another slipped from Mavis’ gaze into that same rippling blue curtain. More plain surroundings. Monotone inside a room and out. Quick to come back in. Slow to realise their welcome as overstayed. It was only the first time. Yet such a chore had already wore a sizeable path into her mind. Even the sights had been largely of great brown, industrial swathes. Of sadness, remedied only in bottles. Of greatness faked nowadays in order to keep shops and shanty towns chugging along. Like Scarborough. The whole town almost one sprawling yet miniscule museum. All that stood out fresh white meat, plucked from a lobster the same way as a century ago. A grey sheet and gnashing winds constantly a menace to a grumbling population. Each one elderly. Often reminiscing of last summer, or the summer a long while before that. Of those little pockets of time when the travellers had wanted to stay forever. Forgetting briefly the magnetic compel of their London train and comfort. Always ever briefly. And now the remainder, pot-bellied with weary glazes in each eye, left with no choice but to accept that calling’s inevitable power. Not to go with it-if only out of archaic pride’s shrapnel. To merely sit. Pick up a girl on the way to the beach. Fake a few cheers to send them off. Resume scavenging among the shells, the hollow Victorian monoliths, a bench stretching along a station platform yet never close to full, for something left to cling onto. Another finite resource.

The Londoom Eye had caught her impression, though.

Flying with none of the arms begging for relent in ache’s blunt language. A sunrise, again, over a whole new world. At a safe distance with none of the burns. One other in the whole atmosphere. It had more meaning now they’d locked their hearts into each other. Made a product of their synergy. Hands twisting over the other’s arms like vines of ivy. The growth of time. A leisurely stretch over a city rising, among a golden sun, divided over glass and dapples in a river which, even at that hour, had boats petering along. The first time all the world was hers to enjoy. Buildings great and small as far as the eye could see. Car horns and a million conversations blended into one monotone noise, dream like fifty feet below. A sky full of helicopters, red among bland white clouds, already whirring to and from today’s wonderful catch.

Yet all the rest came from that bland room, amongst a web of bland tracks and fields. More of a placeholder for something promised to come an age ago. Rushing between fields. Its inhabitants no more than irrelevant specks dotted through the green. A meagre attempt to break the monotony. Johnny again. Loitering a few centimetres away. Enshrined in covers. Or upright, clothes given no solace for their crumpled troubles. He had a small pear-shaped belly completely devoid of six-pack creases. But it didn’t matter much. A laugh a minute distracted from such a concept of disappointment. Of coming up short. At least he did on most days. In the hotel, when it was only them and rolling hills covered in a wide verdant afro. A homely fire to combat a razor-sharp moon. Those days she barely thought of his physical failing at all. He made her feel as if the space she took up held meaning, that the laughs made it all worthwhile, that she was right to anticipate what comedies he set may lay for her in bed.

“There’s a time and a place.”

Not once had she heard someone else affirm that. Yet the thought floated to her mind as if it had been waiting patiently to be said since birth. Some actions were irrevocably coupled to one setting. Anywhere else would be out of place and duly horrific. Mind providing reason to mouth in the example of eyeballs on co*cktail sticks. It had a place back home no question. Never a day when the bowls of them wouldn’t be empty halfway through the evening at the latest. But take a look at the oak deck. Varnished to the point it was almost a mirror. Those two towering headmasters again in deep conversation finished in moreish yet sophisticated accents. The squeamish Syon and his new iridescent blonde companion. No. It didn’t blend in. Almost like the attractions and cities cared for so intensely in passing, when the norm was firmly those field. Plucked and forgotten at warp speed.

The other side of the sea, then, promised better. It did tenderly in her heart. Johnny did too, but something about that didn’t quite penetrate thoughts in the same way. Maybe it was the establishment of difference, of the word in one backpack and one infinite (yet horribly finite) and exciting man. Time to shrink Scarborough, its stretching beaches and merry coping mechanisms, into another brown speck on the horizon. Same as Plymouth two days prior. All they ever were. Brown specks on the horizon. To be anticipated. Seen. Forgotten. As the people there were. It didn’t quite occur that said people included those she held so close for the time being. But it was only a matter of hours. So unending when you experienced them. Yet on reflection, so fleeting and irrelevant. When asking herself, miles away again, months and years later why she turned to Johnny, analysed every single speck on his face and all the memories he held there, she would give no answer. Partially because she didn’t have one.

Memories also held, though from a different time, in both Bloodgood and Grimm’s eyes. A silent knowledge of what had been. A silent judgement on its remnants. A glass of champagne, its broth having marked a notch five sixths up for filling long ago, at its usual plinth between five pale, mottled sausages of fingers. Your eyes had to never leave to catch a sip. Most caught it full one time, parched within ten minutes. Never for more than three glasses. The time for subverting places, for exploring, for living their best lives in their best bodies, had long since passed. Unlike the third representative of such a time, for them Hexiciah was not squarely to blame. More so a natural passage. What excitement and age does to the body, as what loud music does to the ears long-term. Maybe it was because, in that past era, they had nothing which could crawl back, come home to roost, manipulate their present into one of constant hiding despite all this openness which strode on so quick and so firm.

“It will rain tonight.” Grimm concluded. Balancing the wafer-thin torso of his glass between two sausages, ringless, with expert balance.

“You haven’t given up staring at the clouds, have you?” Bloodgood sighed.

“It is important. Though more of a hobby at this stage. See there,” a sausage jutted towards a bruise in the stretching blue, “it’s moving southwest. We’ve been moving east. It’s bound to come across. And no small drizzle either, I should think.”

“Old habits die hard.” Bloodgood sighed. “You and your weather fronts. If it’s going to rain, why aren’t we just going inside?”

“Because that would do nothing to inform about where said rain is coming and where it might go next. If we know both of those things then we won’t have to stay inside for as long.”

“It’s all done on phones now, isn’t it though? To me, then, this whole thing seems rather unreasonable.”

Grimm scoffed. “Somehow, I can’t remember you ever being the reasonable one back then.”

“Well, there was that.” Bloodgood conceded. “Yet at least what I stand for has aged well. The idea that women can do what men can, and possibly even more, is enjoyed a lot wider than scouring the skies looking for grey clouds to analyse totally, as if you were Dracula himself.”

“Ah yes. I’d forgotten he used to be a lawyer, a long time ago.”

“Well,” Bloodgood heaved, face gaining some disquiet, “amongst all else from then it’s an easy thing to forget. Not least with him specifically.”

“One thing we definitely can agree on. Though, Nora, I will say this. There’s a storm coming. Perhaps not today. But it’s creeping over. And I daresay before this week is out said storm will have arrived in all its fury, sparing none.”

“I only see one dark cloud out there now. That’ll make for an hours’ rain at most, assuming you’re correct. I don’t think I’ll be making such an assumption lightly, if some things about the past are anything to go by.”

“That’s the thing, Nora. It may not look like it at first glance. But when there’s one cloud on its way, behind it are usually more waiting to strike even harder.”

The connection between said storm and his old friend was not lost on Grimm. But he liked to believe, for his own sanity if nothing else, that he’d settled down. A human marrying his daughter, and age, and relaxation, finally setting the pace. That the wild days of the Red Lady, of libido’s stench smelt in every corner of every room, of Hexiciah using that poor boy to try desperately in clinging onto order, of distant empires lingering over every conscience, were as buried as they all would be had the past not made its permanent mark already. The glass grasped to the point of shredding as he tipped it, purging the golden liquid fire in one gulp. Shame kept only at bay with the realisation he'd need it. Hoping, to all futility and all decency, Count Dracula would not. Not this time. Not this time, he dearly hoped. Yet his eyes could only be magnetised to one thing, slowly inching closer to deliver despair in one undeniable sheet.

A small, black cloud sticking out from a mellow, royal blue sky. Already a raking, ethereal shadow far on the horizon. That too making its steady advances towards the tacky luxury plastered everywhere.
Said shadow bursting into roaring life around an hour later. Entire legion of captives, huddled inside a dining room bland as much as it was decorated and carpeted. A chill raked down each spine. That’s when the elder ones knew. Dennis’ body glued to his mother’s leg at once. Entire blackness in each window replaced by a bright, translucent green. Illuminating the fear, the guilt where all had tried to stow it. Before anyone could reach a hand out to force sense on his conscience, Johnny had taken the corner up to the deck. Up to lashing sheets of rain thwacking every floorboard. Each one revealed as a collective chainmail sheet of grey, tainted by a hollow green. Up to feet with skin burnt off long ago, bleeding into the pall. Only bones left to cast long shadows into them all. One among the crowd, so translucent it was revealed only by the vague white lines to simulate edges. That, and a reflective copper pillar in lieu of a left leg. Metal tentacles snaking among it. One final glance to the unimaginative white sheets of wall, of lacquered floors. All paling in comparison to this green, ghostly idea of true piracy.

Each drop rolled a chill on his scalp. At once two feelings. Of horror at the rotting lives which lay writhing before. Of that same wonder which had been dormant, broken out by years of staying still when all his body had wanted to do was move. Like staring down that ribcage in horror and awe again. Compulsion to touch his face, check he didn’t have the Frankenhomie makeup on after a decade of not needing it.
The corpses of men torn to bony splinters. Moonlight refracted into that green pall across all the skeletons. Eyes void. A sense of awaiting orders. All too familiar to him even this soon in, yet he couldn’t care less. Swords clasped lopsidedly. Once they’d be pointed at necks, demanding gold. Now it too awaited a further action. At a crossroads. Some had medals or sinews of once-opulent military ribbon clinging on to what remained. The true authority, however, stood in the centre. Her sword at least pointed right at the nape, ready to slice it off and laugh about it at a moment’s notice. A great hat displaying a ship, one still complete against the wooden pointed skeleton which lay to the right. A freeze frame with tentacles writhing against the hull. Order seconds away from the natural world reclaiming where it once stood. No way of telling if she’d died, for a very much alive smirk of confidence, of anticipation of what always came next, burned brighter than his own flare of ginger hair. Her own turquoise mane loping leisurely with the winds, as limp and slow as the skeletons crowding round her, blades in hand and eyepatches on a few sockets. Lips and a fine, iridescent trimming the same colour as a small squid which bobbed about her sallow cheeks, right down to the legs. One green, ghostly as with all the rest. The other a fine rusted tower. Wrapped in tentacles, and chains breaking at the knee from a squid, rotting at her stomach.
The pirate girl threw her head back and laughed. “Well, well, well boys, what have we here?” Analysing every aspect of his neck through the blade. “Ransom from the crew so they can keep their ship, eh?” A pronounced waltz forward. Fire in the pupils shot directly into his. An outline of a finger, no more than its bone, raking across his cheek. Childish sadness slithered across that face. Confusion the food which kept her cheating death. Himself the unwilling, unknowing source. “Aw. Lookie here, boys. A lost bird that never learned to fly. Where did you come from, little birdie?”

“Transylvania.” Johnny gasped before sense reined him back in.

“Transylvania, eh? The land of the vampires themselves? Interesting. Tell me, lost bird, do you know if a certain-how shall I say it-if a certain count-is on this ship? Hm?”

“Yeah. What’s it to ya?”

“Oh, nothing.” She replied deflecting her intense stare to transparent nails. “Just that he’s in the realm of the dead, is all. Back home. But let me tell you something, lost birdie. When you leave home with a debt, coming back don’t come cheap. Savvy?”

A small squeak of ‘Aye’ from the little squid. Its own eyepatch revealing one eye. Doubtless the same mad glint.

“Woah. Cool squid. How’s it floating in air instead of on water?”

“His name’s Aye. Ghost squid, like me and the hearty crew.”


“Aye aye!” Another dramatic laugh. Beginnings of wonder if the colossal hat weighed her head back. All she mustered with an ethereal neck for it not to collapse. Maybe, he realised with a sizeable churn in the stomach, that was how she came to be like this. Flopping over her chest when a small sway came underfoot. Fire replaced, if for a passing second, by concerned anticipation and annoyance. Surprise when her hand didn’t rocket through her mouth, instead perform a calculated rest on it. Eyeline shooting in all directions. Begging silently for no one to notice.

“Cmon Vandala,” she cursed under her breath, “pull yourself together. No one likes a seasick pirate.” The copper pillar teetering between wood and air. Sword unmoved. All that held laughs in Johnny’s throat. Behind her, a distant loping exhale. Dark blue beyond into something of a dream materialised. A sickening series of cracks as each skeleton turned its head. Strayed towards the bow. At once all tremors ceased. Yet a distinct chill crept, through his spine, to knock three times at his heart.

“Ooh. Ah yes, that’s better.” grinned Vandala, rising limb by limb from a railing. Grin spreading as her blade furthered to its target. “Tell me, lost bird, do you believe in ghosts?”

Johnny shook his head at once. Monsters, yes. No ghosts in the hotel.

“Interesting…” Her copper leg stamped, all skeletons jerking up in some sort of standing rigor mortis. “Boys! We arrive close. Soon these chains shall grow lighter at last.” From the wild, tentacle-like parts of clothing and shimmering pink crystals came a pocket watch, bronzed by the ages. “Alright then, we’re on the clock and there’s always treasure somewhere. Let’s see-for looting it’s fifteen minutes and seven seconds to beat, starting now!”

At once bones turned to blurs. Snaps, crackles, pops. All whizzed past in search of something to pick clean. Johnny prisoner of his own rigor mortis. Brought on by an unmoving hand and its sixth, elongated, static iron finger.

“Got a missus, lost birdie?”


The grin stretched to each ear. A finger disappearing through the edge. “Oh, just don’t like it when someone gets hurt in these things is all. It’s an awful shame. And cleaning up afterwards-ugh! You don’t need to know why that’s bad.”

“It’s cause you’re seasick, isn’t it?”

Though nothing solid fell upon his lips, the outline of a finger definitely did. A sword inches behind. “Mention a word, and your missus is gonna be crying more than the clouds ever do.”

No screams yet. Only clacks in tune with thumps deep inside. The same pleas for escape employed under Quasimodo floated to mind. “A-are you gonna eat me?”

Even her snorts sounded airy. Lacking full force of a body. “Ooh, lordy lord no! Look at you. So skinny and bony you could be one of me crew. Your missus must be a little different from the others, methinks. Besides, you’re not the one I’m here for.”

“What do you mean? Who are you here for?” Incredibly, a shiver-inducing needle of fear shot down his core. With a loud yell, gold arced over both heads, landing in a deafening clang to Vandala’s side. A cup laced in gold. Her eyes hungry for every streak of it. And like the raven he saw in her eyes, once one prize had been sighted more came over. Bony arms, visible only for an inch above the railings, lobbing coins by the thousand. Amongst all the things he dreamed of with Mavis, a golden shower wasn’t among them. But this was certainly a sight to behold. Chunks of marble to substitute for hailstones. Only now did he realise ropes bound his feet only in imagination. That cold seeped its pale yellow power over each finger. That, truly, their surroundings became as transparent as Vandala herself. Little more than bright veins of purple and turquoise and candyfloss-like lilac behind it all, stretching onto infinity. Atmosphere swirling round them both not easy to identify. Not the permanent, annoying buzz of lives present. Nor stasis of death, found most commonly stalking care homes and hospitals his side of such a border. Sounds made only with clangs and hearty laughs as more gold rocketed down.

Only the furthest reaches of deck remained undisturbed. Only silky, yet opaque water below remained bearable to stare upon. Same allure as that skeleton’s ribcage. Ensnaring a mind which thought it knew everything. All to be proven so idiotic and childish at the first hurdle. Perhaps a favour returned. Long since in need of it when Mavis locked onto him. A serene, minimal wave prompted his hand to lower. Lower once more into the unknown. Be met, again, with nothing. Nothing at first.

Then his whole hand burned.

Beginnings of bone, and a thick black smoke, on each fingertip as he wrenched it back in a yowl. Sizzling the one sound he heard for at least a minute before speech recovered. Those swathes of iridescent blues and greens no longer comforting in their mystery. Instead bearing down. Waiting for the next victim. A hand, cold and pointed at each talon-like finger, chilling his shoulder to the bone. None of the warmth he felt when, as a child, parents sent him into the unknown to explore and find himself in all four corners. More shock after he whipped back, panting wildly, when it was a face he knew more. Of Mavis, innocent as ever. Scepticism watered down with trust all before it even left the eyes. But here, among a chortling Vandala, among the endless fall of gold, a ship threatening to turn any way, she was the last person he wanted to curse his sight. A temptation to kiss. The knowledge that somehow it would damn them both.

“What have you been doing out here?” Accusation muted too, as their eyes met again.

No answer. Even without this eerie air, freezing lips, no thought for those he’d left would’ve crossed.

“At least you’re okay.” She continued. “Captain says the next stop will be Europe.” Eyes went up, arms went round their familiar posts to interlock chests. “Woah. It looks even better than I imagined it would be.”
Vandala scoffed. “You’re a way away from Europe, lass. No. We have some business to attend to first. Welcome, lost birdie and his missus. To the Haunted Realm.”

Chapter 5: Chapter 8: Hauntings


What's this-two parts added in one day? Well, I haven't updated this thing since, like, November, so yes. If someone could float me like £1k to get Valentine and Whisp for my 18th birthday that'd be nice.
The one thing that does slightly worry me about all this writing is that the quality is high enough, because that's the main reason I post it here alongside the stories being unique. I see my page, see gaybugfromspace get hella kudos despite not posting the greatest work, and see new stars like Jenna Ortega not much older than me, and wonder if I'm actually doing enough. This doesn't get any better as I consider that I've never really had a relationship, but I believe that can change soon and it's more that the right person hasn't really found me yet. I do feel like I'm getting closer. I hope it changes soon as I change to be a nicer person.

Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! KIeran :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten:

A loud bang worked Johnny’s legs at last. Grabbing Mavis. Not yet caring where his hand had gone. Inside with all his might. Two more sounded. Two thwacks ringing in the very being of his ears. Both hollow. Both followed by more. A blur of white to his side as he rushed past. Back to a blast of fake warmth. Of carpet beneath his shoes over flat wood. Bangs every one, two, three seconds. Drops falling almost as heavy and as much as the rain’s lashes. A stop when the first wall knocked numbness into both cheeks, reaped its payment of his braincells. His own loud, temporary thud managed little by the carpets below.
His place taken by that same towering figure Mavis should’ve expected.

“Dad, where is everyone?”

“The robots came so fast.” Indifference a cloud over all other emotion in his response. A glance at her face once. Maybe twice. If there was a second time it was too quick to notice. Let alone matter. However, outside received near undivided staring. Despite the pain, the near gloss sheening it over, with each passing second. Drops, thuds, thwacks, cracks. All she heard. A whisper of a growl the motivator, the memory’s deeply covered motivator, to turn and clasp his hand and see it with him.

