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Authors: Janine Ashbless

Red Grow the Roses

BOOK: Red Grow the Roses
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Janine Ashbless



to Adam Nevill,
who let me be the exception.


I'll sing you Ten-O,

Green grow the rushes-O!

What is your Ten-O?

Ten for the Ten Commandments:

Nine for the Nine Bright Shiners:

Eight for the April Rainers:

Seven for the Seven Stars in the Sky:

Six for the Six Proud Walkers:

Five for the Symbols at your Door:

Four for the Gospel Makers:

Three, Three the Rivals:

Two, Two the Lily-White Boys, clothèd all in green-O.

One is One and all alone

And ever more shall be so.

(Folk song)

There is a City. Maybe you live there: eight million people do. Maybe you've visited it. Maybe you've only heard of it. It's an ancient place, founded by the Romans on a marshy floodplain watered by a great tidal river. Its foundations go deep into the sucking mud of history. But these days its population is young, its faces diverse. More than three hundred languages are spoken in its schools and malls and streets. Proud new buildings are hatched among the husks of ancient architecture.

There is only one person left who still remembers the rushes and the bog myrtle and the wild ducks in what is now the heart of the City. And she is not a living person, not in any real sense.

Come to the City. Take photos of the famous landmarks on your cell phone. Shop for designer clothes and tourist tat. Walk the frantic streets of the theatre district at night. What will you see, there in the neon dark? Is that shadow behind you someone following? Is that reflection in a plate-glass window horribly distorted, or horribly accurate? Are those eyes that watch from the night even human? They must be, surely. He looks like a man – though his eyes reflect the dimmest of lights in crimson circles.

Maybe you'll be lucky. Maybe he's not human. Maybe he'll take you in his arms and you'll feel his strength – a strength that makes it impossible to fight him, even if you did want to. But you've already lost the will to resist, that moment when he looked into your eyes and showed you all his hunger and his promise. You knew then. You knew, quite suddenly, that this is what you are for – what we are all for – with our warm beating hearts and our aching sexual needs.

We are for them.

He'll hold you like a lover. You'll feel his breath on your throat and think to yourself: it's so cold! His fingers will be cold too – cold on your puckering nipples, chill as they slide between your legs and inside you. Perhaps he'll rip your clothes as he works them off; his nails are sharper than they look. No matter: it's not as if you'll have much use for them afterwards. His hard cock will seem startlingly cold, as cold as glass chilled in ice-water, as it presses into you. You'll feel your body yielding to him just as eagerly as your will did, all your hot secret places opening to his gelid insistence. Then he'll enter you, and your flesh will be impaled inexorably on that brutal length. For a moment he might only fuck you. He'll wait for your cries, thrilling to the noises that burst from your throat as he rides you. It's not for your sake but for his, since anticipation sharpens his pleasure. When his teeth first shear through your flesh the pain will make you panic – but only for a second. After that there will be no more pain, only desire. His and yours, as you feed ravenously upon each other, frantic to be filled.

In the morning they will find you limp and drained, the splashes of your spilt blood scattered on you and about you like fallen rose petals.

There are no rushes growing around here any more. But in this City there are always roses.

1: Ten for the Ten Commandments

Sophie met the vampire while speed-dating.

There were twenty numbers printed on the paper, each with a tick-box next to it. So far Sophie had ticked two, slightly reluctantly, and she wasn't all that sure about Number Eight: he'd had an annoying laugh that ended in a snort each time. It was a good thing, she told herself, that this wasn't a professional event, just a charity do put on by their regular bar in aid of some cancer relief charity. She and Netta had only paid a tenner each to enter.

And oh, boy, are we getting our money's worth, she thought, suppressing the urge to giggle.

‘I've got a classic MG that I'm doing up myself in my garage,' said Number Nineteen hopefully. ‘I've just had the new front wing sprayed British Racing Green.'

This meant nothing at all to Sophie. She stole a glance sideways at Netta, perched just like her on a high barstool at one of those teeny little round tables you could never quite fit all your glasses on, her legs crossed, her foot twitching sharply as she listened to a beaky-nosed man talk. They had five minutes with each guy and this time it had turned out to be four minutes and fifty seconds longer than she needed to decide No. ‘Really?' Sophie said.

Luckily, that was the moment the host by the bar picked up the wineglass he was using as a signal and tapped it with his pen. As the ringing died away all the men at the tables stood and started to move on.

Last one, thought Sophie.

‘It was nice meeting you,' said Number Nineteen with gallant desperation.

‘And you,' she said cheerily. No call to be rude, was there? He wasn't going to be getting a tick though. He wasn't going to be getting hold of her name or her e-mail address.

