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Solemn faces stared as the box was lowered, further and further down into the hole; exactly six feet deep. It was a warm evening for autumn, and a few salty beads had formed on the foreheads of several silent mourners that stood in the churchyard; the air was humid and stale. The vicar breathed a few final words of prayer before dismissing the procession, and retired back inside the grey walls of the church, escaping the eerie silence that had descended. Few milled about before leaving the yard through the rusted iron gate, however two stayed a few moments longer. One held a hand over the hole, and released her grasp on a single red rose, and watched it float down and brush against the rough, splintered lid of the coffin. The other held his flat cap in silent respect, sweat gripping to his wispy, grey hair. The woman turned around to the man, looking into his eyes with an almost vacant expression. He opened his mouth to speak, but she turned and walked towards the flaking metal fence before he could utter a word, her eyes lowered. He looked down the hole once more before the gravediggers would fill it, their eyes fixated on him. The pair held grimacing smiles on their faces, edging closer to the hole, barely holding themselves back; they bared their teeth. With a shudder, the man turned and followed the woman out of the yard, his tweed jacket brushing against the dark rust of the gate.
He stepped onto the road and looked down the curving cobbles; grey, flat-fronted stone houses lined the street, with a single shop sign hanging from chains and blowing in the slight breeze outside the door of a two-storey building. The place was deserted. A fiery, blazing sunset glowed through the brazen sky, launching brilliant streaks of light over the village. The moorlands surrounding the community were ablaze with the beams erupting from the dying sun; the needles of the tall trees surrounding the parish glistened individually, swaying like a golden ocean of silk. He looked the other way to see the woman enter her house, and heard the forceful slam of the door behind her.
He placed his cap on his head and straightened it slightly before setting off down the street, towards the intense sunset. He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the light, and silhouetted against the brightness was Mrs Artisane, the parish vicar’s wife. She waddled along across the road, her hand-woven basket swaying as she walked.
“Evening, Ms Artisane,” he said, squinting. She raised her arm to say hello as she began to cross the street.
“Evening Albert,” she said, her stout frame approaching. “How is she?”
“She’s taking the whole ordeal as one would expect.”
“Shame, terrible shame it was.”
“I agree. Mrs Murphy was an exceptional woman, especially for taking on that boy on her own. I’m surprised her poor sister isn’t still in tears with the loss.”
“Yes, and that poor boy losing yet another carer. Even with his issues, this must be a hard blow to him.” Albert looked down the road as they walked, half lost in his thoughts. The sun sank lower into the moor, the bright orange sky now burning scarlet red.
“You know, Albert, I was thinking you could take in the boy as your own.”
“I’m sorry?” Albert asked, slightly startled as he re-entered the conversation.
“We both understand you aren’t getting any younger, and since Elizabeth passed…”
“My apologies. As I was saying, you have no children of your own, and the boy needs a carer.”
Albert said nothing, returning to his passive state once again.
After several seconds of silence, Albert said plainly, “I’ll consider it.” Victoria’s flat expression softened slightly, and she crossed the road again, hobbling home before the light faded completely.
The conversation rolled around in Albert’s head for several minutes as he continued down the road.
I’ll consider it.
Albert’s knuckles hit the oak door three times. No answer.
It was the next morning; Albert had taken a visit to the boy’s residence next to the small lake at the very top end of the parish, despite his previous reluctance. He waited, then knocked again—for the third time—and after sustained silence he turned to leave; however the shy click of the lock sounded and the door slowly creaked ajar to reveal a small, unkempt boy of roughly 13; his hair was matted and dark and his skin unnaturally pale. However, his eyes glowed a fiery orange, burning in their sockets.
“Iris?” Albert asked. The boy nodded once. “May I come in?” The door opened fully. Iris turned down the corridor without a word. Albert entered, closing the door behind him and soon realising how dark the short hallway was. He followed Iris to the only open door in the passage; all the others had padlocks on them. They reached a small living area, with two chairs underneath a window with the curtains closed, and a small stool in one corner. There was no carpet, and the wallpaper was peeling and damp.
“Hello, Iris, I’m Albert." Iris looked at Albert with a blank expression as he sat on the stool in the corner of the room. “Do you know me? I was a good friend of your parents,” he continued uneasily. Again, Iris nodded once.
“I’m sorry for the fate that befell them, and that of your succession of carers; I was at Mrs Murphy’s funeral yesterday.”
Iris remained silent.
“I understand you have nobody to take care of you from now until your adult years, and considering I will also have no company for the rest of my days, I was wondering, would you grant me the privilege of living with me until we can find you a more permanent solution?” Iris seemed to consider the proposition momentarily, before, once again, nodding a single time.
