Jason Haynes made sense of his world through empirical logic and an undeterred line of literal inquiry.
He sat alone in the staff break room at the hospital in the middle of his nightshift, poring restlessly over the musty volume in front of him, eyes methodically scanning the ancient manuscript in relentless search of the evidence to prove his increasingly likely, if somewhat bizarre, hypothesis.
He knew that Auntie Serena had not been herself lately.
Although she denied being a creature of habit, she certainly was never one to be late up in the morning like she had been for the past three days. Jason had a feeling that she hadn’t been to work in a while either, despite her name being clearly omnipresent on the AAU rota for the week.
Allan was still in recovery from his stroke and due to Auntie Serena also being ill, she had rung the care agency to make the necessary arrangements for cover. Jason’s morning visit had been covered for the last three days by a new carer, Michelle. She made horribly milky tea, didn’t spread the butter to the corners of toast and spoke in an unnecessarily patronising manner that meant that Jason had initially struggled to find a bird analogy for her. He had, after much deliberation, decided that she was a screeching seagull who pounced upon abandoned scraps of food the minute he had set his cutlery down upon the plate. He didn’t like seagulls after losing a perfectly good ice cream cornet to one as a child on a day trip to the seaside.
His aunt had been mostly bed-bound of late and when she had briefly emerged from the shadows of her darkened bedroom, her ashen skin also been covered in a sheen of cold sweat with visibly trembling hands. Her usually bright eyes were dull and ringed with circles so dark that they resembled bruising. Food had sat uneaten and collecting mould in the fridge, including the meticulously divided portions of spaghetti bolognaise and fish pie that Jason had thoughtfully left in labelled Tupperware boxes for her.
She had brushed his concerned inquiries and perfectly brewed mug of tea away with a characteristic briskness, claiming her indisposition to merely be the results of a particularly nasty viral infection, but having checked the relevant symptoms and conspicuous lack of self-prescribed medication, Jason concluded that she had been lying to him.
But why had she felt the need to lie?
Dark eyes stared unblinkingly at the mottled page in front of him through rimless spectacles. A nervous pulse quickened in the side of his neck. His breathing started to become more erratic as his hands began to clench and unclench agitatedly in his lap.
“Jason love, are you alright?” a concerned hand placed itself gently upon his shoulder.
He started anxiously and slammed the offending book shut with a noisy thud which echoed around the confines of the small room.
“Ancient European Creatures and Folklore,” Berenice Wolfe craned her neck and peered out from beneath her long fringe. “Didn’t have you down as a mythology person, Jason. Is this a new project?”
Jason shook his head slightly, a perplexed frown gracing his features.
“I’m not normally.” He offered quietly. “But I think it’s the only logical explanation.”
“To what, Jason?” Bernie said gently as she drew out the chair next to him and sat down.
“Auntie Serena is a vampire,” he offered after a long pause. “At least, I think she might be.”
“I’m sorry?” Bernie’s eyes squinted in confusion. “I know that she’s been off sick for a few days, but…”
“So how else would you explain the aversion to sunlight and food, exceedingly pale skin, sleeplessness, not wanting to leave the house and general evasiveness about her whereabouts during the last 72 hours?” his voice was rising in panic now. “If she had become a member of the undead, don’t you think she should have told me?”
“Well, it’s just that vampires–”
“Don’t exist?” Jason cut breathlessly through Bernie’s careful interjection. “But–”
Bernie’s pager chose that moment to cut through the awkward silence.
“Trauma call. I’ve got to run Jason, I’m sorry.” She looked back apologetically as her long legs carried her briskly towards the door. “I’m due a break later on, perhaps you could come and find me then?”