Skeletons. None given a proper burial. Thrown from above. Deaf to that captain’s pleas. A few solitary bones left to guide to stairs into the lobby. Its fake element of an opulent halt revealed only when its deceivable prey were forced elsewhere. But the truest horror required no disguise. Most skeletons which still walked met their end in a flash of orange. Flash. Bang. Clatter to the floor. Next kill. Dealt by those robots from the first night. The bulkier ones, clad in those massive vests, no faces beyond two protruding goggles, out in force. From them came several, repeated thuds of bullets. Toppling entire lines with the sight and sound of dominoes. Others saw with a sole blue luminous line in place of eyes. Metal clasping more metal. Disturbing the static flow of blues and greens. All who tried to defend it knew what came next. She could only imitate the horror, the million emotions-none good-filling whites and pupils inside his eyes. A minute step away, remembering the plane. Indeed, without even moving his head an unearthly growl sounded as she tiptoed left. More stabs of pain creeping in with every second. Slightest hints of red above his face. No clue whether it was the wall. She liked to think so. But there was that chance. That idea. That threat. Nothing but deathly chill on his palm. Much like the newly static air. Seeping through as death poured in. Stabbed. Shoved. Twisted a degree further with each bullet ending a resurrected life. The robots pulled it back out in brief gasps of peace. Only to plunge it back in again. One more dead. Well over thirty bones littering the deck. A deck that prided spotlessness. Breaths rising. Falling. Heavier. Faster. She tried to ignore it. Shut it out. Shut the gunfire and the death and the annihilation of an entire crew in seconds out. Hopeless!

For the captain strode forward. Blade out again. That same smirk emblazoned on. Way above Johnny’s unconscious body. A muted clop with each stride. Further. Further.

“The Count Dracula. We meet at last!”

Only a grunt. A twitch in his cheek. Hands balled into iron-tight fists. Sight locked totally, as if to a lover, on Vandala. Breaths heavier by the second. Fangs starting to bare.

“This goblet is nice, isn’t it?” she leered, inspecting a golden cup in her other hand. “Ooh, is that a diamond I see in there? Your captain ought to be more careful of their possessions. Wouldn’t want any nasty pirates making off with it now, would we?”

“Why are we involved in this?” Command struck under Mavis’ question loud and clear. Back after dormancy for some time.

“My dear, you’ll soon see it’s not always about the money. Some pretend it to be. But they lie through their teeth. Your dad can attest. Matter of fact, that’s the real prize. Your dad has a price to pay. A loan he took out long ago. And should’ve paid back before all this nasty interest piled up. Alas. Some never learn. Think they can push it all away."

Another grunt. Mouth open for a second. A gulf of red between him. Mavis. Vandala.

“Someone has to pay the price. Someone has to collect the debt. The gold is just a nice little extra. No.” Sword raised at the defining upturned collar. “You remember, don’t you, Count? Remember her. Remember what you’ve done. There’s a price that must be paid. What good is a future if it’s built on such a horrid past? You cannot forget. Remember all you did. Remember Falkirk.”

At once the ghostly captain was consumed in a shadow of black. And a roar. A deafening, chilling, supernatural roar. More horrible than anything Mavis had ever heard. Ever hoped to muster. Vandala’s own scream right behind. Two frantic sword swipes. No use. He choked its handle. One large grunt later, its blade lay in two. Each tiny wrist slap from Aye repaid in a clamp on her neck. Each ethereal, desperate slither away caught again. His face a war mask. Cape angled behind. Swarmed in red clouds. A cage for ghostly, defenceless prey.

Eyes shot into a light pink. His voice a haunting lullaby. “You will give up your ghostliness and listen to me.”

Her eyes the same colour immediately. “I…will…”

An otherworldly gasp. And a choke of breath. A solid neck landing in whitened knuckles. Every inhale a pathetic struggle. Their eyes still locked. But he held the purpose. Her life in his hand.

“Know this, worthless pirate.” he panted. “Don’t come near me or my family ever again. Because if you do, I will hunt you down. Find everything you love. And no one shall remain to say what happened next.”

All Mavis heard then was a thundering bellow of anger. And a definite, brutal snap.

“Now leave this ship, take your crew, and never return.”

A clearing in the red typhoon for a ghost resurging from her beheaded, limp body. One green flash all that remained. All Mavis saw was a tyrant’s hunger burned into his face. A stab of icy fear down every bone in her spine. No sound inside or out bar the endless, inevitable, roll in and out of the sea for hundreds of miles around. Each breath a shallow rasp. Red mist lingering in place of any blood. Only a neck, slightly askew. Eyes frozen wide open. Pointing straight at her feet. Anger in his face, across drawn cheeks, only laid to rest. Not dispersed. She had to really dig deep, force a reminder that this was her father. Her father. Protecting her. Like he always did. He’d never put her in harm’s way. Only protect her the best way he knew how. More likely to get it right now. Him and Johnny hadn’t been at odds for five years. Thanks to him, thanks to that, she had to remind herself of her safety. The gratitude it commanded. He commanded. Her turn to be rooted to the spot. Give herself shackles which never existed in reality. Last time, at least they’d fended off the threat together. Giant bats, looming over Dennis, kept at bay by all three generations. Maybe it was just like that time. Such a thought she allowed to take root in her conscience. Fester. Grow flowers aplenty. Undeniably, though, that time had felt different. More of a carrot to her than a stick to the latest villain. She’d wanted to apologise wildly. Make treaties over her son. Give him the biggest hug. Attempt to repay all his kindness to her and now the next generation.

All she felt here was harsh, freezing fear. No thanks.

“Dad, is it safe to move now?” Childish. A pathetic stutter in her near-silent dare.

At once all anger rolled back. Red clouds tinting to more a deep, sorrowful blue. Eyes doubling in size. Frown crumbling to a full droop. All that raised were both eyebrows. A turn, each degree edging out into a passing era. Till his glossed eyes met hers. Impossible to tell which pair held greater terror. For the future. For the unknown. For the past. For each other.

A slow nod his only response. Minimal speech. Hushed into oblivion. Only audible in the complete silence. Hand in limbo between his side and her cheek. Remembering last time he’d touched it. Another stab of pain in his gaze as self-punishment.

“Nothing, Mavy. I-I’m sorry you saw that. It’s okay now. We should go upstairs.”

“I’m scared, Dad.” All that wriggled its way from mind to mouth.

“You shouldn’t be. You’re okay now. And you want to know why?”


“Because you’re Daddy’s girl.” A sigh. The best smile he could feign. Sugar after a pill had already slithered a pungent trail in her throat. “Daddy’s girl. Daddy’s girl.”

Such an innocent memory did make shelving the past three minutes a little less impossible. Thoughts once again performed a gradual, somewhat muted turn to the status quo. Where was Johnny? Where was Dennis? Where might they explore next? Legs from a cold standstill to that same sweaty discovery mode. What had just happened relegated to a noxious, sickly aftertaste in the king’s luxurious soup, served by the charming chef from a former rival kingdom. That same hanging stasis not quite ready to leave either. More walls drowned in plastic opulence. No movements further to more monsters did anything to raise any volume. The world waiting for the punchline of a joke she’d never understand. Age or otherwise. For her, perhaps even for the others, it wouldn’t seem funny. It became incrementally, by the smallest of additions, harder for her to rouse a smile for the prospect of husband and child. Probably down to it being a regular thing. Something she could always expect to look forward to. He would always be there for her happiness and she would always be there for his and that was that.

“Oh no. Johnny!”

Her turn to spin one eighty. Careen back to her past mistakes.

“Mavis?” Dracula spoke with more a fraction of his usual tone than when he got curious.

“Johnny? He’s still unconscious below!”

No more to be said. When new entrants burst into that same hall one last time, it was father and daughter together. One hasty kiss before she took the head. His meticulous scoop of the legs. A slow, assured lift. Meek combat against such a looming, cold world left silent by the absence of life. Impossible to fully forget who made it silent. The brief, yet never-ending mental video of how.

“Where is your room?” he whispered.

“Room 004.” Her response no louder.

Any more conversation seemed to be an inexplicable, yet total, slight against the world. Just keep moving. Flashing reads of signs denoting what chunk of rooms were shoved into where. A robot or two in most corridors which paid them only a glance in return. She realised, with a judder, the rifle still clasped in each one’s iron fingers. Doubtless with a few bullets remaining for any after parties. The next few steps after each one always increased, but desperately trying not to overdo it. No way to know this evening who was a friend and who was a foe. Who simply had your back. Who had a knife waiting to strike it. The three of them had each other. This a twisted version of a trust exercise. But beyond that her guess was as good as that Syon man’s. Concern resting on his shoulder whenever he was seen on board, like a pirate captain and his trusty parrot. Yet without hesitation, he too vanished from her mind as she tucked every inch of duvet into a fine coating over the man who’d made the last decade of her life so much better. Her and Dracula in the same positions he’d been carried in, translated to fit the image of an ill relative cared for at bedside. The same sympathetic expression to humans, worn across generations.
Dracula’s hands clapped together. The result of a somewhat hesitant motion towards each other. Made so only by the fact that their intent, a prayer motion, never had significance on vampires. Intent was legible in his face through and through.

“From what I remember, it didn’t look like anything he can’t survive.” he assured.

Mavis nodded hurriedly. Her own expression of muted anxiety. Strokes up and down between his forehead and fire-coloured mane all she had power to achieve. “I just hope he isn’t hurt too bad.”
“Of course. Me too, Mavy. Me too. But remember, Johnny’s the most resilient human I’ve ever known.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Dad, neither of us have seen, like, more than ten humans. And you know why.”

His turn to nod in conceding acknowledgement. “I saw plenty of humans once. Long ago, when you were still a baby bat. But yes. In any case, we know Johnny. And we know he can get through this. He’ll wake up tomorrow, in a brand new country, and it’ll all be able to continue as if nothing ever happened tonight.”

“I sure hope so.” Mavis forced that response, its accompanying smile, out. And she knew it. Hoping his thoughts would come to pass over her memories.

“He has me and you to care for him, and he’s very lucky to have that. And when he comes back round, we’ll be lucky to have him around!”

She smiled archly, shuffling her body closer to his head. “Yeah. Glad you’re able to finally see that.”

“I know. I just wish I could’ve appreciated him sooner. But it’s never good to dwell on the past. Nor think too much about the future. Because then, before you know it, the missed chances of the present will slip through your fingers. So we’d better go and check on the others upstairs.”

“I might stay here.” Mavis replied. “Just so I can take care of Johnny. He might wake up or something and be a bit confused.” Her strokes of his hair more a comfort from the reason she stayed. Never the reason.

Whatever smile, nod or affirmative action Mavis took her father seemed to mimic. That door’s slam penetrating the continuous ruling silence as he walked upstairs confirming his crime. The best he could do now was try with all his might to forget that pirate ghost. Let alone forget his response. Pray, for all its futility among monsters, that the next country would divert everyone’s minds. Including his own.

Chapter Eleven:
Into the Past

Once again, only robots were found as company right up to the top deck. No dare to call for Dennis. Nor Wayne. No chance of him stomaching calling Captain Ericka. He always sorted things out for Martha. He was the breadwinner. Not the other way round. For a second, it slipped his mind of all the tension that eased when she surprised him in those hotel rooms. Of how he sat in meetings, mind idler than a teenager in maths class. Eagerly anticipating his own peace over some fictional world peace. Power which she had a stranglehold over. His heart merely a piece of such a puzzle illustrating it. Missing it even more in the gaping solitude. In a Victorian emulation, where she had always stood right round a corner. Ready to hug. Laugh. Kiss on the cheek. Talk soothingly about how it would all be okay. How there would come a day when monsters wouldn’t have to fear humans. Wouldn’t have to fear other monsters. And she wasn’t even here to see such a day. Carried out by the fruits of their own labour. Not Bloodgood’s. Not some international league’s. Not Hexiciah’s. Not Sparky’s. Theirs. Ironic how it was the leaders who talked the talk. While him and his boys walked their walk-without any trappings such as convention. Yet what did any of them have to show for it? Martha had died long ago when tensions still raged. And as for him and his boys-

Well, one look at Wayne up above would tell you everything you needed to know.

“Wayne, is everyone okay upstairs?” No breath remained after the question, the rest thinly stretched.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s all good.” The response quick. Holding Wayne’s signature oily rasp, accent which could be sold to a US heritage collector for a hefty price. “Everyone’s alright. Few are a little shaken but it’s nothin’ they’ll feel too bad in the morning.”


“Yeah, he’s fine. Last I saw him he was with that Syon guy and that tall white chick he’s been hangin’ out a lot with. Though you might wanna go through different staircases. Hallway up here’s blocked off.”


“I dunno, the robots just told me to stay away from it. Apparently there’s, like, an area of the ship that those skeleton pirates f*cked up. This corridor here, look.”

“There’s nothing there but tons of robots.”

“Yeah, but they all got tons of guns.”

“They’re literally defending empty space!”

“Well, if you wanna argue with ‘em be my guest. Me personally, I’ll just let ‘em have this one cause I don’t wanna see one of my boys die.” A paw up to his shoulder later, padded hobbles could be heard down and round to another path. Seems both were right. All they patrolled was an empty space. Back and forth. Guns always in hand.

Yet as he turned to follow, a blip of colour convinced his attention for one more moment. A nougat rim. Speckled a little by a darker brown. And the edge of a lens held by it. Bright, uneven cracks raking across like a spider’s web.

As usual, the glasses’ owner could not be found in his sight. As usual no eye lingered on him in full. But this time, a pivotal time, experiments from centuries ago were not the reason why. More so that if Syon did look, he would not be able to look away again. Maybe it was the principle. The idea of a monster looming so close. A carrier of death no more than ten metres away. But again, perhaps not the main reason. The true reason more terrifying still.

For this member of the Big Five, one of the great terrors of the monster world, stood static before him.

Nothing bar pure fear all over his chiselled face.

His conscience was still unable to tell how they’d managed it. He’d been told how. He saw how. Right there. A table directly in his eyeline. A faint line of smoke rising to accentuate the air. Yet acknowledging thoughts coming into reality would give them power. Power he simply would not be able to counteract. The knowledge he didn’t allow that power to spawn gave little comfort. For in a sense he had. He’d provided the vehicle. Unlike those massive manufacturers, he had little choice but to acknowledge the guilt of a crash would have to be shared. And until the driver (staring at that same portrait at the other end of this dingy lab) knew that, he’d have to bear a brunt meant for two people alone. Tell himself again and again that this was part of the plan. That nothing worth having ever comes easy. That it would all be temporary. That such affirmations were working. Think. Think desperately. With everything you’ve got. Of little Alex. Of his sister doing the best she can for her boy. Of how he was helping them get their leg up. Against a world which didn’t give a sh*t. Against hellish forces. Against a community’s heart long since drained of all kindness. That’s why he put up with stuff like knives in the portrait. With his other companion. The professor. Her expression locked as if she always smelled something unspeakably foul on him. With the little errands he was sent on. And none of the information given. He saw more of those. Lying in wait at the next location. Ready for him to trundle along. Maybe he should’ve seen this coming. Knives were already being sunk into Dracula from Day One. All part of the process. A process he had to be part of. A process birthing a future existence. Where he could be more of a laughing stock. Already he commonly felt something other than shame. Try to omit the fact that what replaced it was horror.
As usual, a silence forbidding speech itself hung in the air like the burning odour of cleaning solution. Punctuated only by that same old tear. Clean, glistening blade in the same corner of that same white smiling face. Though all he really disliked about such actions at this point was the thrower over the victim. Like the saying goes. Whispered across those dingy houses cloned off each other. Scattered next to the fact cats’ chalk-white estates and people. A permanent reminder of who had to go below for some to come out on top.

“The one in front of the gun lives forever.”

And of course, in a blaze of ginger curls knotted in grey, The Professor whirled round. “What did you say, boy?”

Safety mechanism in place as standard. “Nothing, nothing.”

She scoffed. “Expected you to be a bit cheerier this evening. Your bloody gadget worked at last.”

He nodded hesitantly. “Yeah. You could say that.”

“The least you could do is pop a cork. Or whatever you lot do to celebrate these days. Mark the moment. A milestone to keep our crusade going.”

“You know I don’t drink.”

“My point still stands. Tell y’what, fetch me a Merlot from the fridge. I’m gonna mark this moment even if you’re too spineless to do so.”

Any protesting sighs, like their maker, were best kept out of sight and out of mind. At least off a Merlot, Ericka would get some of the cutting Yorkshire criticisms as well as him. Both would come into that solidarity again with their master’s lessons from a past as equally grim and unfulfilling of expectations as the present. A smooth bottle could still stab the palm. No spikes required for this crown of thorns. It all came from memory. Some would say it was all in his head. A cruel diversion from the real delusion. Barely able to look at friend or foe. Partly because no friends really existed this far below deck. Only enemies who went for your throat after one wrong move. A near-silent placement of the bottle. An offering to the wild, unforgiving goddess towering above. Unable to stop himself. His eyes once again on that horrific scream. Unavoidable. Especially for the legacy of a supposed Invisible Man.

“I remember when I was young and ready for all the alcohol like you.” The Professor snorted, whipping her head back. Her mouth a vacuum for wine to be replaced en masse with plain air. “That night in Scarborough took it all back. With the stench of Thatcher’s destruction in the air after all these years. Of greed at every corner in what was once grand and fair. Back in university. Where I first met your mother and father, Ericka.”

“Here we go again.” Syon muttered, as far under breath as his voice would allow.

“One day, all alone in the theatre at Leeds. They said there that you would never once have to worry about making friends. That rule, like everything else, proved delusion meant for those who can actually be liked. Who don’t have what I do on their stupid faces for all the world to see.”

A testament indeed that her face was easier to look at. The left side of her face was intact to say the least. Once upon a time it could have even been considered pretty. A time long since passed. Made only quicker by the wasteland beginning above her right eye. Ripping entire chunks of skin. Taking half a chin away. One lip ballooning over the mouth to hang loose. Whatever skin remained after this rampage was stained a red darker than any blood could bleed. The right eye itself squashed, almost beyond sight itself. Nose swollen to a pillow, yet always looking as if a sickening bone crunch was only ever a second away.

“Stare all y’ want.” she spat. “You’re not the first. Certainly won’t be the last.”

“Wha-what is it?”

“Just a birthmark. The reason that I, unlike anyone else, had to spend my nights ploughing through assignment after assignment. Nothing better to do. No one to be liked by. You may as well pop that bloody cork now while yer still young. Lord knows I didn’t!” Another whip back. Half the bottle a void in an instant. “Anyway. That’s where I met yer mum. She was a thumpin’ good actor and could simply own a stage the second she took it. I tell you, only person who ever had the spine to stick up for a retard like me. First time I ever went out at that infernal place was down the pub-the bare minimum-one semester in. There to sit and have a chat while she found herself completely enfettered to some rich poof from the west. I was glad enough for the company, though. I only realised I started out as their little third wheel when they got married two years later. Nevertheless, I had to take whatever I could get. No one else would dare come near a girl with their face all mashed up. No one would ask if she wanted to go to the prom. No one would ask if she wanted to come to the house birthday party next door after seminars that day. Though the answers to all of those questions were yes they were still too f*cking cowardly to even look my way. Everyone, that is, except for Ronan and Olivia.”