“Excellent.” Albert smiled. “Do you need time to pack your belongings?”
Iris shook his head.
Slightly surprised, Albert simply nodded, and then led Iris out of the room and down the corridor, where he quickly grabbed a cowl off a hook in the passage, and donning it before continuing out into the sharp morning air.
The streets were almost void of all life, save Albert and his mismatched companion. The pair couldn’t appear more incompatible; Albert’s cleanly shaven face and polished, bronze-framed spectacles clashed with the unruly mop of lustrous black hair that clung to Iris’ dirty face, all hidden under his dark headwear; the tailored tweed of Albert’s jacket cowered in the shadow of the oversized grey shirt and ragged trousers that Iris wore. A little way down the road, Albert slowed to a stop outside one of the small cottages that lined the street and reached into his pocket. He rummaged around for several seconds, a look of intense concentration on his face, before he pulled out a large iron key and slipped it into the lock of the door. It jammed and twitched in the lock before Albert wretched it out, cursing under his breath. He put the key back into his pocket and pulled out another, this one fitting the lock perfectly, and with a satisfying click Albert smiled and pushed the door open, motioning for Iris to enter first.
Albert closed the door and hung his flat cap and jacket on the hat rack, beaming. However, Iris’ expression was less than impressed; his blank face changed little when questioned by Albert.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. He was met with silence and a flat expression, neither happy nor sad. “Do you want something to eat?”
Before Albert could question him further, Iris turned down the corridor and into one of the rooms at the end, still darkened inside by the drawn curtains. Albert sighed as the door slammed shut. He walked to the kitchen and lit the stove, before preparing a vegetable soup and waiting for it to cook. Once done, he portioned it into two bowls; he set one in front of Iris’ door, knocked twice, and walked back to the kitchen. On the way, he noticed the grainy portrait of Elizabeth and he hanging in the corridor. He stood briefly, looking deep into the oily eyes of his wife, her half-smile saddening him somewhat. He continued to the kitchen, sat down at the table in silence, and ate alone; the chair opposite him remained empty.
After clearing away his bowl, Albert pottered around for some time doing chores; by midday his cottage was spotless, the pillows fluffed, bed made and curtains drawn open in every room. Sunlight poured in through all the windows, except Iris’ self-proclaimed hovel. Several times, Albert had attempted to enter the room—always knocking first—but it remained locked, even when he called for Iris to unlock it.
He’s probably just shaken up.
The vegetable soup remained untouched.
Albert left it where it was and returned to the kitchen, sitting down at the table and gazing out of the window, looking over the moor. The sun glared in on him through the thick-cut glass as it resided high in the sky, claiming its throne in the heavens, painting glowing streaks of light onto the heather. However, clouds soon began to roll in from all sides, and started to block out the sun, bleeding it of its glory. Albert resolved to go for a short afternoon walk before it started to rain in order to clear his head, as well as pick up several things from Junior’s, the local general trader. He grabbed his flat cap and jacket from the hat rack in the entranceway to his cottage, calling back to Iris that he was going for a short walk and asked if he wished to join him. This was met, expectedly, with silence. Albert sighed as he left the cottage, locking the door behind him and setting off down the deserted street.
Several hours later Albert returned home; the sky had darkened, and tiny droplets of rain began to splash on the uneven cobbled road. He placed down the basket he carried his goods in—a dark coloured jacket included—and raked around in his pocket for the key to his cottage. However, he stopped in confusion as he realised the curtains at the front of his cottage that were previously open were now drawn tightly, as were all the others. He rounded the corner after checking the rest of the windows and pulled out his key to unlock the door. As he went inside, the rain fell heavier and the wind picked up, slamming the door shut behind him. Albert placed his basket and keys down on the ground and took his hat and coat off, almost tripping over the hat stand in the total darkness.
“Iris?” he called out.
There was no response.
Albert took a couple steps towards the window but banged his leg, cursing under his breath. He reached the window and pulled at the curtains, but the rail had been tampered with; they were trapped shut. He heard the click of the lock and swung round to where the door would be, but saw nothing in the pitch black.
“Iris?” he asked again.
The rain now battered the windows, hammering on the glass. However, amidst the sound, Albert heard quick footsteps moving around the cottage, seemingly getting closer. He turned again, panicking, trying to adjust to the darkness. Thunder cracked like a whip, and then everything went quiet. Time seemed to slow as Albert held his breath for a second, before a sharp, burning pain erupted in his abdomen. He gasped as he fell to the floor, feeling the blood pour from the wound.
“Foolish old man.” As he turned over, two orange eyes glowed in the darkness as the boy kneeled down.
As he blacked out, Albert hardly felt Iris plunge his fangs deep into the dry skin of his neck.