Her mind was racing with incredulous questions as she swept down the long AAU corridor. Since her rather acrimonious divorce proceedings with Marcus, Serena had proven herself to be a loyal friend and confidant. The sort of person who caused a warm fuzzy feeling to stir in her stomach whenever she was around her. The sort of strong, supportive friendship between equals that Bernie had so rarely experienced in either her professional or private life. She had found herself relaxing into civilian life of late, relishing the challenge of getting the trauma unit up and running, getting to know her band of AAU comrades, going toe to toe with some of the very best surgeons in the country and pushing each other to achieve their very best. Retiring to Albies after a long shift to work their way through the bars wine reserves, Serena’s hand resting familiarly on her arm as she laughed unreservedly at one of Bernie’s army anecdotes, a potent cocktail of mischief and intrigue sparkling fondly in her dark eyes.
Until Bernie had ruined things and kissed her.
Since agreeing to keep things strictly to theatre, they had barely spoken, or kept a safe distance whenever they had had to share the confines of the same lift or operating theatre.
And now, it seemed that Serena was doing everything she could to avoid working on the same shifts as her. Her texts remained unanswered, calls ringing out to voicemail. It was almost as if her co-lead had vanished off the face of the earth.
“Right, what have we got?” her brusque voice cut through the air and a flurry of blue scrubs swarmed into the awaiting trauma bay.
“Unidentified male, late fifties as an approximate age. Severe lacerations and deep puncture wounds to the neck from an unknown impact. Significant blood loss, wounds aren’t clotting too well but looks as if basic first aid has been administered. Unconscious upon arrival at the ED in the ambulance. GCS of–”
“Police and paramedics are baffled; he was found on the side of a road by a member of the public.” Raf muttered grimly as he stepped into the bay next to Bernie. “Typical that we get a mysterious attacker on the loose in the city the week that half of our ward staff are off sick. Probably some kids playing some sort of twisted Halloween joke.”
“Robbie?” Bernie interjected, her insides performing an icy roll as she remembered Jason’s theorising.
A quiet moan to the affirmative from the prone man in front of her provided an effective means of identification.
“The patient is Mr Robert Medcalf, recently retired from the Holby constabulary.” Bernie confirmed quietly to her team who set about retrieving relevant records.
“Robbie, can you tell us what happened?” Bernie donned a pair of surgical gloves and quickly began to examine the gaping holes in the side of the shocked man’s neck. “Did you fall?”
The briefest of head shakes.
“Did you hit your head?”
A delirious mumble escaped from between dry lips in a faint hiss.
A tang of alcohol hit Bernie squarely in the nostrils.
“Hmm… definitely a little the worse for wear.” Raf took a sensitive sniff. “Was he holding those when he came in?” he quirked his head in interest.
His observant eyes had picked out the battered remnants of a crushed bunch of red roses in one hand and a tightly balled fist of what appeared to be some sort of elasticated fabric clutched tightly in the other fist.
“Interesting choice of underwear…” he raised a curious eyebrow but remained the consummate professional.
“Let’s just focus on the task in hand, shall we?” Bernie had finished her assessment.
“No obvious vascular or muscular compromise, fast scans all clear. He’s been extremely lucky. 1000mg of tranexamic acid to promote some clotting and we’ll work on suturing the wounds. Hourly obs to follow up for the rest of the night and we’ll review in the morning unless we have any unexpected deterioration, in which case page me immediately. Mr De Luca, would you take over?” she removed her gloves and disposable apron with an elasticated snap.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Raf muttered as he moved to change positions with Bernie. “Not deep enough for a screwdriver or anything like that. Incredibly lucky that none of the punctures have created life-threatening injuries. It’s almost as if the attacker knew what they were doing…”
Bernie’s head was reeling as she stepped through the plastic flaps and out into the dimmed light of the ward.
Were those bite marks??
Any thoughts of Serena, vampiric or otherwise, were kept firmly at bay as a steady flood of drunken Halloween party injuries came piling through onto the ward over the next few hours.
It was only as Bernie was blearily making her way out through the entrance foyer towards her awaiting car and the tempting promise of several hours of unbroken sleep that she was accosted once again by Jason.
“Ms Wolfe, wait!” an insistent voice cut through her dazed thoughts and a mouldering page thrust impatiently in front of her. “At least read what evidence there is to support this theory, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. I’m sorry that it seems so bizarre.”