“Tell me what my parents were like again!” Ericka interjected. Her voice raising. Syon forced to notice how much like a child she now sounded.

“Oh, compared to all the other alcohol-obsessed poshies running Leeds they were saints. They actually cared about and involved the little people like me. Not only in exam season. The whole year round, mind you. They were all the people I’ve ever met who’ve bothered to do that, mind you. All the others pretended as if I was never there. Barely even there in exam time, a note bank at most. Something to be spurned at, kicked and trampled upon. An abortion. But with them, I could go to the pub and have someone to talk to every Friday while all the fish people and vampires and werewolves and other monsters got high off their heads in town. I wasn’t allowed in the room sometimes when it was just those two. Ronan Van Helsing. Olivia Van Hellscream. But all the rest of the time-their wedding, them hunting in Axminster for the first time, you born in Mayfair, Ericka-I was there for it all. They even let me change a few of your nappies. Think o’ that!”

Ericka blushed, a giggle forced out. “Heh-I’d rather not.”

The Professor chuckled. “You were such a chubby little baby, you know? Your first word, as well. ‘Dracula. Dracula bad.’ I knew then you were destined for greatness. Chubby little Ericka Van Helsing.”

“Heh heh, thaaaanks.”

“It’s the truth! You are descended from them. People who promote care for people like me when no one else will. Away from those other monster poofs who only cared for themselves and how high they could get. How much they could insult me. You are descended from the only people I ever met who are willing to fight back. Fight for true equality. True solidarity, forever and ever. Look for yourself. Have you not done that already?”

Her turn to gaze, in muted horror, at the mortified face of the Invisible Man. At the table, holding the still-smoking instrument. A gauntlet. A long, silver-blue blade modelled after a katana. Connected to a large black nozzle. Ending in a menacing silver cone. An uneven tinge, too red for rust, at the end of both. No close look needed to see the stains of fingers. Clasped round the handle less than two hours ago. One look at Ericka’s hand all Syon needed to confirm the whole incident which threatened to turn his stomach over and spill all its insides. One look at the Invisible Man’s forehead.

At the crimson, almost sugary black, bullet hole square in the centre.

The concrete knowledge, above all else, that his gauntlet, his design, had claimed its first life.

“I daresay that the age of the Big Five is soon coming to an end.” The Professor grinned. All eyes magnetised, one last time, to that portrait. A Dracula smiling warmly. Oblivious to what had or would come. The knife having torn a nest firm in the shoulder. A hair’s breadth from the heart. No response mustered from Syon, of course. But neither from Ericka.

Hotter air awoke Johnny over all else the next morning. A sense of humidity. Warmth retained for rainier days. A blast of sun, held back by no thick tarpaulins of cloud. Right through the window. Threatening to burn eyelids off. A familiar feeling, rousing him at notable speed from the sluggishness of his mind and this bed. Beyond that, though, his mind remained an unknowable and unintelligible jungle. Throbbing at all edges. Desperate to expand. Drench his entire body in numb, blunt throbs. Any idea of his surroundings beyond a fuzzy, relaxing white plain were a total mystery. Neither the energy nor organisation to ask. Let alone discover. But he knew that humidity as if it were a primal instinct. Maybe it was. Maybe the idea of travelling, of seeing the entire world, was built into nature’s pre-programming. Last time he was here he certainly used that as justification. Reasoning to coat his computer, kitted out with a DJ set and small but honest YouTube vlogging dump, in stickers and settings for all to see. Like it or lump it. America was the place where it all came together, of course. But even that, even the relaxing haven of Santa Cruz newly made safe from any side effects of the upsides, grew stale and archaic after eighteen years. The most adventure you had was across a few states for Eminem music you could just as easily crank out at the local skatepark. Mainstays were half-hour drives to the same strip of sand. Evenings after high school to smoke while cheerleaders found the biggest highs on nights with the football team. Cousins came over from New Salem, at Christmas or wrestling tours if you got lucky. In the moment he always knew how to keep pace. But the idea of a whole world, of sprawling different climates and cultures locked in a phone screen would always begin to give Santa Cruz four iron-barred walls.

So when the time came to choose-college or take a year out? He knew what he was picking before he even finished junior high. Not, though, what interest would be paid in the loan he took out. That came to his delight later when he’d exhausted all the funds. Spaffed them. Plane tickets here. There. Everywhere civilisation had spread its influence for some time before. Nights with friends, tasting local life only by its beer taps and nightclubs. On occasion even a few daring steps into the wild valleys surrounding it all. Gaps allowing only a snaking train, once an hour at most under thin wires and poles, through the valley to strongholds, nowadays referred to as cities, at their edge. More and more they told him this was what young humans like him were made for.

Inevitably, it all came together the second he locked eyes with his beloved. Doing so again as he could resist a peek out of the window for no longer. A wince in pain the price he paid for pleasure. Such a thing common in the next lump of brown calling his name. This one dotted, even in the hours where orange still leaked from the heavens, with multicoloured lights. Whoops from all directions. Miniature earthquakes in thumping bass. Proof beyond all doubt.

“I’m home!” he uttered.

“Good morning, monsters and humans all!” shrieked the captain’s voice. Mystical, almost dreamlike by nature even on first listen. “Next up-the party city of Malaga! If you wanna cut loose and dance the night away with ghoulfriends, well look no further. Take plenty of time to explore the best clubs you can find and raise some hell. Raise some hell like…monsters!” The rolled ‘r’ hinting at another, more unsavoury feeling too subtle to notice upon first reflection. “But don’t worry, there’s something for the adults too. Professor Victoria O’Donnell has kindly consented to lead a walking tour of Madrid’s ancient city chock-full of history, departing half an hour after we land. If you want to come on this, please remain in the lobby after today’s continental breakfast. And with that, enjoy the parties which will rage on monstrously, relentlessly, for all eternity!”

No need to be told twice. A hope blossomed inside that the baggiest clothes, the slick smile which melted most on his face, would hide the throb sufficiently to still throw it down. Maybe even leave with one or two girls-who knows? Of course, he realised with a shudder, nothing lasted forever. Especially not with his wife. Maybe, if he was lucky, she’d forget how soon it would end. Swallow the same shots amalgamating all sorts of spirit the same way he did. Alongside the throb, another stab. A larger one. Poisoned with an idea he’d turned on himself. The tint coming from another of its victims. But where he’d twisted the handle. Realising it only now at the image of a giggling teenage girl, far from home, slung on each arm like a first place medal.

“I can’t do that.” he sighed. “Not when she is the way she is. When I am the way I am. I guess…those days are behind me.”

All his energy, needles in a haystack of brain fog, to not careen his head into a wall on the way down. Each light enough to threaten his vision’s mere existence. Last night’s pirate captain, like the images and sounds of chatter before him, nothing more than blurry spheres. Now he truly hadn’t been on a trip like this since his gap year. But this time there was no guarantee for what he searched for. A black shadow among all the other thin dark blocks. Shadows or Mavis? Next to no way to tell. Fumbling for others’ hands to clasp onto. As if he were back home already. Scared away by the world he longed for. At least in the gap year there was honour in stumbling around. Now all he wanted was to stick with one girl. Never leave. For fear of what may ensue-even be brought quicker-if he did.

“Oh, Mavis.” he gasped. That smoothness his and his alone once more. “Thank God. There you are. I thought I lost you.”

Only one answer from the soft, pale hand.

“O-M-Ghoul! Um, well…I have a boyfriend, silly.” a voice squeaked. All Johnny could reply with when he peered a second time, noticing the light rose strips among a short slip of black, was a yowl. A leap backwards as if he had been stung. Too much shame to even apologise and move on. Such days hadn’t resurfaced for a decade and neither should they have. An understandable mistake this far in the dark. Away from beckoning heat. The sound of waves crisper and warmer than they were last night. Nevertheless if he’d been seen to break ranks early, then crucial time would doubtless go to waste. Giggles from a taller brown shadow and mint green one. A memory best kept deep underground. And now of course he cared about his age, and the growth it mandated. Since when was it his role to fumble for girls and run away from them? If anyone’s, it was his son’s. He had a son for f*ck’s sake! Yet here he was. Stumbling around. Only this time there were no friends to cheer him on. Only his own failings. Roaring inside louder than anything.

At last, Mavis!

Allowance for a few-only a few-angles in a world of circles. Enough to recognise her inching forward. As she had inched across the aisle, wrapped in silk webs, to be his bride. No hesitation for his lips on hers. His arms on the usual waist spots. Warmth coursing back into icy fingers as if there were grooves in her bones, designed specially for each digit.

“Are you up for Madrid?” she smiled.

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” His voice smoothed out. Telling what others wanted to be told. Old habits die hard. “Party all night. You’ll love it. Lotsa humans there, maybe even a few guys from my gap year still there.”

Her face screwed up, though not fully. Some softness came whenever she saw him, let alone spoke. “I meant, like, going round the town. Seeing it all. You could, like, show me all the best places.” A dreamy sigh. “All the best food. The little angles where the city shows itself best, kept secret for only those who look. You could show me all of those while we go walking. Maybe even a place where we’d hole up and have, you know, a date night.”

“Date night?” Two feelings battling tooth and nail for a majority, fiercer than the House of Commons, adding to the throbbing tornado. One way or another he would have his night packed with a woman before it was done. The question was which. In any other time the answer would be obvious. Or at least he told himself that.

Mavis giggled. “Uh, yeah. You’re the one who always begs that I leave Dennis for the night so we can go, like, biking or mini marting. Like we did in California. Maybe there are some of those places in Madrid. Only one way to find out.”

“I’m not sure, Mavy. I just…”, Johnny explained, choosing his words with extreme caution, “have stuff to finish here.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing, nothing. Just came here on my gap year. For old time’s sake.” He replied in one rapid breath. “May be some dudes still chillin’ out here I could catch up with. Madrid won’t really be their speed.”
Mavis’ eyes widened. Two large eggs. A mere hint of the runny, authentic, pure disappointed yolk inside. He must try to let as little of the effect inside, for it was highly contagious. Gut said no. Head was able to muster little but it would probably concur. No idea what the heart said. A definite idea of what desire said. Welling in stomach, hungering for the next sugar rush.

“I’m gonna be in Malaga tonight. You can join if you want or not. Maybe do a date night tomorrow.”

Mavis’ face said merely that despite any thoughts which may be churning inside, beyond his perception, it was beyond help. Even a great deal later, by himself in the wide, vacant roads with burning tarmac incinerating every step, he thought little of how she almost stormed away. Responding only with the vow to see him tomorrow. And they would. And he liked to believe the promise would be kept. As it probably would. The prospect of two locking eyes over a table, like two fencers ready to fight hard for the title. Skating around subjects with words rather than tackle them head on. Tussle jokingly over a starting platter. Evoke those laughs they used to have aplenty when their time had a limit on it. When every encounter they had was fresh, and had a danger of being the last. Stare into each other’s faces. The works of art and the memories they held for each to ponder forever and ever. Yeah. He’d keep to that. Look forward to it, even. But what lay ahead at the end of this night drove him. A moth to a flame, if said flame was only ever an image. Waves sloshing into the golden sand. A few lobster-red men, green bottles clasped in thick hands, made it hard to believe they’d actually gone anywhere from Scarborough.

But he knew better.

The buildings may be empty, tubes for signs off for the moment. Any women, still wrapped in bubblegum pink bikinis and tan, left reserved to a grim cigarette on the sea wall as this morning’s usual. Silence punctuated by the next command from a seagull to switch its legion’s patrol for any newcomers like him, up and out before nightfall. It was here he would forget the one thing that brought him short of enjoying Mavis and not caring about anything which came after. He never took his eyes off the sea, knowing it was there his competition would charge in swathes and trample him underfoot. Claiming the bounty at the centre of the square. If he got there first then at least a share of their victory party would be his. Mavis’ ever-prevalent significance, the sense of borrowed time and coming up short, for the moment at least, would fade from his mind. And that’s why he came here in the first place.

Chapter Twelve:
Late at Night

A constant sense of a gap lay at her side through those ancient streets. A void in time and space, left for someone to take their place. Play their role. Be showered in applause. If they were there. Not this time. Clinging to father’s hand, a little child again. Buildings cast in brilliant white. In colossal arches and bright flowers. Bursting through every higher one in place of a window. In the distance, a few greater shards of pure glass stretching up to near eclipse. Their mere presence enough to stab a heart with fear. Chill it to the bone in the stodgy, moreish sun. Nearly impossible to tell where one block of arches and white walls ended and another began. Cornered by a domed tower. The ramparts of a castle. Another reminder of home not fully there.

At least the wonder put an end to all that quick enough.

So this was what lay beyond the night-covered valleys. This was what lay in the kingdom of sun where people like her could never hope to enter. Even now an umbrella, well out of season, all that kept her from being a pile of dust, among sprawling cobbles. Every arch, with its little pockets of individuality, a few holding birds daring to chirp this early, what she had dreamed of. A few pretty stalls leading the fightback with chants of another language. Thrusts of sweet smells and baked goods at any who would listen. Maybe the unkempt beards of the vendors, the slight glances before most trudged on, added a sense of realness over all else. Over any reality. The last embers of sugar, of gluttony, of a rewarding buzz ebbing in her mouth and belly from when the first one beat any hope of resistance.

But the death glare that professor had given her when she’d surrendered any spare change Syon had tossed her hadn’t faded either. The near slap she’d given him when his girlfriend offered her one. The same bite, hidden thinly in her announcement of every select building. Amplified by one side of her face swelled, as if it were one massive balloon shrunk dry and blown back up. Floating. An unavoidable oil tanker staining the river of her conscience with an unpleasant darkness, as the absence and Syon did.

“And here is La Almudena Cathedral. Arguably the centrepiece of Madrid itself. Completed only in 1993 after over a century of work, it has become the centrepiece of both tradition and new art in a little over two decades. Inside you’ll find buried four Spanish kings, art and statues reviving the past and looking to the future, and much more!” She turned and mimicked a pleasant smile. A twisted, malignant grin flopping right of the nose the best she could do. And a shout inside to go with it, not make any plans against it, the best Mavis could do.

At once the shouts, the smells of vendors, more than quintupled. More eyes that didn’t look away and keep their money in time. All housed in tiny quadrants among three trees each. A few blares of accent directed at a rogue driver or two. All the while it raged on and food aplenty sat on the counters. The defenders of the greatest white walls. Entrance guarded by a formation of pillars, more than big enough to challenge Frank. These arches good enough to have windows, each tinted a serene blue the sea always dreamt of mastering over its steely grey. The centrepiece a dome stretching up. The last rival to the skyscrapers. Any path inside to this sanctuary had to be forged at the crossings, as it might to a corner church. No better than the entrance to a crippled temple lost in tower blocks and houses purged of all inhabitants by a price tag. The need to push forward made them all the same at heart. Yet all Mavis noticed was how its magnificent walls towered over her full sight line. Of how a castle could be something other than ultimate brooding over a forest designed to keep others out. Not that both were guarded by the same thing, albeit the cathedral had a modern version. Merely a palace of Madrid to define it as the sun to the gloomy nights she’d longed to escape forever. The wish for her to see the world incarnate. Nothing more behind. Unable to contain any longer, that wisp of smoke soothed every molecule on her skin as she readied to devour it all. Shouts became mere afterthoughts in a world of sound. Pillars way beneath her after each flap of her wings. Brought back to sense at last by another smoke itching at the tips. That the real treasure lay in arched roofs inside, to mimic the bridge she trained under to be a bat. Nowhere else did her father allow himself a few paces away from her side. More air in her wings as she realised how much of a memory that had become.

Yet it was taken out equally fast as she remembered who wasn’t there to spur it on with her. Who’d chosen another life.

What brought her down, into a girl who collapsed weakly on marble, was the inevitable knowledge that she would have to make that choice sooner rather than later.

The light never lasted long for Syon. Best to get straight to it. For here, the Professor would gladly breathe down his neck too. Not just Ericka. Not the thought of Nina. All three. The witches to his Macbeth. Indeed, this far in it was impossible to tell if he had eaten on some insane root. A prisoner to its delusions. Maybe that since birth. A delusion that somehow a better day always lay on the horizon, mere inches out of sight. Delusions questioning if Nina liked more than the money coming in weren’t there at the moment. Give it time. That’d be one time such pitiful medicine actually worked its advertised magic. The route had been mapped out several times till it was all he could see as his shoes clacked on each cobble. Threatening to give the game away. Make him a sacrificial lamb. How these things often ended. Though those were games dead and gone. A search for a monster among a power cut back in third grade. Going to get a ‘lost bag’. Looking for a girl he thought would be his but was always someone else’s. Looking back was when its cheap nature revealed itself. Games played at his expense. You began to wise up, put a hand on the wallet’s lid after a few goes. Here the ethereal chill paralysed his arms well before they even moved. Darker and darker it went. Inside and out. Mind. Light. The way kept by fickle torches whose subject changed with the slightest breath. A temptation to use his phone’s torch. What good would that do when that text would resurface? Reminding him of what had to come. Of what roles had to be played.

His stomach and heart battled for the crown of which ached more for sustenance. He should’ve known all along the churros, laden with pure white crystals, came with lethargy after bolts of rigid energy coursing through right along the walk. Every step deeper and darker became heavier. Temptation for eyes to shut always threatening to surge forward as their source had. What good would that render him? It’s why he was kept around after all. What would move him forward into the final year. Into a job with all the robots and vegetable oil he wanted. That, he forced himself to remember with a scoff, is why he must keep moving. It would all be over fast.

Nevertheless, no matter how far down he went the thought of Nina remained ever stronger. Of her hand’s silhouette chilling most of all, locked in his own palm. Memories of her laughter, her relaxed aura, both long gone. Himself at the mercy of whatever lay in wait. Of course, those zombies in deep conversation with the curator in the historical gallery weren’t lost on him. Nor some skeletons, makeup still sported in pride so long after Dia de Los Muertos, laughing with an Asian family. But neither was the crowd of sea monsters. Shunted out by towering security just for looking the wrong way. Every human moving onto another piece of art to scrutinise. To them no synapse had even thought of taking place. Not so easy. Funny how some thought equality was merely something to be stitched up in a night. Problem solved. Never to think of again. Say the magic word and it’ll all be okay. As if he was his sister, soothing Alex after a small trip up. As if nothing either example did had any consequence for anyone involved.
All notions of that died the second he saw the clearing.