She was still looking down at her slip of paper in despair when the last of her ‘dates' sat down in front of her, saying, ‘Hi.'

‘Hi.' Then, looking up, Sophie thought: Oh … wow.

Maybe this was going to be worth doing after all. Number Twenty was easily the best-looking man of the evening. He was one of those scruffy stubbly dark-blond types with hair and skin sun-kissed to nearly the same colour, and rather thick eyebrows. She liked that outdoorsy look. His athletic build was well displayed by a white T-shirt. He grinned at her, an open easy grin. ‘You having fun?'

I am now, she thought, but said out loud, ‘It's … different. I've never tried speed-dating before.' What lovely eyes he had, she noted: brown, but flecked with gold. All the patter honed by repetition over the evening suddenly deserted her and she realised she was staring. To cover her unexpected awkwardness she took a sip of her vodka and orange, then berated herself inwardly for wasting time.

‘So.' He put his hands on the table. Blunt hands with clean square nails, and a silver thumb-ring on the right. ‘Tell me about yourself.'

OK, so he wasn't exactly bursting with originality either. It gave Sophie a little confidence back. ‘I work at an art gallery in town,' she said. ‘A commercial one, not high art or anything – and I'm just an assistant – but I want to run my own gallery one day. I like hanging out with friends and going out on the town …' She ground to a halt as she realised she was being obvious and dull. ‘What about you?'

He just sat and looked at her with his face almost alight, like he was full of sunshine. She could imagine him climbing a mountain or white-water-rafting or hitchhiking around Asia. ‘Me?'

‘You. You're supposed to say something interesting,' she reminded him.

‘Oh. All right then. I'm a vampire.'

She had, she thought, never met anyone who looked less like a vampire. ‘As chat-up lines go,' she said, a little acid now, ‘that's better than “I'm a serial killer.” But, you know, a bit worse than “I'm a big
Star Trek


‘You could try it in the Fox and Grapes though. They have a Goth Night on a Wednesday, I think.'

‘I'll remember that.' His brow furrowed humbly, but he grinned.

‘And to be honest,' she said pointing at him, ‘even if I wanted to be impressed, that's just not vampire at all.'


‘Your teeth. Unconvincing. Where's the fangs?'


‘Really?' She was actually enjoying herself now. He didn't seem at all put off by her sarcasm.

‘Of course. Otherwise we'd be lisping and drooling all over the place.'


‘Hold on. I'll just …' He pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose back and forth as if something were stuck in his teeth. Then he peeled back his lips and opened his mouth. He had fangs this time: translucent as Chinese rice porcelain, sharp as thorns.

‘OK,' she admitted. ‘That's quite impressive. And … different.'

He shut his mouth and flashed his eyebrows in a smile, vindicated.

‘Did you show that to all the girls?' Sophie turned to the table at her right. ‘Hey, Netta, did you get a look at these?'

Netta looked startled to be interrupted. ‘At what?'

But when Sophie glanced back, Number Twenty was gone. ‘I … uh …'

Gone. Completely gone. Sophie's eyes searched the room. There were plenty of people in buying drinks, apart from those engaged in the speed-dating, but none of them looked like him. Sophie bit her lip. She didn't understand where he could have disappeared to; she had barely looked away from him. She supposed that if he'd leapt up and hand-sprung backwards he could have jumped over the bar itself in time, but that was a bit too Ninja-like to be actually believable. She got up from her stool anyway, and walked over to the bar to check for herself. He wasn't hiding down among the glasses and the plastic crates.

‘Weird,' she said.

It was another three minutes before the last round of the speed-dating was over. They were the longest, most awkward three minutes of her life, but at last the chime was sounded and all the couples broke up and she was able to make a beeline for Netta.

‘Did you see where he went?'


‘The guy with me. Number Twenty … well, he would have been your Number Nineteen. The really good-looking one.'

Netta frowned. ‘Really good-looking? You sure?'

‘Oh, come on! Blondish, white shirt … nice
.' She was even more confused now.

‘Uh, no.' Netta looked down at her tick-sheet. ‘I didn't mark him down anyway. I can't really remember him, to be honest. There were so many guys, I suppose, Sophie: you just stop noticing after a while.'

Sophie passed her hand over her face. ‘Can we get out of here?' It was the state of her own mind that was worrying her, but she tried to hide it. ‘I'm scared the one with the bad breath is going to try and carry on our chat.'

‘You're not going to hand your sheet in?'

The piece of paper had grown damp in her hand, she realised. She crumpled it up. ‘No. I didn't fancy any of them, really.'

BOOK: Red Grow the Roses
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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