A small smile tugged at the side of Bernie’s lips as she took in Jason’s earnest expression.
“I know that it seems ridiculously improbable, even medically impossible,” he continued, pushing up his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, “but I have exhausted all other modes of logical inquiry and have had to make a start on the more unlikely causes. At first I thought it was just a virus, but the other symptoms didn’t seem to fit. Even a really bad hangover couldn’t last five days, not with Auntie Serena’s level of tolerance for alcohol. And she’s being so evasiveabout everything, much more than she would if she was just simply ill...”
The following evening:
It was with inexplicable trepidation that Bernie Wolfe found herself driving through the swirling mists that lined the streets of the Lenton district of Holby on the eve of Halloween. Shrieks of excited partygoers were swallowed within the dense fog, intermittent spectre-like figures dancing in the ghostly miasma which was occasionally illuminated by the weak glimmer of a lone streetlight.
Jason had arranged to go and visit Allan for the night to catch up on several weeks’ worth of recorded episodes of University Challenge with an accompanying plate of fish and chips, under the strict provision that Michelle the seagull would be along to check in with him in the morning.
It wasn’t that she had suddenly decided to abandon years of professional judgment and acknowledge the existence of the supernatural, she thought to herself as she drummed her fingers absentmindedly on the edges of the leather steering wheel, but something was telling her on an instinctive level that Serena needed her, regardless of the self-imposed barrier that had been separating them for the last few weeks.
The little Mazda MX-5 wound through the deserted moonlight maze of suburbia until eventually it swept left through the hedgerow flanked gateway onto the drive of Serena’s house.
The house was in total darkness, not even the slightest flickering chink of light was present from between the drawn curtains which masked both floors from view.
“Serena?” Bernie tapped gently on the front door and called through the letterbox, “Serena, are you there?”
“Are you alright?” her voice quavered slightly as her imagination ran uncharacteristically wild.
A slight rustle from the bushes behind her caused her to flinch and instinctively crouch back into the protective shadows offered by the porch way.
“Bernie?” a hoarse voice whispered quietly through the letterbox above her, “Is that you?”
“Serena?” Bernie breathed straightening up and relaxing with a faint chuckle of relief. “I just came over to see if you were alright…I saw Jason at work last night and he mentioned that–”
“Oh no, it’s nothing,” an unnaturally high-pitched denial came instantly from the other side of the door, “He’s just a bit thrown by the change in routine, that’s all. I’m absolutely fine. Well, I’m not actually. I–, I just don’t really think it’s a very good idea for me to be in contact with anyone at the moment…” the last sentence flew out in a rush as her voice was became more and more brittle and panicked, as if fighting back the urge to burst into tears.
“Serena?” Bernie squinted through the glass at the darkened figure that stood anxiously fidgeting with the necklace that hung around her neck. She had never seen her usually unflappable colleague in such a state. Apart from the fateful day that they had broken apart from their kiss when the rude arrival of the cleaning staff outside of the theatre had shattered the magical reverie that had fallen over the two women. Serena had gazed wide-eyed back at her kiss-swollen lips with an expression lingering between want and fear, her chest still heaving with arousal as she scrambled clumsily to her feet and made a bolt for the door.
“Serena, let me in. Perhaps I could–”
“No!” the rebuff was instant, almost frightened now. “Please, Bernie. I–” the sound of a sob being choked back was enough for Bernie to ignore the verbal warning and drop to the floor, rummaging for the spare key that she knew to be hidden beneath a nearby flowerpot.
“No, you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to stop right there!” The shadowy figure backed away from the other side of the glass as Bernie inserted the key into the lock. “Bernie, I–”
There was an audible gasp as Bernie stepped into the darkened hallway and clicked on the light.
“Get away…” an unfamiliar hiss punctuated the air as light seeped into the murky space.