Row upon row of graves. The larger ones coated in cobwebs. A marriage pall with the afterlife. Coins glinting below as some lids skewed a little. Revealing only further darkness beneath. An icy stasis hissing from the crypt down the corridor. Killing any Spanish warmth stone dead in its wake. Telling him one thing, but one thing undoubtable. Death lay in this crypt. And here he was. A boy simply on his placement year. Missing his girlfriend. Here to disturb the forces of life themselves. No way to even tell if Nina was his girl. Questionable at best. Mere delusion when he looked back on himself. Each clack among graves, among past lives of great warriors and leaders of those warriors, reminding him. The best he could hope for with Nina, as with any girl, was a drop in the water.

Exactly why the mission had to be his sole focus. News clippings of varying centuries the best hope he had of finding what the others hoped for. Ironic that after devoting your life to a cause, after throwing everything you had into it and more, this was the treatment. A stone box below treasures smothered in gold. Some whacked up in seconds. Or more glorification of those who led, and didn’t lead. Chucked only binding orders from afar and swept on to a life that was always theirs. Those who fought for those glories lay here. Row on row. Nameless. Honoured in a shield of cobwebs fostered by the pitiful, ageing local community and no more.

Yes, those who died for these fat leaders’ profits. But those who died for some collective gain which never bore fruit were right next to them. No difference in their final resting spots. A few differences in how they may have lived. What they may have believed in. How many mouths they had to feed. Who gave the marching orders. But in the end, they both died the same forgettable and irrelevant death. The same graves. One spectator, one thinker, to share between them and many others. And to top it all, said thinker was there out of compulsion. To take what others needed and leave. Pass on such a generational disease for the rest of time.

A slap reverberated through as latex gloves finally entered. This would be grotesque enough with them. Time for him to become a thief. Just like the rest of them. A profile made by someone who had no idea above their own lofty prejudice. Who thought nothing of slapping thousands into a box regardless of what they thought. Regardless of reality. Another black man here to steal something. Another black man thinking of nothing but themselves. No one would ever consider why. Certainly not to play devil’s advocate. A blind eye would be turned to whose idea it was. Who’d stolen so much more. So much, even, they could create a stereotype and then force its victims to enact it. It may be a joke but nobody was laughing.

Except those who would, no matter what, find a way to laugh right to the bank.

He’d asked, pleaded why robots wouldn’t suffice. Guilt still slithered in droves from arm’s length. Nevertheless, at least then he’d be spared the forbidding frozen stasis. Reminding that every step was a breach of conditions set by nature itself.

A blunt crack behind froze him at once. Another two rapid heartbeats after. It could be a mouse. Such a thought shuddering in his mind’s speech. A shift bounced a few pebbles across. One at his feet. Not daring to look any further. Monsters may be right behind. Someone he didn’t know. Or worse, someone he did. A shaft of light, trapped in this dingy container, all that stopped him from complete obliteration in a blanket of darkness. Cracks multiplying. Scrapes of stone on stone. Stasis colder. Rivers of sweat over thicker worry lines. Shut your eyes. No use. Thick red clouds snapping at his legs. The next five seconds happened well before he could stop them.

“Who are you?” he yelled at the three figures in front of him.

“What was that?” the leftmost one growled. A red behemoth. Muscles and stomach large as tombstones. Impossible to tell which was longer-the two horns rising from his forehead. Or the four fangs in crossing directions above a wispy beard, appearing as black shadow itself.


“Don’t mind him.” A slender orange one, both fangs up but mismatched, in the middle. A thin black veil where eyes would be. Proportion determined only by the clawed hand swamped in sheets and rings of spiked iron from the neck, trailing to the floor. “He’s been deaf for, well, all eternity. The real question is, who are you?”

“None of your business.” Syon gulped.

The third, a purple figure, bored into him with three almost neon eyes. Horns and moustache both wispy and golden. Like the Asian dragons of myth he sometimes heard way back in primary school. Gave nightmares then. Would give them now. Their own iron robes blocked by a whiteboard held from the left hand. An innocent black pen in the right.

“Are you sure about that?” it read.

“Who are you?” all he could repeat. A stammer creeping in along each passing word.

“Oh, where are our manners?” the orange one conceded. Stumbling forward to shake air above another grave, about half a metre to his right. “I’m Decere. Pleased to eat-I mean meet-you.” A far more precise gesture to each companion. “To my left is Venge, and to my right is Ha’eed.”

“H-how can you tell where they are, and not where I am?”

“Five senses, my boy. Use them wisely. Venge is easy. He smells disgusting.”

Nor was Syon able to stop a small snigg*r.

A finger a little too far to the left of his neck. “Watch your tongue, young man. You don’t exactly smell like a bed of Sakura either.”

He nodded, remembering where he was. The red smoke above all traces of his shoes, like sharks around a human far away from land. One step forward all that was permitted. Eyes never off Venge, grimacing at everyone else. Ha’eed scrawled on their whiteboard. Same expression up to Syon and away from him. Of scrutiny. Permanent dissatisfaction. Verging on vitriol.

“What are you?” he whispered. Half begged him not to be worried, as hadn’t been worried of those monsters in the gallery. The other half always kept the guard up.

“We are Oni.” Decere responded. “Japanese monsters. Nothing to be scared of, I assure you.”

“What was that?” Venge snarled. Each of their roars enough to threaten the very stability of Syon’s ears.

Ha’eed flipped to the other side. One scrawl later-

“He said we are to be trusted.” Venge grunted. “What? I thought we were graverobbers!”

Decere snickered. “Oh no. Such a nasty word. Well, Ha’eed? What do you think we are?”
One scrawl later-

“Idiots?” Venge roared. A tremor nearly uprooting Syon’s feet as they advanced to Ha’eed. “I’ll have you for that!”

The next scrawl: “Like you had me in Singapore?”

No way to tell if the resulting sound was thunder raging ahead or a growl. In a burst of red cloud, a crack tore right through his ears, leaving nothing bar a high-pitched whirr in them for a few seconds. Ha’eed pressed to the floor, scribbling frantically on another card. One red hand, twice the size of a catcher’s mitt, pressed round their neck. The other engulfed in sparks from each’s thick, gold blade sheathed from shadows.

Beneath, the slightest chuckle from Decere, vanishing into the smoke.

He’d seen this on the train home from university a hundred times. Weaving from the pretty, leaf-covered towers always surrounded by people, camera in hand, always from somewhere else. Into the side propping it all up they preferred to ignore. The flats, perhaps even stretching higher, he’d known straight out the womb. Once it happened once, put one of them at risk once, the others up high were swayed further still from stopping it. Shrink into the obscure where he belonged. Draw no attention. Not too fast but not too slow. The fight, the violence, the exchange of deaths and grief-all a soundtrack to put on in the background and pay no further attention to. Get in. Get out. A few skulls staring at him in passing. Begging to not be forgotten. For now at least, their individuality in tiny plaques would have to be cast aside. Now, as he paused over one with the right lettering, the right amount of gold filigree around it, it was solidified.

He was no better than his masters.

Barely able to look at what he unsheathed. Best to shove it in his bag. Pretend it was not there. Pretend it didn’t jut out, daring him to reveal and repent all. Delay the inevitable. Sure, why not? It wouldn’t be the first time. Thrust back into the tunnel. Under a guise as always. All he could know was real was the ill-fitting seams of suit jacket round his back. With each step thwacking the ground, each bead of sweat dampening his forehead, the line between real and surreal became more and more of an archaic thing the world hated, yet insisted on keeping, like bigotry. Monsters were there from the beginning. There to help. But now they had to be purged. Dead by master’s hand. The world a place for his own leisure until he was actually thrust into it and left to fend for himself, like an unwilling entertainer handed armour a size too big and put up against bloodthirsty lions. All for nothing more than entertainment. Sport. Bread and circus.

Wrist up the second light basked on his cheeks once more. A few stares. He liked to think it was him catching his breath. Watch said only an hour had passed. The Professor long gone, of course. Tour wouldn’t near its end for another half hour or so. Perfect. Not for him, but for what had to happen. In those childish movies you could always tell cops from robbers. Cops had a uniform, glasses hiding any personal weaknesses. Beacons of respectability for all to admire. The robbers had stubble, vacant eyes, their own grubby uniform, bags with the dollar sign hauled over a shoulder. Never doubt over who to cheer and who to boo for.

In a place like this, often the robbers wore cop outfits and the cops were undercover as robbers. No way to tell if the werewolf, clad in a shimmering blue suit and glass of champagne, would hold your back or tear into it. Or if the boys in designer hoodies and masks, creeping through without much care for any portrait, would give him a coffee and a place to sit down should it all get to his head. Then again, he thought with a scoff, the Professor looked like a resentful bitch from the outside and was when you got to know her too. A close glance at Ericka would reveal parts of her gold epaulettes, her hair dyed beyond blonde and meticulously shaped, done over and over again to show a status she was born into, but still had to earn.

The greatest mystery came from the target. Only a few paces away from him now, pondering scrawling works of innumerable great battles. The Professor always emphasised that in those eyes swam the conscience of a guilty man. Unable to be drowned for the betterment of society. Maybe there was some of that in the occasional cheek twitch. The odd shuffle of feet. Staring down his daughter while a hand creeped over her shoulder. However, just the same The Professor always said her art was one of many interpretations. Many ways to view a character frozen in time as a centrepiece of their society. A blank canvas for different community flaws to be painted on. Dracula was no different. Through Birmingham he’d held his daughter and her husband close. Listened to all they desired to see and led them straight to it with no delay. Even now he brought her to every art piece in the gallery. One second explaining how the artist had got that time period all wrong. The next she’d point out a plethora of reds and purples in another and they’d marvel to no end. Not once did either drag their feet, or hold anything other than a broad smile up to each other. To Dennis, who sometimes scuttled in to join the fray, he’d be launched straight onto his granddad’s back. A mutual understanding that culture was at its best when shared across all ages. The kindness you saw was the comfort you got.

And his goal was to strike it stone dead.

Funny how that worked. Impossible to ignore, too, how when a baby finally tired in this place or a human child needed some food, monsters were always the first ones to throw dirty looks. Best to leave while he still was only part of the surroundings. Ignore the clatter in his bag best he could. Pretend he had no idea what caused it. Worked best for everyone that way. At least it would in the short run. And for most, he knew that was all that mattered.

Proven by what greeted Mavis that night, back in Malaga. Desires able to drive a wedge between them no further. Streets which once lade bare, dying, now rammed themselves with a million conversations, a million intentions. All swarming towards one Mecca tonight. Clouds and bottles raised in the night sky almost in sync. Dances formed in the street. Atolls to the side or right in the main path. Nobody cared. Shouts in the dark for something new to be brought out, turned up. All met with a cheer threatening the very fabric of her eardrums. The front of the mob seemed to sway a little as it walked, each step forward staggered and irregular. A near full spectrum: mothers with clueless, crying babies in hand. Teens on their first venture from home. Twenty and thirtysomethings trying as they might to emulate that magic they missed out on first time. Greying men alone at the edges, a Wayne-like tiredness etched into every wrinkle they bore before its time. No difference from Scarborough in the nearly retired couples giving it their all, the first to scrawl messages on their bellies. Legend told of a woman in her seventies, either in here or Ibiza or Benidorm, entertaining all who came by with an adults-only magic show. Even that something Mavis glanced eagerly for. Any experience it would feed her.

Any party held late one night in the hotel could only dream of all the people here. All the cultures. Blended into one street which showed no signs of sleeping. Lights of all bright colours from every single window. Every entrance into another life. Another evening of pure joy. Take whatever was your pleasure. No one asked questions about it. To each their own. With people crawling in and out of each house, bass threatening the very foundations of the earth below, whoops of excitement for every second, one thing became abundantly clear. This was the land of hungry desires fed to their hearts’ content. Where supposed morals were a mere suggestion. You wanted something, you got it by the end of the night. Quicker if you were slower to ask it back home. Nevertheless, one question went into the night sky again and again and again. Each time hoping for a response as achingly as the last. Each met with no more than the same cheers and orgy of conversations.

“Johnny, where are you?” she cried. The gap her husband would occupy crossing over, like a Venn diagram, into her own soul. Expecting better of Frank and Murray, glow sticks in each hand as they paraded through everyone they saw sharing the spirits. But on reflection, expecting better would be equally fruitless. Another question. No way to be sure with him. Regardless, you’d expect to see a pair of glasses with a tortoiseshell rim leading the charge, talking to the girls first, popping the first bottle.

None in sight.

Nor the telltale ginger plume of hair. A torch to her in a world of unknowable darkness. Warming her in winter. But where was it when she was minutes away from freezing? Maybe what stalked every nightmare she had since marriage had arrived already. Too soon. There never would have been a due time. But at least a little longer. A few more nights at least. The end of this cruise perhaps. Keep them together, let her say those things she always wanted to say to him. Give those compliments, those birthday presents, those kisses she always wished she’d given the day before as she fell asleep. Those jokes she’d only thought of cracking the moment after they would have made their mark. Conversations late at night about ideas far too complex for one of them alone never leaving either’s mouth. Too early to take it all away!

High above, little change. He’d probably not be far. Waiting for her. Scouring crowds for her face relentlessly as she did. Once again they’d have to pick up Dennis afterwards. Thrust into Wayne’s arms before she took off in a pall of iridescence. A diamond in the rough. His own gap all that guarded his soul from the onslaught. More than strong enough to keep the faith. Before the night was out, they would both be back, Dennis in Wayne’s arms, and continue onto Germany where more wonders lay in wait. Surely. Plymouth was merely a bump in the road. A beautiful seaside town caught on the wrong day. The man in front of the sleeper train…a stone in the water. Dad’s stress between there, Bath and Birmingham no more than the consequences of a nightmare long deceased and irrelevant. No more wrong days lay in their wait. Only surprises lying in wait behind corners to amplify the experience. Give them the world and more. Together. Defying the past’s restrictions more with each visit.

Sure of it even as she landed with no further clue. Only then did a side of mother’s irritation creep in alongside. A glance in at each building which appeared to shake with the pumping arms, the bottles’ golden insides vanishing in a second, the lights giving a rose-tinted accent to it all.

Found him.

Third club over. A double take needed to even spot the fiery hair. Expected bottle clasped in his right hand. But that’s where the similarities ended.

No other bottles or cans littered his feet. And no arm reached up every thirty seconds or so to take another gulp. No cheers to come with it. No innocently thoughtless message to regret for years after. Only a mournful snore in and out. Nevertheless, it appeared he had also got lucky. For across each shoulder was draped a human girl. Neither older than twenty five. A bikini and fine coat of facial makeup all they needed to get with him. The other hand moulded into the left girl’s breast. Shoving it closer to his cheek. A smile even in unconsciousness for his own luck. His own skill.

A few seconds needed to wipe it off his face as the world emerged back into his vision. Someone he’d forgotten, hands on hips, at the very centre of it.

“Johnny?” Firmness back like it never left since she realised his part in her father’s indoctrination before a crucial fifth birthday.

“W-whuh-” Right arm extending, its girl dropping off like a dead fish hoisted out of the water. Face revealing a wrinkle-free, pretty enough creature with arrow-straight hazelnut hair, skin tanned a dark orange, and puffy pastel-coloured lips. A bright pink vape barely visible in her baby-like left fist. The other, a curly-haired blonde with a tiny gold crown and crimson ribbon atop her red-clad body, slumped from the right arm down to his lap. A precursor of what she’d stopped at just the right moment. Or the wrong moment. All a matter of perspective.

“Unh. Oh, hey Mavis.” he murmured. Each word nearly drowned out by a massive slur. Bouncing back and forth more and more as he came to, like some cursed jack-in-the-box.

“What the f*ck are you doing?” Force behind her voice dormant no longer. Out of the mere thought of existence until that second. Stunned in the aftermath by her own powers. Her own anger to someone who had transformed her life right from obscurity.

“No-not much. How was…wherever you were gonna…”

Though she grabbed his arm, wrestled the other girl off to the floor while he hauled up, thoughts urging her to remember how much he loved her, how he could be left to himself and it would all be okay, haunted every cell in her body. A bewildered expression painted both young faces. Soon clawing back after their man for the night.

“Hey, where are you going?” the blonde girl hissed. Her own slur abounded in every syllable. “That’s my man! You have no right to take him.”

“I thought you had a boyfriend.” the other girl snarled. “He’s all mine, bitch!”

“Ha! As if.” An undertone of privilege in the English accent prevailed before long. “My destiny ends the same either way, you see. If I’m gonna be asleep until he kisses me, I better live it up so I can have some niiiice dreams.”

“Yeah? Well, ginger up there ain’t gonna have no nice dreams about you.”

“You don’t even know his name!” the blonde girl spat. “It’s Johnny. But, just for tonight-” she leapt at him, clawing right where the heart would be- “come and be my darling. My knight in shining armour. After all, every king needs a queen.”

Clawed back by the other. Perfectly white teeth bared in a growl. “What kind of king would want a queen called Apple who ain’t even gonna be there for a hundred years?”

“You know why you’re called Harley out here?” Apple retorted. “Cause every middle aged loser with a mid-life crisis has ridden you, you skan*!”

Harley went for her. Curls and fists in a mad race for who could fly faster between the two. Johnny, by contrast, had to be dragged inch by inch, by hook or by crook, out onto the bustling street with the sole effort of his wife. Regretting even the anger that welled inside when the club, and the memories, lay behind them. How her hand grew red around his arm, and the stain it left under his wrist for a few minutes after. Knowledge that it had to be done. That it would all work out in the end. But still…was love meant to hurt? Was it meant to bite under comfort? It already took so much worry to get there. All that for the only result to be more piled on? No. It couldn’t be that much of a waste. It shouldn’t. So it wouldn’t.

“What were those girls to you?” All Mavis could ask with some semblance of strength.

“Nothin’, nothin’.” he answered slowly. Not quite fast enough to be spliced into one breath. “Don’t even know how they got there.” He chuckled, biting his lip. “Guess I’m just too hot to handle. But too fiery to stay away from till you get burned.”

Laughing felt firmly unwelcome. So instead a silence panged deep inside both. Her more than him. Yet the silence’s roaring damnation prevailed in both hearts. No question. The only ones out here who thought of what would be faced later on, instead of the next club or drink or girl to score. Barely even linking eyes as their hands snaked round each other again. Locks into each other through pale fingers, painted nails, meagre comfort in the spark between their palms on cue. It became an expectation. Due payment for an act best kept secret.

Neither believing what lay before them. Acknowledging it would bring untold consequences. Best to leave. Reinforced by what lay right behind them.

A tinkle stabbing right into the ears. An earth-shattering thud and supernatural growl. Previously rammed roads created a vacuum at once, accentuated by white flashlights to trap what had happened in time forever. Already a pool of dark red formed as a ring around the crime scene. From a monolithic sand green head. Eyes battling whether to open or remain shut. Golden liquid forming on top while its ruby counterpart seeped below. Onto shining fangs of glass. All you caught a good enough glimpse of was the gargantuan soles, worn from brown into a lethargic sand colour long ago. And the stitches raking over the body as blood did.

