[written by award winning author, Kaaron Warren]
I’ve recently been thinking more about vampires than I normally would, because I’m writing a story for a themed anthology.
Some of my early notes: Dead bodies drained of blood for needed blood supplies. I added the note Robin Cook, being fairly certain that the medical thriller writer has covered this.
Vampire sucks self-respect, self-esteem. I like the idea of this. Self-esteem is something to be envied and worked at; the idea of being able to steal it is quite attractive.
Vampire bats starve after two nights without blood, so they food share. I love the thought of altruistic vampires, looking out for each other in order to survive.
None of these carried on into the final story, but certainly helped in its development.
I’ve read a lot of vampire stories, and the best ones manage to work outside the standards of the genre.
The anthology I’ve read most often is ‘The Midnight People’ by Peter Haining. I’ve always loved his anthologies and dreamed of being in one.
There are a lot of great stories in this book. One of my favourite authors, E.F. Benson, has “And No Bird Sings”. I adore the Mapp and Lucia series, all thin veneer of civilization, lobster a la Riseholm and barely-concealed venom. Here’s Nigella’s recipe for the lobster! Lobster recipe.
And No Bird Sings sets up a beautiful place. You could be trapped there and imagine this was heaven if that’s your idea of it.
Oddness emerges; no birds are seen or heard. A deep sense of loneliness is evoked. A stillness. And a very, very odd sort of vampire.
Two other classic Benson vampire tales are “Mrs Amworth” and “The Room in the Tower”. The first I much admire, the second not so much.
“Mrs Amworth” again sets up an idyllic village, drawing the scent of flowers and perhaps scones to us. The gentle sound of the chirping laughter of village women and the labourers at work.
“Most of the inhabitants of Maxley never leave at all,” Benson says, injecting horror while pretending not to.
The story is similar in tone and description and characters to Mapp and Lucia, except for mention of the occult in which one of the characters take an interest.
A new inhabitant arrives; Mrs Amworth, recently widowed in India. Benson talks of her as a larger than life character, with youthful looks. His occult studier is both wary of and fascinated by the woman.
Biting gnats disturb the peace. These are blamed for the first near-death, a young man wasted away to a ‘skin-clad skeleton.’
Mrs Amworth is a traditional vampire; evil, greedy and scared of the light. She comes scratching at the window two storeys up, which reminded me of the vampires in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I hate things scratching at my window. One of my recurring nightmares is swirling mist at my window, faces sunk within it.
The Room in the Tower is a recurring nightmare story. I’m not a big fan of these, or any story based on a dream. It includes a blood-dripping painting and the creepy image of awful, mold-spattered woman at the end of the bed, but beyond that, this story does not have the power of character that “Mrs Amworth” does.
Other stories in ‘The Midnight People’ include “The True Story of Fritz Haarman, the Hanover Vampire” who did terrible things to children including drinking their blood, and whose brain was preserved for science.
There’s John Polidoris’ “The Vampyre”, discussed so beautifully by Tom English earlier in the month.
M.R. James gives us “An Episode of Cathedral History”. This author wrote one of my favourite short stories, “Man Size in Marble”. Just the name gives me chills.
August Derleth is represented by “Bat’s Belfry”. Haining says it displays “certain elementary mistakes which can be expected by any young writer.”
Richard Matheson’s “Drink My Blood” is as searing and scary as any Matheson story. It’s about Jules, who wants to be a vampire and is caught dissecting a kitten on his bed. On his bed! There’s one line which is curious to me, but perhaps my schooling was very different. He says, “The teachers all knew him by his first name.”
The anthology is like an historical record, tracing the development of the vampire in fiction.
I have a vampire story upcoming in Datlow and Windling’s Teeth anthology.