Shielding her eyes from the sudden glare of the bulb, she saw the crouched outline of her elusive co-lead. Except that this Serena was a deathly white and clutching fearfully onto the wall behind her, as if in a frantic bid to keep herself from rushing towards Bernie. In addition to her deathly pallor, Serena’s face and hands also seemed to be streaked with a dark sanguineous liquid that looked a lot like…
“Blood!” choked Bernie in disbelief. “Serena, what on earth?”
It seemed to be taking every ounce of self-control that the other woman possessed not to launch herself straight upon her.
“Bernie… get away… now!” a quiet snarl from between gritted teeth. “It’s all pheromones... soon you won’t be able to run away even if you want to.” The Jekyll-esque pleas were swiftly replaced by a Hyde-ian sneer as a glassy crimson sheen slid eerily across her eyes. A positively feral look contorted her face into a demonic smirk, “I can’t always control myself…”
The brunette flinched and shook her head firmly as if to try and jolt herself awake, her eyes lightening again. “It…it’s… you smell an awful lot like food…” a frightened whimper came from opposite.
Bernie watched dumbstruck as a pair of razor-sharp elongated canines extricated themselves dangerously from Serena’s upper jaw; fangs bared in a clear threat.
“Run, now. I don’t want to hurt you…” a soft plea as Serena’s tongue darted hungrily across her lips.
But Bernie stood transfixed, her feet rooted stubbornly to the floor.
“No, Serena. You’re not going to hurt me.” She added calmly, taking a cautious step towards the snarling vampiress. “I trust you.”
Another tentative step. “We’re equals, remember?”
A terrified nod from Serena as she took a shuddering gasp, each word seeming to cost her dearly as she clutched at the wall with white knuckles. “There…there’s a bottle in the kitchen… should help stop…”
“Right, I’m going to go and get that bottle. I want you to just wait there. Keep focused on breathing, staying still… anything that it takes. I promise I’ll be as quick as I can.”
A short nod to the affirmative allowed Bernie to slide past and hurry along the hallway towards the kitchen. Several recycled Shiraz bottles, each containing a sticky residue, lined the spotless counters. A quick sniff of the metallic-smelling liquid was enough to confirm her suspicions; a familiar odour to any practising surgeon.
Whose blood though?...
“Here,” Bernie offered dazedly. It felt as if she was walking through the midst of a particularly bizarre dream as held the half-empty bottle out at arm’s length and watched as Serena’s dark eyes slid out of focus once more.
A hand shot out and whipped the vessel away at such speed that Bernie didn’t even register it leaving her hand. Instead, she stood captivated by the grotesque, macabre sight of Serena Campbell, consultant vascular surgeon, co-lead of AAU, her best friend in the entire world–and hopefully more, her love-struck subconscious reminded her– guzzling blood greedily from a wine bottle, little sticky ruby trails oozing down her chin as she drank ravenously from the upended flask. Appetite eventually sated, Serena re-emerged as her fangs retracted and she wiped the remaining specks of blood away from her mouth with the back of her hand.
“I think I owe you a bit of an explanation…” she offered as sheepishly as it was possible to manage when doused in the drying, crusted remnants of several pints of O positive.
“You reckon?” Bernie heard herself reply hoarsely. There’s an explanation as to why I suddenly resemble an all-you-can-eat buffet to you?! She dearly would have loved to add, but sensed that this was neither the time nor place given the look of utmost distress on Serena’s face.
There were little crescent moon shapes embedded in Bernie’s palms from where she had evidently been clutching her hands into fists and pushing her short nails into the soft flesh. It had been pure adrenaline and military instincts that had kept her upright for the last fifteen minutes, but her shoulders sagged with relief at the realisation of the danger that she had been in, and that she could still very well be in.
“Let me just… a bit.” Serena couldn’t meet her eyes as she gesticulated aimlessly at her bloodied complexion and clothing.
Fighting the prevailing urge to flee into the night at top speed and attempting to find a way from waking from the nightmare that she was clearly inhabiting, Bernie moved into the living room and sank heavily into the awaiting cushions of the luxurious couch as footsteps from the floor above mirrored Serena’s movements around her bedroom.