“Oh my goodness, Frank!” Another parting as Mavis sprinted forward. Her terror at the situation confession enough to the others she didn’t belong here. Johnny himself vanishing into the crowd he came from at once. Little comfort to know the crowd had humans and monsters of all colours, side by side, none joining their plight. Dennis? Once again, nowhere to be found near his assigned carers.

“Frank! Frank, what did they do to you?”

“Hey!” a gruff voice barked. Legions of spherical, violet clouds blossoming to the side. “Hey, you overgrown pin cushion! Tell me I’m fat one more time. Just you wait till we get down here!” A bright red face, more teeth jerking upwards like daggers than skin, on the horizon. Golden blade the size of a McDonald’s drive-thru sign at the ready. A dark coloured blur of a man racing past it all, jangling slightly in its wake.

“It’s really nothing to worry about, everyone.” Another voice oiled, skin-crawlingly closer. “When we’re finished, he will be fine.”

Mavis gulped. Knowing only what to do when she saw the crowd. None having moved an inch bar a few with their own phones. Documenting misfortune, as was the way with history.

“Call an ambulance. Call an ambulance!” she screamed. Compulsion to divert her stare to more of the crowd. The other half of the road merely surged onward without a second thought. One or two glances or phone flashes back at most.

“What are you doing? Call an ambulance!” she shrieked. “My friend is bleeding. Call an ambulance!”

Any phones to ears moved so with a significant drag. One of a werewolf and human couple at last. Shuffling rings around them the second their call became visible. Looks of barely veiled disgust when they finally got their attention. Having previously been a welcome part of the crowd. That mass turning, more out of reluctant cooperation than anything, towards the charging purple storm.

The mass that didn’t even pay attention included the humans and monsters closest to her too. Further into the mass, on another front where the sea bashed the town like some insane prisoner. A constant stream of partygoers and their wake littering the roads all that kept it at bay.

The perfect cover for Ericka to set her trap at last.

Plymouth had slipped through her fingers. The Professor had blood on her hands for that one, she thought with a contentious twinge. Made her leave empty-handed. Van Helsings never leave empty handed. But, she had to remember, that rang especially true on a job. This job.

Which is why she was here to keep the torch going.

Syon could be errand boy this time around. She, of course, had something more sophisticated reserved. As had been the way since birth, perhaps. Maybe it was part of the job. Maybe it wasn’t. That question did not have an answer. Nor, as of yet to her, did it need one. The feeling, tender in a similar way to pulled pork disintegrating in a whirlwind of flavour in the mouth, did all the work. The Professor would say it was a masterful plan.

But for the wrong reasons.

That it was a bait and switch. Leading the hunter on so it may at last become the hunted. Getting round the back to stab it. Doing what had to be done for generations. Yes, all that would have to come in the end. Nevertheless, she would be lying if she didn’t admit another motive. One secret yet right in her face.

Best to describe it as a want to get him in position.

The first word she’d ever been able to say. To mixed feelings in Nanny Hubner’s arms. Yet adoration in The Professor’s.


The words had a certain haunting ring to them as her lips parted for it. Of memories though they’d never been forged. Of heartbeats starting to race eagerly at what may come next. A slow glance out at the procession. Constantly screaming yet marching with spotless order. Maybe they were not so different in that they had the same drive. The same hunger keeping them going.

Even like zombies.

Stop that! The sharp bolt of pain right at her side self-inflicted. A reminder of the things she had to stand up for when no other family would. Even that nowhere near strong enough to hide that underlying feeling. Underlying idea. The big ‘what if’ that set up this entire evening. One of, apparently, her most annoying tendencies as a child. The only one which ever stuck. No chance of remembering even what she did for her A Levels. Economics…something else…and something science-y. The question had run over and over and over again in her mind. In the back of those classes, the family car convoy, those bitter winter afternoons in the monotone fields of Axminster. On every date, every morning after. Back to the same ethical dilemma. Discussed like much else in her Religion or Philosophy homeworks (there it was-another A Level name!) at arm’s length. A political issue nothing more than a good game. The millions of lives in the balance tokens to be traded, risked, sacrificed for the fleeting principle of winning. Only this issue threatened to rip her soul from its fleshy casing hundreds of times more vigorously than any of those inane ‘ethics’ could ever dream of doing.

Were the rumours ever true?

Of the evil he’d been rumoured to carry around him, a noxious red mist, wherever he went. The caricature of evil, the pantomime villain, against a hero she’d always been told was a forefather. One day it would be her. That day didn’t leave schedule because of today, she reminded herself in instinct. More because she had to know. That first night, that lock of their eyes. A ring of powdery lilac round his eyes. A tingle round hers. She had to know. For the sake of that power it gave her if nothing else. To tell The Professor she had some extra clues? A reason only at face value.

Though she feared to the point of destruction to admit it, even to herself, maybe it was because her heart demanded it.

The scene set almost exactly as it should’ve been in Plymouth. Menu offered shrimp among all kinds of little forests. A paella, whatever that was. The obligatory fish and chips, printed in English. A chicken and chorizo casserole. All lathered in any number of spices who gave their wonder even in the printed name.

There he was to give even more.

A stranger in these modern lands. The idea of being alone, the astonishment of it, of the human world, written legibly across his face. Any scorn at them now replaced with an innocent, almost doddery curiosity. Smiles at humans as well instead of a shuffle away, or an austere scowl Ericka had formed in her mind’s eye of him. But the cape, the cartoonish upturned colour, the sharp black suit stretching like a pall from the neck to the floor-all there just as she’d imagined. Like meeting an actor of a villain, still in their costume, but neglecting a character expected in every single one of their waking seconds since their role was broadcast. Or a headmaster, out of oppressive uniform, in a family, while minding your own business. Key difference here was it all came by design. All of it expected. Fascinating. At last his eyes had darted to enough places, locking on her. Mouth unable to stop itself curling upwards. Losing a hard complexion fixed on analysing any human which dared come past. Unsure whether to skip or stride elegantly forward. Settling for a waddle which she couldn’t help but giggle at with her usual piggy snort. The boys who laughed always piqued her interest. Subjects in the lab of individual, communal life.
Horror jolted down her body as she realised her neglected hair at last. Comb had been sacked off, too. A calculated hand down, over the curls and every snag she resolved to do better on next time, would have to do. Breath alright? How about her suit-any stains? All of it mattered so much in so little time. A choice between life and death would seem relaxed by comparison.

“H-hey. Count Dracula.” Her wave up muted. Every cell in her body urging to hang onto composure for dear life. Try, just try, to forget where she’d have to go once tonight had concluded. But also remember that it was paramount to why she was doing this in the first place. All of it. All of it mattered so much that forgetting even one was a damnable mistake. Staring into those eyes. Those neutral ashy grey eyes. A calming drug against life’s relentless, sad*stic whirlwind.

“Captain.” He responded with a pretence of professionalism. Both their giggles betrayed the whole thing at once.

“It’s okay, you can call me Ericka.” she giggled, adding to this after a wooden handshake. Eyes wavering for a second. “Just-just Ericka.”

“Okay then, just-Ericka, shall we go inside and order? I’m freezing to life out here!”

Their hands interlocking was unplanned, but neither even thought of disputing it. Best to go inside where it could really start.

Frantically flagging a waiter down, regardless of the teetering plate they held. “Table for two under Ericka?”

“No such table has been booked.” the waiter responded, their stony tone made more resolute under a thick native Spanish accent. The pronunciation, though, must have been refined enough even with one or two summers out here. “You can have that one near the harbour window.”

Both grimaced at the visual idea. Mostly due to the high chair, encrusted in globules of reddish-brown mush which must have been a stew or spaghetti once. Hers more measured than his.

“Are there any others?” she asked hesitantly.

“Everywhere else is reserved tonight, madam.”

“Sorry.” she pleaded to her charge.

“It’s okay. It’s a family making some memories with their baby. Probably bedtime for the little blood orange soon.”

Ericka had to restrain cursing herself again as she finally remembered to check her pockets. Empty. No chance of taking the easy way out then. Any purposes of this evening would now have to be l
ong term. Hypothetical. Hoping for one. Knowing the other would work regardless. The responsibility being hers, and relating to the calm man studying the menu in front of her, the only thing they shared.
“Tsk. They’ve all got garlic. Even the bread has garlic. What kind of place puts garlic on bread? That’s just rude.”

“Is that deadly for you?” Barely able to contain her sigh of relief.

“Vampires and garlic is probably our worst kept secret. Maybe second to us turning into bats.” His own voice hushed for a second, before incrementing back up even quicker after a halted check of surroundings.

“What about the langoustines? I’ll take the bread if you want.”

“Sounds good to me. What next, a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese for two and we accidentally kiss while slurping one of the noodles?”

Another snort barrelled out. “Ooh, don’t threaten me with a good time. Got any suggestions for wine?”


“Yeah, you always have that with a dinner out. Like how hanging upside down and castles go together for you guys.”

“We can hang upside down anywhere. It doesn’t have to be in a castle.”

“Well, then maybe…how hanging upside down and saying ‘bleh-bleh-bleh’ goes together.”

He rolled his eyes in a hearty laugh. “I don’t say ‘bleh-bleh-bleh’! I don’t even know where that comes from.”

“I thought all vampires said that after every sentence. Like-” she cleared her throat for a Romanian accent that burned the back of her throat- “You cannot escape from this place, and I will suck your blood, bleh-bleh-bleh’!”

“Please never do that again.” he smiled. Finally relenting to another laugh upon seeing two of her fingers positioned among her teeth. A childlike reminder of what once was.

“I hear you have a kid.” Ericka continued. “Now that’s a well-kept secret. Dracula got busy.”

“Yes, you could say that.” he replied, eyes gradually gravitating to the ceiling. “She’s called Mavis. Amazing daughter. She’s the one who got me to come. She has a brilliant husband as well. Johnny-stein.”
“Is that the son of Frankenstein?”

“No, no. Frank never-as you say”, his fingers formed air quotes, “got busy. Think he adopted recently, I’ll have to ask him after. Johnny’s a human. Never thought I’d say this, and certainly not after Mavis’ 118th, but he’s made everyone’s lives so much better.”

“Is Mavis happy with him?”

“I’d never seen her so happy before they married, and I only wish I realised that sooner. With him she’s so much more optimistic. We often talk about learning from your elders, but not from those younger than you. All I can say is if everyone Johnny’s age in the human world is like him, and I think most monster children I’ve met are like Mavy at heart at least, then we’re really missing out.”

“You know, you sounded kinda like a politician there.”

“Oh, I’ve never pretended to be one of those.” A word of thanks for the steaming plate of langoustines uttered as all the old defiance of such things rolled back into memory. “The difference is, it’s the truth.”
A dainty hand went straight over Ericka’s mouth for the next thirty seconds. Eyes indoctrinated into analysing the guest’s every move to ensure the process was done right. A sizeable gulp down, miraculously, didn’t unravel the entire evening. “That’s certainly a big difference. Do you keep in touch much with the news? You know, deep inside Transylvania?”

“I have a copy of the Guardian delivered every week to the cottage at the edge of the forest, about five miles east of the castle. Whenever I went flying, before Mavis was old enough to go herself, I always had a little skim read. It got pushed on me back when I still-well, got around-and pretended to ignore the dirty looks I got for saying yes.”

“You still read it much now.”

“I don’t really see the point anymore, what with young kids like Dennis around. It’s been largely the same since about the eighties, if I remember correctly. All bad news. Promises of change. Then when the time comes for the bill to fall due, some excuse is made around it and we all stumble on, starting the cycle again.”

“Yeah, but, at least some people are better off from it sometimes.”

“You mean the bourgeoisie?” he grimaced, not looking up from the first langoustine to be disassembled. Head first. Pull off the legs one by one. Tear off the shell. Down in a few delicious, spice-laden gulps.
“Yeah. What’s so bad about that? They have the money to help society. They’re not all monsters.” Her poor choice of words took at least a minute before registering in another calculated mouth cover.
“They have the money. But what money does to people is it removes them. Takes one’s bias towards themselves, their own interests, and dials it up to a hundred. Regardless of who gets in their way.”
“Are the langoustines any good?” Her question asked itself in one breath as she hunched over. Examining the table’s contents in every molecule of spice, of history, of how she may profit.

He shook his head. Knowing all too well what the game was. But that cherub-like face, the inquisitive eyes and the voice textured like perfectly smooth cake icing gave him his reminder of why to play. “To be fair, they are spiced very well. That’s the beauty of this travel round the world. You get to experience a world of flavours which, for the past century, have been a distant mystery. And-” he finally locked his eyes to hers, extended his warm grin to its full capacity, “experience a whole world of amazing people.”

“Where did you learn to be such a flirt? Who’d have thought that after a century you’d come out swinging like this?”

He beamed like an affectionate grandparent watching their children play with a new present on Christmas Day. “Another woman asked me the same question long ago. Not the hiding for a century part. That…came later.”

“What was her name?” The tear she made down her garlic bread was deliberately inch by inch. Releasing all odours of it to her. To him.

“Martha.” he sighed. Any new stares into her eyes were fleeting. Controversial in his mind-she could almost see cogs inside his head whirring behind the eyes. His voice plummeted to a whisper under the voice of existence itself: “She was everything. The light to my darkness. She was my zing.”

No need to ask what happened. It was to that end she was working towards tirelessly. Only to watch each sinew of the bread break in a flurry of garlic tang. His own langoustine drowning in chilli sauce. Glimpsing the razor-sharp fang as he tore white flesh apart. The sight, thrilling her as animals inside a zoo enclosure once did, blocked by curling towers of steam and a porcelain bowl covered in weathered, brightly coloured drawings.

An island of spaghetti. Main contours above the red, clear sea being in thick hills of tagliatelle and handmade, mountainous meatballs. Almost as salivating as the person she was about to share it with.
“You look ravishing.” he said, staring into the red sea.

“Oh. It’s not blood, you know.” she stammered in reply.

“I meant you, of course.”

Her eyes widened as the first tagliatelle vanished into her mouth. Flecks of its stew below shrapnel all over her cheeks. Embarrassment’s cue came only when the baby behind them began a fresh round of screeches. Suggestion that maybe she wasn’t so different after all.

“I look alright?”

“Yes, yes. Love the sunflowers. Everything around here is so dark. But you’re a beacon of light.”

“Wow. Do you write up in that castle? In, like, some dark tower way up at the top?”

“No. Not in a while. I used to, when I was about Mavis’ age or a few decades older. Opinion pieces for the Guardian, in the hope one day its official print would stare me in the face. Guess I got rid of that the second I put ‘Count Dracula’ at the heading. But who knows? Maybe I could give it another shot today.”

“Oh maybe,” Ericka simpered and nodded. “Maybe.”

Their next forks up in sync, a plentiful tornado of pasta forming on command. Barely withheld laughter too as it slurped out of sight, smacks of hot rust-coloured liquid to go with. Glance back at the table to confirm their shame. Restrained only by the culprit family long gone now. Their memory carried by a cleaner vigorously wiping their old table. Ah well. At least he looked cute with those flecks of sauce on his smiling face. Not like a villain at all. A guise? Something to lure in victims? Uncle William, and his mansions in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and Surrey respectively, had a certain hunger in his eyes whenever he looked at her, having escaped a decade in prison only by selling a share of a cheaper one in Leeds. Hunger made only more powerful by such a threat to its survival. None of that in his eyes. More a curiosity, malted by age. Taste enriched in a similar way wines became after a good while in the theatre of experience. This best seen when their eyes were at an exact level, despite slight fluctuations and attempts not to lightly giggle throwing him off.

“Please, forgive me for my wobbly nature.” he said mutedly. “I’m just very nervous, you see. I-haven’t had a date in a while. Not since…” He took a long, hard look at Ericka. Mouth wavering. Ready to say the words but held on standby until everything could be certain. “Not since my wife died.”

If The Professor had notified her of that fact, no reminder of it came anywhere near her mind. Her insides squirmed with a pang deeper than anything she’d ever felt for a family member at once. In seconds the light family atmosphere turned static and icy. As if death itself paraded the room in sight of its next victim. Potentially emanating from the purple girl with blue lips a few tables away, looking somewhat like a skeleton. But no way to be sure. Nothing in the world beyond a deep connection to his sincerity.

“I never knew my mother either.” she murmured in reply. Her turn for eyes to go glossy. Remember things that refused to ever be buried despite all the effort. “How old was your daughter?”

“Barely an infant.” He replied with a strong undertone of resentment hidden behind the words. “It wasn’t easy being a single dad. Not with a hotel to build alongside it. I check back…and sometimes I still hear the ghost of her voice. Calling to me as if she was merely preparing dinner for us all along. Or hanging out some washing. Or telling me about a book she’d just finished reading. In my mind I always hear her tell me eagerly about Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It’s hard not to respond. To talk to her about Angel’s hypocrisy. Tell Mavis about it with her too. It was only then, when I stared at her cute little face which gurgled at me all the same, that I realised what was really going on. And use everything I had to not drop her and burst into tears.”

“Oh my God…I’m so sorry. Are-are you okay? Is everything okay?”

“Well, I tell myself what she would have all those years ago, in those London hotels we dated at in secret. We don’t spend every minute of the day laughing without a care in the world. Far from it. But we get by. Somehow, against all odds, we keep on going and the world keeps on spinning.”

He grabbed her hand as if it were a silk garment. Daring to grin fully. “And we keep on keeping on with it, don’t we?”

“Yeah. I guess we do.” Her smile insinuated comfort in both. Synergy to his own. “You know, I never really knew my parents either. They-also died. When I was very young.”

An eyebrow raised right into the forehead. Its flat transforming into worried hills. “Who raised you?”

“Family friend.” she answered quickly, breaking the gaze in a second. “My-well-my godmother. Professor Victoria O’Donnell.”

“From the Madrid tour?”

A rapid nod her sole reply.

“Very knowledgeable woman, them, your godmother.”

“Yeah…you could say that.” she murmured, her eyes fixated now beneath. Perhaps it was inevitable the conversation would lead here. That wasn’t what made her insides squeal in pain. More so who she was always going to talk to. Give the game away in one false move and no one would ever forgive her. Least of all herself. One memory of grief and bitterness, struck into her deformed face like bolts of thunder, of the constant need. Of the cause.

Another, simpler one tempting her back above the bowl. Twirl the last few strands of thick, reddened tagliatelle right round. A luscious meatball, by now drenched in the chunkier parts of sofrito, would prove a fine cherry on top. Yet a slight drag stopped its completion. Pasta vanishing past the other side of the bowl. Desperation guided her mouth after it. But evidently her newfound rival had the same idea.
Neither realised until physical sensation forced them together. Both lips touching at the exact centre of the same piece of tagliatelle. Even their eyes widened, in the same level lock, right on cue. But neither felt any need to withdraw. Her internal pangs of sympathy changed to something warmer. Something better.

Something only her and Dracula could find together.

He took advantage while his eyes played distraction. Slurping more flecks onto his pasty white cheeks.

One last piggy snort to end the night. “You’re cute when you do that.”

“You look pretty nice yourself. Same kind of thing in the next country? Maybe even on the ship?”

“Sure! I’ll book a table for a fish dinner the second we get back.”

“I’m dying to see where we go with that one!” he chortled. Age finally relenting to a full, warm smile.

Try to pretend her own didn’t have to be muted. That only this present, and its promises, were the context.

“Me too, Dracula. Me too.”

Chapter 6: Chapter 13: Crime


I thought I had posted way, way more on this. Turns out I've only posted twelve chapters despite finishing the entire damn thing a month ago. Wow, time flies. Well, I did it. I got to 100,000 words. I wrote a tragedy. I corrected the franchise. And let me say I am not in a rush to do it again anytime soon. Writing that much is a proper struggle both mentally and physically. I even managed to screw up the chapter numberings somehow. Just goes to show how much of an uphill push this was, I guess. Took that much of my brainpower. But I'm glad I did it, just to show I could and because I COOKED with this novel, genuinely. For a work that has no kudos, I am damn proud of this.

Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter Text

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Each the same tone. Each the exact same fraction of a second from the last. Yet each one felt as if nothing would come after. Each one hung in the balance until the next took over. And started the cycle again. He couldn’t walk away from this one. Other things he forced a kind of New Yorker detachment from. A private eye to figure out the crime, catch the bad guy, all at arm’s length.

This struck a chord too deep.

Already he was making vows for this, that and the other. Already he held himself accountable to piles upon piles of ensuring a denouement came from this. Never mind the possibility it may not even be true yet. Crystallised atolls of blood were still there right up to the jawline. Eyes shut. No sign if they even promised to open again. There had to be a heart beat inside there somewhere. Maybe even a couple of heartbeats. Hell, if nothing else he’d stitch the organ back together and shove it inside himself, goddamnit. Wouldn’t be the first time neither.

“Come on, Frank, you bastard. Come on! You can do this.” Wayne urged.

Griffin too. Being the first one back on the ship did usually mean first dibs on the pool table and pool itself, which was never something he’d say no to. For now, no way to tell if finding that cracked pair of glasses not yet cleared up was a good thing or bad. All that remained of his good friend. His only pool buddy in this large, cruel, senseless sellout world. Someone you could share a cigarette with and not have to deal with funny looks or an awkward conversation afterwards.

“You know, for someone invisible, his presence sure is seen.” Wayne grumbled to himself.

Time to rifle for the hundredth time through what he’d gathered. Last night was when he must’ve croaked. Before that, last time he’d seen him was at the tennis courts right after leaving Scarbados, as he called it. Ah, that’d been a good laugh. He’d resolved to meet for a coffee just before it got light the next morning. No big deal if either made it at first. They’d probably spend another age on a sea which stretched on like purgatory and there’d be all the time in the world then.

Next morning, no sign of either.

One intentional. One probably not.

The question was, who? Stare at maybe Syon. Or Syon’s girl. No, not them. He was too melancholy. She was too happy. It came for her first, but he decided that neither were probably on that upper deck where that tragic, shattered pair of glasses had first cursed his vision. Come to think of it, when the pirates boarded he hadn’t seen them round till that first piece of scrutiny. Maybe something to look out for in future then. Off the hook for now. A page to fold. Come back to later. Or leave it for another, more significant hint. What about that Professor in Madrid? Yeah, there was a suspect. Something about her didn’t look right and he felt no rebound of fear from saying that. Kinda like how two men together or two women together, in place of a man or woman, didn’t fully add up for him. Run it over mentally and the figures didn’t quite mesh together. They went together far easier and way more than they used to for Mavis and Johnny at least. Them together, laughing and kissing and one not looking quite whole without the other, that was all to be expected. But all this, his paw clutching a stitch on Frank’s elbow with all the desperation he could still muster.

At first Griffin was an accident. Maybe something dropped. Robots cleaning up after something got a short fuse. Possible stories. It had a notable chance of being something like murder too. Nose poring over every stitch, every chunk of muscle sewn together, the lobster claw haphazardly fitted over the old stitches that’d held his actual hand. Try not to let the aged, rotting salt get in the way of too much. Behind it, what came most was the pungent odour of alcohol. Especially round the head. Mixed in with the blood to create a new, unholy type of martini. The result a horrific smell of decay itself. Blood tinted from the left ear right up to the eye. Culminating in a deep violet bruise running to the cheek’s border. Traces of the party city they left behind. One of its many clubs. An inclination to guess it was on the western side. He’d probably find the beginning of the end came with a bet he couldn’t keep up with. That could be deduced even before smelling. He must have walked a lot to get to where Mavis found him. The whiff of dried sweat, salting the entire platter, began to explain the bruises and blood. Or at least their backstory.

What about a sniff round the back? What might that reveal? Bright red liquid scented like metal all round the back. Tell him something he didn’t know. It seemed to mask the crisp tones of a beer of some kind. Waxy alcohol what managed to shove its way through the blood over all else.

“Ah, sh*t!” he whined, barking a few times to remedy it. Red-hot pain searing in timed waves through each finger on one paw, which rocketed away in an instant. Yet something wet bubbled on his palm. Turn it over slowly so as to soften the blow.

“Well, no doubt about the alcohol now.” he winced.

Near the centre of his palm, drawing blood to clamp the short brown and grey hairs together by the second, was a lethal shard of glass. Its point an accusing finger at the elderly has-been of a werewolf. And to think not more than a century ago he’d been able to go on all kinds of adventures and never once worry about death. Then it was merely part of the fun. Some stakes to make the challenge worthwhile. Now he barely even wanted to look at his hand. He wasn’t sure the shame was really something he wanted to deal with alongside everything else, though it constantly stalked every rattling breath he took.
“Eh, perhaps it does for Drac too. Especially now his old man’s not around. Wonder what he would say about all this.”

In a sense, Vlad had never died. Merely gone back to his original state. Something to pull the strings merely by existing. Always far away. Always someone to greatly care about and, more often than not, fear. Wish he could say the same for Griffin. But then another saying from his old commander, right on cue, floated into conscience.

“Some people are meant by God to be leaders. But most are followers from the moment their miserable mama gives birth to the moment they die, forgotten and having done their obscure, thankless part.”

Heh, maybe he himself was one of those. Cool, you gave birth to a litter or about three hundred manic pups. So what? There’s a reason there’s three times as many dogs and wolves on Earth as humans. All it took was bumping into some nerdy vampire one time when trying to score a free meal in a fledgling Yonkers, and bam. You become defined by the guy. One of his buddies at best. The bum note of the gang at worst. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t love Drac and all the boys to pieces. Else why would he be here, grabbing a piece of paper and jotting down every minute detail of Frank’s injured head? It’s just the role he landed himself in, the role perhaps he was always meant for, felt a little two-sided sometimes. The time for change, if not gone, was slipping quickly. History never moved out of its repeated ills. Anyone could see that plain as day. It played a good game of pretending to do so. But instead it merely ran another lap for a few decades. Get a war on to pick up the pace. The end was always the same. A select few, almost always white, won this round. And in these kinds of games, the winner took all prizes. As for the rest? Losing stripped them of any superiority they may have given themselves over the prizes coveted.
sh*t. No more traces of any origin for Frank. No more than a musty odour behind those shrill beeps. And a shadow, smelling like Sichuan sauce and the afterlife itself, barely noticeable. Griffin had to be taken out by those pirates. No other explanation. No body. No crime. A sad accident, yes. But an accident.

“Better tell Drac.”

At last he hauled his body from the hospital wing. One last look at his hulking, stitched buddy. Wince again at the shard remaining in his palm. Frank must’ve got it over the head from a beer bottle. At least half of him wanted to say “he’s got only himself to blame for not thinking before doing” and leave it at that. No need. If nothing else, surely someone dressed so opulently and with such a clean accent as Ericka would be able to hire half-decent doctors. So tomorrow he’d come back, ask the big oaf what happened, and continue with their lives. It still begged the question why they spent so much time in the sea instead of actual places that Mavis had begged for since she could first talk. That’s probably where he’d go next. Put his mind elsewhere.

“Rest easy, Frank.” Wayne smiled. “See you soon, you damn fool. Can’t wait to talk all about how you got hurt this time.”

“So, how did you get hurt on your birthday again?” Nina asked, threading a snooker cue between two pearl fingers while Dennis paced round her.

“My tooth got knocked out.” he reminded cheerily. “Usually, when I fall I fall flat on my face!”

Nina grimaced. “That must be very painful.”

“You get used to it after a while. And most of the time you can avoid it by simply turning into a bat. Like this!” His own puff of silvery lilac smoke summoned at once. In his place, a small bat with its own plume of ginger curls. The days where it might be an escape, or a rite of passage, were a complete mystery. The first of his bloodline to have such a privilege in certainly living memory. Be they those of the living or undead. The first to be showered in applause for such a thing, and not bullets or screams.

His ensuing laugh was pure. Innocent. Required no victims. No sacrifice. His smile merely at the small things, at surface value, which lay around him.

“Wow!” Nina beamed. “You’re certainly full of surprises, aren’t you?”

“Yep.” Dennis closed one eyelid as his own cue took position. One gentle, yet calculated thwack fifteen seconds later secured two balls direct into holes. “I learnt that one from Papa Drac while we were heading to Plymouth.”

“And how does it feel to have the great, famous Count Dracula as your grandfather?"

He shrugged. Staring at the wide sea again. Safely able to gawp at the sky painted pinks and oranges behind a sprawling window. “To me he’s just Papa Drac. I don’t know much about him being great or famous or anything like that. And if so, what’s it to me? I’ll still be his grandson, and he’ll still be Papa Drac, my vampa.”


Eyes rolled immediately. “Vampa. Vampire grandpa. C’mon, that’s obvious!”

“Right. I should’ve known. My bad.”

“But what do you mean by famous?”

She collapsed into a nearby low armchair. Taking her turn to admire every lashing of colour across the sky. A minute at least before she answered. Finally prompted on by that same pink girl, with those bright striped ponytails, strutting by for a late breakfast.

“I mean, there’s a lot to say. Your grandfather-sorry, I mean ‘vampa’-in the human world there’s a lot about him. Not all of it good.”

“He’s so nice, though.”

“Yeah, true. I dunno. It’s just what I’ve heard. What I was told as a kid. You’re told scary stories sometimes to make sure you don’t do stupid stuff. A few say you’re told them so you don’t question the natural authority, or the status quo, in the world.”

“And do you think that’s true?”

She paused. Conflict visible right in the lenses of her newly squinted eyes. “It’s…certainly something to think about. There’s a really old story about Dracula, actually. And as time’s gone by he’s only been seen as more and more of a villain.”

“What does he do?”

“I dunno if I can say.” Nina confessed, shrinking back into the pool table. Attempting to hone on the cue. Line up another shot. “You’re still young. Maybe when you’re older.”

“My dad says that all the time.” Dennis interjected with a surly undertone. “Mostly when I ask about Grandma Linda and Grandpa Mike. I ask about what they were like when they were his age, and he always quickly says-” he jerked one finger up, attempting to pull the serious pall of adulthood over his still smooth cheeks-“Uh, I’ll tell you when you’re older, little dude. Yu may not fully understand now. Best to do it when you’ve grown up.”

Nina burst into laughter. Her only guise against it one hand over her mouth while the rest of her face screwed up without resistance. “Maybe there’s a grain of truth in it. Often, things we don’t understand at first become easy with time. And things make sense to us more when we’ve thought about them for a little bit. So-yeah. He’ll tell you when you’re older and you can think about it more. What’s the harm in that?”

“I dunno. Just feels like they’re hiding something and putting me down at the same time. I feel I can understand what they can. At least I’ll listen.” A slight prickling sensation made itself known. On his arms. His face. His ankles. Whispering that soon it would creep onto his back too. He had been told about this. Taking his turn to back well away into the shade. Where he belonged. Perhaps where people like him-or at least that half of him-belonged.

Nina nodded. Her expression one of pensive sincereness. One you’d more often see on a grandmother or headmaster. “The stories of Dracula were always the scariest. I’ll tell you that much. They were always the ones where the hero needed to dig deepest, and did the most heroic things. A noble monster hunter called Van Helsing.” Now her eyes began to glow. “He was always so handsome. So brave. And no matter what Dracula did, he always found a way in the end.”

“Van Helsing?” That name could hardly have been more foreign to Dennis. Equally, its name didn’t constitute fear nor anger. Nor much strong emotion at all. At most a mild curiosity, or annoyance at its grandiose appearance. Similar to the walls or plastic plants bordering the pool table and sun-glazed deck like flanked guards. Little attention was needed to see what really lay inside its makings. None of it actually real. More advertising for an experience which always seemed best on a webpage far away. There at least you got rose-tinted glasses. So all the red flags became mere flags.

“I used to have nightmares about Dracula.” Nina continued, pressing her advantage home. “The knowledge he wasn’t real, the knowledge that there were always noble humans like Van Helsing who would use their power to protect us, always helped me recover from them as a kid.”

“But there’s monsters now, and you’re not scared at all.”

“Maybe it’s because they can help me with my research. On dating. Love. Monsters. There’s so much about all of that we don’t know. Well, except for monsters. There lies the question-is love ever rational? And can it ever be so with monsters involved?”

“Is love meant to be rational? What does that word even mean?” By now the sun’s artwork had begun to fade into the norm. Revealing more of the same. Another sunny day. Tarnished by rude clouds and a biting wind. The only ones who dared come out on deck were that pink vampire’s friends. Surrounded in small pots and bags of makeup. Every inch was calculated to the final micrometre. By far the most were under the command of the gilded mummy. Never satisfied with how much her werewolf friend laid on. Dennis had to wonder if he, or Winnie, would believe in such idiosyncrasies when they grew up. This morning he also had to wonder if he would believe in that word-‘rational love’-too. The whole idea sounded at odds with itself. A dog chasing its own tail in the belief the fruits of that labour were right at the edge, in sight.

“Rational means, basically, common sense. Does the argument hold up in the real world? Can it for future generations? So if someone decides that they love someone else, especially if they are a human and their lover is a monster, does it all make sense? And is it sustainable? If the answer is yes, and if that can be done between humans and monsters, then yes. Love can be rational. Tell me-wait, what’s your name again?”

“Dennis Dracula.” he proclaimed with a broad grin.

“Dennis, why do you think your mummy and your daddy married?”

He stared again at the four girls. The mint green one and the werewolf daring to move on to an array of hair tools evidently too early for the mummy’s liking. They did little to make any reasoning behind his mum and dad, together forever, any easier to come by. Some things were just so. His parents were one of those things and that was that as far as he was concerned. As far as the world was concerned. Out at the deck to an endless sea, and whatever countries might lie hungrily beyond. Impossible not to wonder how his parents might be welcomed there. Or if they’d be welcomed at all.

One final strike ought to do it. Every fibre in the cue slid between his two stubby fingers. The slight pains awakening him. Giving his brain the power to find the right channel to slide down. Like a puzzle. Pieces knocked into the right place. One move. No one even suspected a scrawny kid would come with more than dumb observations about the gamer. That was the biggest advantage he had of all. In most other places it was by far the biggest disadvantage. The reason he was the extra in the family, now he had fangs like everyone else. The cue slid with the smallest of hisses beneath his index and middle finger, as if it were merely a sixth digit extending to strike. One light thwack later, and he had his mark. Two thwacks. Two hollower ones.


Nina clapped, fostering her own cheesy smile in seconds. He used to think, having seen her around Syon, that she was only sympathetic and a good friend. Now it seemed to border on annoying insensitivity. One voice for kids. One for adults. Maybe she thought it was equality, therefore fair and good. The problem with that was it left no room for difference. For range. That one tiny margin of error was what left Dennis out in the cold most of all. It only grew weirder as he fully looked her up, from head to shoulder, for the first time. The waterfall of blond hair. Those quiet, observant blue eyes. Baggy leather jacket draped over light, muted block colours. The relaxed posture giving a firm idea of trust. Judgement banished from anything in a five-metre radius of her or her body language.

One look at himself, of the memory of his fifth birthday and its baptism by fire, taught the lesson well enough. Looks could be deceiving.

Today was unique only in that the whole day spent itself alone on a wide, wide sea. No land made itself known on the borders of anyone’s sight till well into that night. Heat carried itself over from Malaga, perhaps even Plymouth. All faces bore the same expression from what a side view could show. Each looked tired and expecting little despite the vigorous games played all over the deck. Not because of them. There had been rumours-simply rumours-of a game of snooker between Dracula and Ericka played as the sun weaved its bright orange tapestry across the sky for a concluding flourish. The pink girl had said, not so silently though not for lack of trying, that they had giggled together while playing. And the rest is history. Even if not for the setting, her friends would gladly jump at such a subject. It would be far from the first time a ‘secret’ relationship unravelled so quickly.

Mavis hoped with all fibres in her body, with a certainty that was perhaps burning inside from the first gaze she aligned with Johnny’s, that any end to what she had were far out of sight. Better if they were never to exist. Though that same part of her reminded, as always, one look at her husband made it a sickening roar in her very stomach. And something else. Nearer in the future. Breathing down her neck only as she began to enter Malaga. The city’s lifeblood being recreation. Or, in a more literal sense, alcohol. In any case, the fact she hadn’t thought of it before increased those pangs inside her chest which made her heart beat harder, faster. Which made her brain nearly ache and swell in a swirl of prospects. Of past. Present. Future.

When they got back, she and Johnny would have a hotel to run.

The aura of a far-off dream, something with no consequences and less probability that allowed her to pick her brain clean over it in childhood and to an extent with Johnny, was by now clearly long gone. Energy dissipated almost as soon as she started to ponder what calculations would have to be made. A whole sheet of them. Numbers with an army of zeroes in tow dictating survival. Dictating what to add. But also, far more importantly, what to cut. She conceded that a bike rack, for his idea outside, would probably be first up. Surprised, yet thankful, that her instinct didn’t churn more at that idea. The concluding events, dragging him back from girls he didn’t even know the names of, filled her with dread from the moment she saw it. A sizeable dose of that tired irritation which she’d felt as Dennis was in her father’s care. Chafing at her like an archaic grandmother’s wish to see her daughter off to whatever man came first. Below deck. Again. Sleeping off headache. Again. To think the injuries weren’t even three days apart. Barely two. Nevertheless she had to remember that despite Johnny not seeing this would all happen, they were still both alive and well. It would all be okay.

Out of impulse, she whirled round to her nearest companion. An idea ready to burst onto its first victim. Having to readjust a bit lower to the pink girl-Draculaura, was it? -negligible in stopping her now clear, sole and powerful stream of thought.

“Okay, what d’you think of this idea? From what I understand, right, humans like to know more. So do monsters! I think, like back from the old days, my dad made a library in the hotel a few floors up. Repurpose it, clean out the cobwebs and any unemployed tarantulas there, add in some internet facilities, nice little play area for the kids, and a monster and human history section right at the front. Monster history and human history together. That’ll look amazing!”

Draculaura frowned a little. “I don’t know.” she murmured in her tiny, squeaky voice. “Humans are dangerous. You had them in your hotel like it was nothing. But with me and Clawdeen, they always seemed to give us weird looks. Like we didn’t belong.”

“Not all humans are like that, I promise!”

“Maybe not all. But most are.” Her almost childish accent did little to hinder the sincerity in her words. Her focus glazed with concern, and a disquieting familiarity whenever it met with Mavis’. “You have a human husband, right?”

“I do, yeah!” Her mouth arched unavoidably while her chest puffed.

Draculaura moved from the tense atmosphere between their eyes first. Instead looking onto a soup of royal blue darkness, its lukewarm undertone increasing further, and the somewhat lit land mass almost too far to even notice. “Well, out of all the humans who gave me and Clawdeen dirty looks, theirs was totes the ugliest! Especially at Clawdeen. They said something to her which she growled at, too. Something like-” she cleared her throat for a makeshift American accent- “you don’t belong here. Go back to your own country, and leave America for those who built it. You monster!”

Though she could not determine exactly why, a sense of pure horror filled from Mavis’ head to toe. Back when California was all new they had been so kind in giving her a place just like home.

“I-I-I don’t understand. I’m so sorry that happened to you and your friend.” she said, a monosyllable tying it all together as if out of instinct.

Draculaura waved her dainty hand. Perhaps thankfully, thought she did look and speak nice enough. her head didn’t turn. “It’s okay. As my dad always said, humans are not to be trusted. Who knows what they will do to us if they had the power? They were the reason I had to leave Transylvania, out of nothing more than suspicion. Maybe some humans are actually nice, like not all children carry over their parents’ attitudes. I’ll give you that. Your husband seems to be okay with us. At least, I don’t like to think that Valentine’s parents are as bad as their shameless son! But all the same, for most humans, best to never go in their way if you can help it.”

Such advice churned in Mavis’ stomach, but she tried with all her energy to grin and bear it. “Who was your dad?”

She giggled. “Clue’s in the name, silly. Draculaura. I’m the only child of Count Dracula as well.”

Time itself ground to a halt immediately. Everything whipped into nothing. Only the two of them. Staring each other in the face. Neither knowing what the hell the other one was thinking. Of course the cheeks looked familiar. Of course they had the same skin tone, a shade paler than naturality. Of course she recognised those eyes. A lilac wasn’t far off her ocean blue after all. Even the way she stood. One leg crossed over the other. A direct, now punishingly inquisitive gaze softened a bit by a flexible smile.

“Why didn’t he tell me?” she mumbled. “Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t Dad tell me?!”

Now Draculaura’s turn to grow that soft overlay of concern. “Tell you what?”

“Dracula is my dad! He’s literally raised me from birth! He started an entire hotel to keep me safe. I-I don’t understand.”

“He’s been my dad since birth. Adopted, yes, but still my dad.”

“Tall guy, blue eyes, slicked back hair-”

“Cape with upturned collar? Yes, yes. That is my dad!”

“But…you said you’re adopted. Then how come we have such similar faces?”

“Heh. Well, I have a sorta similar face to Jackson Jekyll back at my high school, and we’re totes not related. And to Heath Burns. If I was related to him, I think he would let me know in-his usual ways. And you have a kinda similar face to the captain. You ever noticed that?”

“I do?”

“Mhmm. Funny how that works. Some people just look similar.”

“But Draculaura-why didn’t I know that you existed? And why didn’t you know that I did? I always thought I was the only one. Dracula only ever had one child and he wanted to protect her. That’s what I always knew.”

“Well, if he’s on this ship maybe we could ask him?” Draculaura offered, her eyes growing wider as she sidled her compact body under Mavis’ apparent tower.

“Oh, I will! But while he was with me in the hotel, how did he keep you safe?”

“Holden College, with most vampires.” she replied airily. “Whenever he could, I was sent there straight away. And when we couldn’t, he found a house in Scaremerica for me, and got me into Monster High. Then-well, then the rest is hiss-tory.” A smile finally crept across after permanent hints of it, over at Clawdeen and her mummy friend deep in conversation which made no attempt at being a whisper over nail colours. “His thinking was that by separating me from him, we would both be safe.”

“With me, it was always that I stay close and never leave his sight. That anything outside the hotel was dangerous. And that if I ever did meet a human, heaven forbid, I was not to talk to them.”

“He said that with me too! Maybe it was more to keep us away from each other. But still the question remains, why would he want to do that? You’re one of the nicest vampires I’ve ever met!”

A bark of laughter weaselled its way under the mental whirlwind before Mavis could stop it. “Aw, thanks!”

Draculaura grinned. “No problem. If it means anything to you, I haven’t actually met many vampires. Much less any nice ones. Some of them at school, like Gory, can be real stuck-up bitches.”

“Was Valentine like that too?”

The smile dropped from her face. Any closeness she had to Mavis was now more to shield from others than to get closer to her newfound sister. “To an extent. It was more to wow me rather than how Gory might put me down. I don’t really want to talk about it too much. He’s not rich anymore since everyone knows how much of a lying asshole he is, and that’s that!”

Mavis curled into her sister, running five black-tipped fingers across streaked hair down into the ponytails. An unspoken connection in that moment of silence. Not yet anywhere near the love she felt for Johnny. But something different and definitely there. A need to protect, yes. A need to foster something greater, like the need she felt to make Dennis a man every bit as great as her father and husband. The best bits of both. With Draculaura it was more equal. That it wasn’t just her giving the protection. There was no sense of one over the other as there might be with Johnny. A need to educate and grow the other, as was so common with Dennis? Rare at best.

“Okay.” Mavis murmured, cuddling her sister fully now as if they shared such a bond from the very beginning. “I won’t talk about him anymore.”

“Thanks. Are you okay with all this, you know, sister-y stuff?”

No answer. None even got to the tongue. Let alone its tip. Lies were meant to be a thing of the past. Hiding her from the outside world was meant to have long gone. She swung her foot with all her strength and speed at the rail. The resulting sharp jab a reminder of how stupid she’d been. Every time she thought she had her father down. Every time he said no more secrets. He said he’d do better and, for a blissful time, it looked like he was well on the way to doing so. Something like Draculaura snuck below her eyeline, or reared its head from there. To reduce all certainty to tatters.

“It…it will all work out okay in the end,” she resolved. Pretend that the shudder in those words was nothing more than the cold nipping at her ankles. “I just don’t know what to do right now. But we’ll find a way. Us monsters and humans always do.”

Syon found it far easier to stare at the mass of land before them. Indeed, taking his eyes off it proved to be the far harder task. Most of what unsettled him, for once, was more a distant ghost of a thought. He’d now savour the idea of dinner with Nina for the lion’s share of the next day to come. Studying in his mind’s eye beforehand every perfect aspect of her face. That luxurious blonde hair. Her warm smile and airy laugh like warm milk and honey on a day when illness ruled.

And the next place to go as well. Africa. Beckoning him beyond anything he could resist already, from several miles. For all the reasons he wasn’t there, its prospect had a definite nostalgic aura. Annoyingly, you never noticed or cared for it until you spread your wings and checked it out for yourself. And the mere thought of taking that first leap ensured its pleasure remained a hidden treasure. Anyone with half a brain knew the beaches of Somalia, the jungles of Uganda, the marketplaces of Morocco who had reserves of energy easily rivalling any you found in London or Madrid, knew that any experience Europe offered were nowhere near unique as it seemed to be. The consequence of a population basking in decadence. Only question was, where had that decadence come from?

One look at his own hand revealed the answer.

And just like that, his usual grimace and glazed over eyes were back in their usual, well-worn place. But then again he had to remind himself of the biggest reason he felt so much better with her. She experienced no such thing as a bad situation. Outcomes which weren’t ideal immediately became a duty for her. A duty to find that inevitable silver lining. It never took longer than thirty seconds. Be it a handful of local fish and chips. Or the way clouds painted the sky. No light without dark. Once she’d even gone so far as to say his smile made it better, on the dilapidated night train grumbling out of Birmingham. Yet today that little memory, the diamond in the rough of the past, merely turned a flutter into a soar. What created it in the first place was a breakthrough which had been far too long a time coming.

The gauntlets now sat in a cardboard box at the back, both in that dingy study and, as he liked to convince himself, his conscience. Today they finally had something to go with. He had to admit, robots only did so much. At least for now anyway. Sometimes they made a mistake and he had to clean it up. Or rather, he realised with a scowl as that supposedly Invisible Man haunted his mind, they got distracted. Either way he was janitor. Today, then, put a little sugar on that pill. Gave the best of both worlds. Control of the new methods now belonged to him. And in time such a benefit would go to those who needed it without delay. Just think of it! A frail parent in bed, able to experience movement again through mere thoughts. An owner of a local, honest shop with several mouths to feed. Able to instead get as many vessels of the future as he wanted on whatever job he needed.

And one day, the oppression would be able to end with just one man.

Before it had taken an oversized PS2 console, mummified in wires, to control even one. Or code transmitted over shoddy Wi-Fi on nothing more than a wish and a prayer. Now it could potentially be done with nothing. He still felt a few rends near his heart from where he’d first clumsily stabbed it in. Those should go with time. And he had to remember, all the while, it was better because he was thinking of the longer-term gains and goals. For once, it mattered little that he was apparently the only one to do that nowadays. And to top it all off, all this took little more than a few extra straps and his trademark black suit. The straps were primitive. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“Eh, I’ll do without the helmet.” He allowed himself a minute chuckle. “Not like I’m a superhero or anything. Just a motley human. And-it’s not like I need to hide my identity or anything. Whoever likes it likes it. And whoever doesn’t, well…they can kiss my ass.”

What was the point of doing good if it didn’t even go under your name? That made the kick from such an act definite. Gave you meaning among an existence of the obscure and unremarkable. Made sure the whole point of existence didn’t dissipate at once as the fibres of consciousness did. And knowing this world, if he didn’t fight back some massive corporation with an iron fist over entire continents would snatch it up, use it for all the money it was worth, and then cast it aside. Like a toddler mangling its toys. He knew well enough by now of the united struggle. Of the need for solidarity. Of doing this all for the everyman. The proletarian. Then could anyone say it was bad if the credit was somehow self-serving? Was he not, at the end of it, part of the forgettable proletariat? One of them, just as much as his critics?
Light squeaks on the hardwood floor made him jolt round. You never know what came with someone else entering. Penetrating a whole world begotten of himself, survivable only by himself. No one would understand. Especially not the aloof excuse for Dracula’s son in law he saw behind him.

“What’re you doing here?” The question lacked sufficient bite to turn Johnny away. No way to tell if that was a good thing.

Johnny sighed. “Nothin’ much.” His stare out to sea even more wistful than Syon’s. “God, it’s been ages since I went to Africa. I was only there for a week, but even that week. Everything was so…different.”

“Yeah, yeah. A lot of what we do is very different to the West.”

“Yet you’re still here in the same suit and tie as my dad’s got for work.”

He scoffed. Kid had a point there. This far in he still had no idea how to perceive him. It was never clear whether Johnny was a friend or foe. Even less clear if he’d be concerning in the latter. You sort of already knew with monsters. On the rare occasion one strayed far enough from the shadows to get noticed, they rectified their mistake quick enough for no harm to be done. A human never had to feel such a need. Or at least, humans like Johnny would never have to. A shot of bile rebounded to spread a noxious taste through the neck. He recounted the type of man who always gave the orders, who always enjoyed the fruits of labour, right in front. Who never had to ask the big, worrying questions. Because someone else always paid the price.

“I actually thought I’d ask you something.” Johnny whispered.

Eyebrows straight to the top. Gaze out to sea shattered as, for the first time, he took in the only other man on this cruise. “Ask me?” He had to chuckle, on himself if nothing else. “Of all people, why me?” The memory floating round and round, constantly, person who’d interrupted his first chance at proper seduction of the wife he’d worked so hard to marry, no less.

“I dunno. There’s not many other humans in this place.”

“There’s the captain.” he responded with no space after Johnny had finished. A sense of disquiet, of discomfort, crept in by the second. He didn’t dare to think of directing him to Nina.

“Yeah, but like, there’s some things you can only really talk about man-to-man, you know? There’s no other dude on here, so may as well give it a shot.”

“Mmkay then. What is it?”

“Okay, so you know when we were in Malaga, right? The evening just before we got back onto here?”

“Yeah.” Impossible to forget. The reasons he did not need to know. Indeed, he’d prefer it if neither had any idea of that night beyond the art in Madrid. Try not to show it enough to notice. Because with people like Johnny, one mistake would bring ramifications forever.

“I didn’t go to Madrid with my wife. I stayed in Malaga and-basically got super drunk and may have got with two other girls in the same club.” he said in one breath.

Syon couldn’t help but scoff, hiding it as a quick afterthought. “Why?”

“I…have no idea. Just did what I wanted to.”

“What about what Mavis wanted?”

At least a minute before Johnny spoke again. He opened his mouth once or twice. Every time it fell shut after a second. Inevitably, perhaps.

“I always make sure she gets everything she wants and more!” Johnny finally reasoned. “If she has to take care of Dennis, we cancel the date. I always pay three quarters of the bill. She knows that I love her to hell and back-how could she not? She’s my zing, for f*ck’s sake. My zing!”

“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“A zing,” Johnny cooed wistfully, “is something that only happens once in your life. It’s a sign. THE sign. Whoever you do it with, whoever you zing with, the love with them will be so powerful that it lasts easily for the rest of your life!” Each word brought light to his face, rose his limbs, grew his smile and puffed his chest to its limit. “The second you have that zing, you’ve got it and you must never let it go. Hell, you can’t let it go! It only happens once in your life!”

“Sounds exciting.” Syon grunted, diverting his eyes back out to sea as if Johnny’s face was a repelling magnet. His hand cupped, missing a glass healthily full of alcohol to neck in one swing of the head.
“It is!” he added, his eyes gaining a hungry glint. “She’s so hot, honestly. And you’ve never been kissed by her. Ooh! Feels like heaven itself in your chest.”

“That sounds pret-ty good. So why did you leave it for someone you’d never feel that for?”

He sighed. “Guess that’s what I came to ask you about. Maybe you’d know something about girls and being loyal and stuff like that. Cause you and that Nina chick are like this!” he exclaimed, crossing his fingers to the point of both tips turning a bright red.

Syon shook his head at the heavens. The most he could ever do to get his own back. “People think they know everything and are always in the right. That’s what makes us always do wrong. A system with self-interest, our own benefit-hell, our own profit-at its core. Designed to work with the short term only. And then we act surprised when later down the line it doesn’t serve us. But maybe this is why it has survived far longer than any socialist sh*tholes the Professor glorifies. It treats humans more how they really are. Self-interested. Obsessed with the quick fix. And to hell with all else. Maybe that’s why. You just wanted a quick fix and went for it.”

“And to hell with all else.”

“My advice,” Syon prescribed, “would be to apologise straight and keep moving if she allows you to. If this ‘zing’ is as powerful as you say it is, then it should be okay once you get into Africa. Her desire to see
the world will get her in the right mood. In fact, I think I might be able to help.”

“Could you actually?”

“Yeah, sure.” Syon’s nods were quick and forced. Hopefully his voice disguised that enough. “You know the guard robots on here?”

“Yeah. How’re they gonna help? They’re only gonna scare her more.”

“I’ll send them ahead so no ghost pirates or anything jump out. It’ll be you, her, and the finest savannahs.”

“You’re a life saver!” gasped Johnny. “I just hope it’s enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“Nothing, nothing. It should be enough. Yeah. It needs to be enough. But if Captain Ericka is anything to go by…no. No, no, no, no, no!!”

Syon did not bother to ask his feelings any further. Yes, one reason was because he thundered off too quickly. The other was one he kicked himself for years after the whole thing, this whole cruise, had become a distant memory. Even then he reminded himself od what Mavis and Johnny made possible. What he was actively refusing to uphold for the greater good. The whole reason he felt something more than regret on this placement-if it could even be identified as that anymore. Or from the beginning for that matter.

Monsters and humans would thrive together. They had to. They would. Society always found a way to progress. This was simply the next stage. None went through seamlessly. The people would come along in time and surge it to victory. They had to. They always did. Else how would he be anywhere near here? They could work together. Five hundred years ago humanity knew, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Earth was the centre of the entire universe. The possibilities, as he was reminded with one memory of his newly-created gauntlets, were endless. Even the humble zombie was certain to know at least something about muscle regeneration. The commonplace skeleton about bone fracture. Perhaps internal bleeding. Entire disabilities wiped out in seconds. And they’d spent far too long crushed underfoot. Repairing would be the least humanity had to do. They could coexist. And he’d be the one to make it so. That’s why he didn’t make a helmet. There would be no point.

He had to have something, anything, with his name emblazoned on. A lesson of hope to all who came next. Created, made possible by him before he drew his final breath. Heaven knows none of that currently existed. And otherwise, what would be the point? He was not going to fade into obscurity, into an irrelevant statistic. He would fight with his entire soul and body against that. Even if it killed him.
He had to. For monsters and humans’ sake.

And at that precise moment, not only did the ship begin to turn. Not only did it begin to banish Africa back to the world’s cruel mists from whence it arrived.
But the beeps, the sole sound in the icy hospital wing, flatlined into nothing.

Chapter 7: Chapter 14: The Endless Lion City


Singapore. Had ideas to write this bad boy in the works since 2022, would you believe? Way back in the early days, when I was still gonna write that solo Overtron book. To think me cancelling that was over a year ago, and everything that's happened since, is nothing short of mind-boggling. But hey, finally got round to including it and-let me just say, Singapore has a lot more going on than I first thought. That made it so much more interesting to write, and I may well return to this location in future, especially as it's Syon's home and I DEFINITELY have more plans for him!
I'll post one chapter of these every week until we reach the final one. Hopefully by then we finally have some well-deserved kudos in the bank for this monstrosity.

Happy reading, and stay freaky fabulous! Kieran :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen:
The Endless Lion City

Only in Singapore did they not feel the sun chastising their necks. Suspecting foul past deeds. Night fell over artificial lights like a pillow dually shielding and smothering a murder victim’s face. Said lights wasted no time in conveying a different image. The image everyone believed by default. The image everyone was told to believe. No one they knew ever questioned it. But can absence of evidence ever mean
evidence of absence?

Dracula hadn’t seen so many buildings jutting up so far, so modern, yet so cramped, since he’d ran through a newly vigorous London with all the anxieties of prey. So much neon, trees clawing round any skyscrapers foolish enough to be within reach, harked back to the thick towers of inky smoke exploding to conquer the heavens he knew all too well. How could he forget? He would never. The best hope was that no one else on this cruise would fall into the same trap. Or when they did find out, the efforts Mavis and Johnny and he made would be enough to leave it as an antique of the past.

Where did Ericka say it was again? On the skyline or something like that. Craning his head to look beyond the buildings dizzied it even for two seconds. Yeah, thanks for narrowing it down. As he’d flown amongst it himself. Sliced through clouds with ease. Its culmination? A crash with another bat. Three months after a fateful week which changed everything.

Every corner had its own burst of light to tempt the eye. Snare it in before another corner, another shop, wrestled it back. Any characters in the native language posed no threat. English substitutions at the ready were a part of that. In his eyes, the greatest blame lay with what each coloured window flaunted. Phones stalked him from every corner. They, though, were the least alien thing in this unknown, crammed siege for attention. A calm afternoon with Johnny, Mavis and Dennis finishing off the last of his grandson’s fifth birthday cake to thank for that.

Now soulless, tinted screens masked entire faces. Stole colour from the very windows that housed them for their own ends. Showed any gawping children who lumbered near bright displays and large letters. A perfect façade. Impossible to forget how Dennis had raced off to the nearest robot toy store the second Syon had guided them to the dominant tech district. Equally impossible to forget the massive smile on Syon’s face. That would take some rearranging of what had become instinct.

Such a reminder driven home as two black girls smiled and kissed in the street.

Imagine telling that to Hexiciah or Milton Grimm. His eyes telling his mind alone was enough to make him squint. Rub them till the lids bristled with red pricks. The deepest insides of his chest felt their own pangs rise too. Try as he might to blame it all on the hunger, that was a distant cry from the truth and he knew it. From the outset Mavis would always be married, as he would always be married. Quite why they got rid of the mutual exchange, the business benefits of it, he was never close enough to understand beyond dog-eared Manchester Guardian clippings. But he didn’t have to remind himself that doing it for love brought undeniable benefits. He could roam this street now without his hood up for one thing. Hell, an eager group of kids a few blocks back had accosted him right into a selfie.

If nothing else, those didn’t exist back in the day of Van Helsing. Of his supposed reach around the world. Two hundred years later that ensuing chuckle got no easier to hold back. When was the last time he had actually killed a monster he knew again? From what he remembered, not since well before Falkirk. No one doubted he talked a good game. Sold himself to the highest bidder only. Decked out in the sharpest, most ornate, most gilded fabrics exclusively. Yet every time they met, his white naval suit and sparkling bronze blunderbuss only ever had one condition.


Literal accidents had done more in a week than the illustrious Professor Abraham de Pfeffel van Helsing had ever done in his whole fleeting human life. It had genuinely sparked concern, for one thing. He was going to miss those nights in the bars, while the world lay sleeping, with only Griffin and expertly picked whisky. For an invisible man he had an undeniable presence. Lingering at his side constantly. A void. An empty seat on a park bench in late autumn. At least those undead pirates wouldn’t ever come near him or his family again. Grandpa Vlad would be proud. Griffin was the only one of his friends he willingly allowed into his grotto.

And now Frank. The reason he’d been invited to a rooftop dinner tonight. Try to take his mind off it all. He dared not imagine what Eunice would say once she, let alone him, found out where he’d retired to. Whoever it was certainly lay far out of his reach by now. Best to leave it to local human police. Surely they heard the noise and knew full well how to manage. And he didn’t exactly see Frank dying of old age with kids in a well-heeled country cottage, aging like a fine wine off experience and wisdom. Nevertheless, it struck his soul acutely with each passing second. The deepest desire to stop for a moment. To forget all these flashes and colours. Merely sit on a bench, with Murray and Wayne left. To remember and rest. Nothing more. Nothing less. Even for an hour at most, f*ck all these sights and sounds and enlightening experiences. Let them rest. Frank’s size was the smallest reason his shadow would serve as another gaping, freezing hole beside them forever.

“Ow!” A similar string of pain ricocheted through his shoulder. One of his arms went to soothe. The other onto Ericka’s tender, smooth cheek above. Reality’s unbearable weight finally relented as he took her all in. Future to remedy the past. New love to forget old crimes. That sweet moment where a temporary feeling grasped your heart by the horns. Turned it into life’s new norm.

“There you are, silly!” She shook her head. Her smile betraying it echoing Martha’s watch over their daughter way back when. Already armies of tears charged down his cheeks. A claw on her arm all that kept him in the present.

“Okay, shh. Shh shh. You wanna go upstairs?”

He nodded.

“I reserved us the best view. Right over the entire city. Nature all around. Highest urban micro brewery in the world.”

“Where-where-where did you find such a place?”

She grinned coyly, shifting her eyes. A whisper on the same current as her breath: “Googled ‘Singapore rooftop dining’. This was the only one with no garlic dishes.”

That last sentence, though barely audible, strengthened his feet’s grip on the ground. Weaselling it back into something tangible.

“And”, she added with a little more confidence, “it may be a little proletarian of me, but I cannot turn down a craft beer to save my life. God, leave me alone with a pint and I turn into a f*cking vampire, I swear!”

“A-a vampire, you say?” he grinned. “I gather, then, you have extremely refined taste. Only selecting the best. Curating over hundreds of years.”

She giggled, affirming: “Nothing less for a date with the count of Transylvania.”

Such standards had one direction to go as the bar came into view. Up. On top of the city itself and more. Rivalled only by a great white plateau a few metres off. Suspended in mid-air by three great white legs of pure, indomitable metal. Closest friends with the natural world hugging it from below. At its feet, an endless sea of lights and people and unknown conversations. All individuals. All lives. Turned into this evening’s backdrop for one love. No more. The antithesis for the past. Where trees and a sky dotted with stars ruled, clouds over a bustling empire of buildings quickly proved its replacement. Where once all that swayed attention from precious Mavis was shunned, instead a chilled glass of golden fiery liquid lay clasped in bony fingers. Where family was always the priority, instead his newfound zing remained. Your jaw had to drop. And he always thought, in the days after Vlad had finally passed, he’d seen it all.

“You have no idea.” she confirmed.

“What? How do you know that?”

“You’ve been staring into space for a whole minute. Clearly the choice of beers is proving a challenge.” Her hand warmed his clammy shoulder the moment it touched. Guiding to a place where it delighted his eyes at a slower, luxurious pace. No idea what type of gold liquid she’d pressed into his hands, its icy nature dampening his palms at the first second of contact. But the first sip he took, fire shivered down each and every one of his veins. Betrayed the boundary between life and death. For a second, no more than a foolish suggestion. Only when the ensuing gratuitous slurp reached his ears did he begin to have regrets.

Head on a swivel as the main method of atonement. Just like Dennis. And for perhaps the first time in his life, no one paid him any attention. The greater fixation was easily the outside world. No pair of eyes ever left. Not even for one side glimpse. Glasses lay full. Ice clinging on as dregs. Food losing its warmth. All without a care in the world. The outside world simply compelled with far too much strength. Its power too constant. Always attracting undivided attention without fail.

No one ever said it was the nature which kept Singapore’s proletariat fixated. For upon each desk, right at its heart, lay a luminous computer screen with its own pair of eyes. Fresh attention on their tasks was unheard of. Yet it was always demanded from every pair. Sitting bolt upright. Never once flinching. If each worker were to wear a blindfold, it would appear the most efficient workforce in the world. Yet the truth their faces displayed betrayed it all. Made his zombie workers look positively jovial. A few drooped for a second. But only for a second. Back up in a terrified expression. Back to work. Nothing else. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed.

Him and Ericka alone in their smiles. Their glasses going empty while ice still had its form in cubes. Their watch of a city resolute in growing darkness. At least liking to appear as such.

“I’ve already ordered a fish and chips and some breadcrumbed chicken goujons for us to share, complete with a selection of sauces including tempura and tartare. How about you?”

No thought reached his mind, let alone his tongue, for a sizeable moment. Expertise always took a great deal of time to be re-routed. He was meant to be asking the questions. Giving the recommendations. Building an empire of it over waves and waves of different people with, at heart, the same desires. It would have to take some getting used to. His mistake for certain. Chiefly in not preparing for it sooner. A menu in his hands he didn’t know off by heart? That he had to navigate from scratch? Now he really had seen it all. His hands numbed round it, and slithered off the paper for a second, as if he was holding some alien newborn. Already his eyes scoured for eyeballs, pickled liver, scream cheese. Something of normality to ground him. Nothing.

Yet he looked up, and realised. Maybe that was no bad thing.

“I will have whatever you suggest.” he responded softly.

Ericka gave a humoured smile. “Good answer.”

One look around was not enough to dampen the flutter he couldn’t hope to avoid with her. If they were to be the only ones happy here then so be it. All the same, it echoed those secretive walks through the East End to finally cuddle beloved Marth. Quench a thirst ruling him for what seemed like an age. The only time he wished he had someone else’s power, like Griffin’s. Though not out of shame. No. Nothing lay further from the truth then. And, he was proud to say, few things were further now. At one with the expanse of lights. Treats to the eyes while his mouth eagerly awaited the next display. A cloud-like sensation forming under, inside his head by the second. A flicker in her smile he glimpsed just then? Probably no more than the alcohol. Treating humans with suspicion-it did no more than locking yourself in a cupboard from all the world and purposely forgetting food or water.

Though you wouldn’t know that when the next new customer walked in. At once both looked at him as they looked at Syon. Any preconceptions hidden under haphazard disguise of an open mind. For the main thing at least Ericka noticed about him, first and foremost, was his dark skin. The fact he was in a wheelchair came a close second. The massive gash right through his eye, from the hairline down to a nose skewed left, was where it concluded. By then it was too late for a massive afro full of character to make any amends in the majority’s eyes. He wasn’t from here. And in any eyes which dared, even for a second, to look up from their computers, they held him accountable. Grief could quickly harden to anger, as lava did to impenetrable rock. Mavis would note, Dracula realised, that he should know that all too well.
Their waitress was a thin woman. Looking more like a ghost with the tattered black dress that hung limp in the wind. Their food came down with half a clatter. Off she vanished again. If those were fangs he spotted, a lot of effort had been fruitless. And evidently no love lost with Ericka.

“Is that man okay?” His body lowered his voice to a whisper before any brain cell affirmed it. Principle said no. But principle was only ever theory.

“He’ll be fine.” Ericka murmured, her own eyes fighting between a plate of fish and that talon-like gash. Knife and fork quick to administer a distraction. Meanwhile the sprawling skies became as much of a backdrop as all others saw it. Indeed, the man paid little more attention outside the bar. Almost out of instinct, over he wheeled to the darkest corner, with no table. Speaking only when spoken to. No beer sent gratuitously.

“Kiasu.” the ghostly waitress spat under her breath as she drew away from him.

His instinct grew tender and childlike now. Begging and pleading to take the man in. Offer him a room. A place with a view if he desired it. Room service at no extra charge. Though common sense, reading the room, soon thought better of it. Only contradictions came when he thought further of it. Yet some overarching knowledge, higher than all else, told him to shut up and poke at his fish. Let the succulence transport you somewhere else. And finish on Ericka’s sweet, tender, crimson-lipped face akin to Aphrodite herself.

So the king of monsters, the master of supernatural common sense, was of course powerless to anything but just that. Strange how a few years ago, when a human first became the subject of a Dracula’s impulses, he drew the conclusion that love made you do dangerous and irrational things. But consider the past. Consider the future.

And it all became oh so predictable.

Most of what Mavis carried home as spoils of her campaign that evening were carried in Johnny’s hands. Finally there had been something to tease her appetite. Beyond Johnny himself, of course. Now she had to concede that. When his plan, or lack thereof, was finally paying off. When rolling with it rolled perks into their laps. Since when did humans ever let her down? And she thought monsters were moving with the times. Every colour bursting out of buildings. Every display of the wildest and wackiest art. Different styles in a constant fight tooth and nail for space. She had no idea.

Nevertheless, when she’d envisioned the world, she’d seen its inhabitants as happier. Happier to see others. Happier in the way they walked. The way they’d let another person cross the street. Everything they did seemed to carry no small degree of weight. Invisible. Yet tied irreparably to their limbs. To all actions. The only emotion she saw bubbled in their eyes for a few seconds at most. Directed with muted dark energy at a passing sea monster or someone else who didn’t look like them. The latter few and far between. Johnny, too, carried a degree of animosity in their reactions wherever they trudged, endless trinkets of self-indulgence in his arms. Though more muted than what Syon inflicted without even looking at them. Though he at least didn’t seem to get as thrown off base as she’d been. He merely kept his head down. One foot in front of the other. Even a smile flickered across his face as he took his own time to admire the billboards.

So this is what humans had focused on all these years. Building higher and higher. A far cry of the peasant farmers her father had recalled in terror. No need for pitchforks anymore. If nothing else, their own houses lit up the sky easily. Horses of old were gone too. Instead a series of motorbikes exploded past. Blink and you’d miss them. An odd sense of pride crept into her as she noted the ponytails tossing and turning on most leading the pack. The v-finger of one tailing a call to arms. Not least the fact they were the first of such an exotic species she’d ever seen. An effect of an imprisoned childhood? Not likely. Several male bikers had zipped past her in Birmingham. On the way to discover Johnny’s crime. Not a care in the world for all the women left behind.

Guess it was time to meet her sister again, then. There goes talking to dad before anyone else. Those uncannily similar eyes, cheeks, fangs. An attractive reflection in a mirror the ugliest realisation ever. Forty years older never looked so much shorter. So damning. She provided nice enough company. And would again gladly give helpful eyes and a listening ear. No question.

But, unavoidably, then came the questions. Once again the flurry of questions to him. To all the men in the world she ever knew and loved. What had she not known? What was she still in the dark about? And why? Why, why, why?

It was little comfort to stare at that ginger face once more, and feel that same flush of memories and weakness in her chest. To know that he felt the same way, and that’s what got them here.

Series this work belongs to:

  • Part 1 of The Gothic Cinematic Boo-niverse (GCB)


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  1. jeh517on Chapter 1Thu 11Apr 202401:28PM UTC

    I was wondering if you would like to write a Hotel Transylvania story request for me.

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    1. FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHighon Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202402:34AM UTC

      Hi jeh,
      I would love to do that! Please dm me on Insta-@kieranthenexoknight-to discuss word count and genres and pricing and the like. I have eight years of experience with Hotel Transylvania both as a fan and as someone who analyses it in rigorous detail, so as with all my works I can assure you that the result will be of very high quality!

      Just as a forewarning, I will not agree to make content that is targeted against any marginalised group or ethnic group. However, with a franchise such as Hotel Transylvania that has messages of equality and acceptance, I doubt that will be an issue!

      Looking forward to working with you,
      Kieran :)

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      1. jeh517on Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202403:06AM UTC

        That'll be great! But I don't have a Instagram name.

        It's a Hotel Transylvania adaptation of Disney's The Little Mermaid starring Mavis as Ariel and Johnny as Eric.

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        1. FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHighon Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202403:09AM UTC

          Cool, I can easily work with that-maybe have Ericka or Bela as Ursula. How many words are we talking approximately? I am gonna be busy over the next few months as I have my A-Levels, which I am gonna have to concentrate on if I want to get into Leeds.

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          1. jeh517on Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202403:16AM UTC


            Will either Ericka or Bela be the perfect choice for the role of Ursula?

            How many words do you think the story should have?

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            1. FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHighon Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202403:41AM UTC

              My gut feeling is between 40-75k. This will allow for snappy pacing but also really flesh out the story and locations, something I always take care to do. I don't know yet if Ericka or Bela would be the perfect choice for the role of Ursula, now that I think about it Bela may work better as Flotsam/Jetsam while the witch cleaners work best as Ursula, revolting against Dracula because of low pay or something. Idk, I need to actually watch this thing first.

              Settings will be Transylvania and Whitby in North Yorkshire, as that is where Dracula first landed to taste more humans. Might give Johnny a Yorkshire accent just for the lols. I will probably need to make him not a prince in this case-maybe the son of a billionaire having fun at the Whitby Goth Festival or something. But rest assured, he will be rich and handsome and all the rest of it.

              My price is 5p per word, whereas other writers in my expertise level would charge 10 cents, or 8p. This means this work will cost at least £2,000, but won't cost more than £3,750. This may be a lot of money, however I charge in three instalments. One when I begin the research phase (soon as tonight, once details of the work are finalised), one on the 11th June 2024 (my summer starts this day, so Ima need some cash for it), and one when everything is done and dusted. All paid through PayPal.

              This will take a while, because of exam season and because 40k words doesn't write itself. I imagine it should be ready around Halloween maybe, but we'll see. I am going to uni this year so I will be busy, but that's life. The fee from this will cover my rent for the first semester though, so massive love for that!

              I will also need your email address so as not to leak my financial data on AO3, and to send the finished product. All works have a project name, so I will call this one Project Penzance after the seaside town in Cornwall.

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              1. jeh517on Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202409:38AM UTC

                That price is way beyond my limit. Maybe I should try another person.

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                1. FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHighon Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202409:17PM UTC

                  Okay, my bad. 2 bags is a lot. So let's do this a different way.

                  Name your budget, and I promise not to charge you upwards of 65% of that budget.

                  You can go to another provider if you want, but it will come at several costs. Why would you go for a product of lower quality, less understanding of the original media, less research, less location knowledge-and one that takes longer to come out? Commission me for this product, and I will have it done by Halloween at the absolute latest, with quality that runs rings around any competition on AO3. I do many things, but breaking promises is not one of them.

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                  1. jeh517on Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202409:20PM UTC

                    How about $50 USA dollars? The highest I can do payment on.

                    I need to save up my money so I can buy gifts and presents for my parents and my best friend Rick Roman for Mother's Day,Father's Day,and Rick's birthday.

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                    1. FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHighon Chapter 1Sat 13Apr 202409:26PM UTC

                      I'll do it for $50. Do bear in mind that this is USD, and I'm from the UK, so for me this is £40. I hear the whole buying gifts thing, hope your friends and family love them and wishing a happy Mother's Day to your mother. Big up your mate Rick as well, hope he enjoys his gifts. Big up you as well for being such a kind friend.

                      Sure, let's get it! You wanna do this in instalments or all in one? If all in one, payment is due on the 11th June 2024 but if you want to pay up front and not have debt to worry about that's fine. Failure to pay on time will mean an accumulation of 1% interest for every day the fee goes unpaid. If you later decide to cancel, the cancellation fee is £10.

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                    2. (6 more comments in this thread)

Hotel Transylvania 3-Overtron Rising - FortheAlumni_ForMonsterHigh (2024)


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