Eventually Serena returned, clad in soft black and grey pyjamas, her face freshly-scrubbed and glistening with the damp residue of a hurried shower. Her eyes refused to lift from above carpet level and she was twisting her hands as nervously as Jason did when he knew himself to be in the wrong.
Mortified. A million miles away from the blood-crazed, demonic alter-ego who would have happily severed her neck just mere moments beforehand.
Bizarrely, Bernie thought that Serena had rarely looked more adorable.
“So, the whole vampire thing… fairly recent transformation?” she attempted a gentle smile and was horrified as Serena burst into tears.
“Oh Serena,” Bernie rose to her feet and placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder and was relieved when she wasn’t rebuffed, “It’s ok, nothing happened...”
“I could have killed you!” came the bleary snuffle from the other woman.
“Yes, well… I’ve been in worse positions,” Bernie stuck out her bottom lip and shrugged nonchalantly. “Besides, it’s not like I’ve seen much of you since well, you know…” She trailed off quietly.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to.” Serena finally spoke, choosing her words carefully. “Believe me Bernie, it was never that I didn’t want to… I just panicked at the thought of trying to explain all of, well, this.” She gestured hopelessly at the vessels that sat empty in front of her.
Serena sank onto the couch and massaged her temples with trembling fingers.
“I blame Edward.” She spat darkly. “Turns out his magnetic charms weren’t entirely without supernatural influence.”
A bitter half-smirk traced briefly across her lips. “He ruined my life in more ways than one.”
“I fell for him hard and fast when we were at university… I’d eloped and married him within three months of meeting him. He’s a half-vampire, transforms only around full moon and lives a normal life for the rest of the month. Let’s just say at one point things got rather carried away and he….”
“Bit?” Bernie enquired gently, her professionalism the fine thread keeping her from incredulity.
Serena nodded quietly, her hand ghosting subconsciously to her throat.
“Did it hurt?” Bernie asked quietly, her hand coming to rest on top of Serena’s.
“More than childbirth.” Serena replied tartly, “But the worst part during the transformations is the bloodlust-” she broke off momentarily upon seeing the confusion on Bernie’s face, “A vampire’s hunger. Hunger of the very worst sort. An addiction that crawls under your skin, taunts you, teases you, demands of you… generally it’s all I can think of.”
“And the-” Bernie gestured cautiously towards Serena’s mouth.
“My vampirism is fully dormant except around a full moon. I’m able to function perfectly normally for the most part; Henrik is remarkably understanding about scheduling my rotas, procuring bloodlust suppressants…”
“Of course.” Serena responded with a raised eyebrow and a knowing look, “Why else do you think he keeps disappearing off to Sweden at certain times of the year? Ghouls need their respite too.”
It was at that point that Bernie thought she would be incapable of feeling surprised ever again.
“Unfortunately…” Serena’s lips pursed tightly, “This month, due to supply issues within his networks, he’s been unable to procure the same amount of my usual supplies, and I’ve been starving... Henrik has tried to help, but smuggling excess units of blood out of a hospital is somewhat difficult, especially as he’s at that bloody conference with that partner hospital in Kiev this week…”
She broke off, looking mortified. “I’ve never fed naturally if you know what I mean… well, at least not...”
“Robbie?” Bernie offered quietly.
A deadly silence as Serena’s already pallid face dropped in horrified recognition.
“Oh god… of course, you were on duty…” Serena groaned and placed her head in her hands.
“Two clear incisions avoiding any major vessels or structures? All the hallmarks of a vascular expert.” Bernie jibed gently.
To her credit, the faintest trace of a smile flickered momentarily across Serena’s face.
“He’s fine, by the way. Stabilised, sutured and ready to go home tomorrow. No harm done.” Bernie patted Serena on the arm. “Plus, he was as drunk as a skunk, so I doubt he’d even remember much of what happened.”
“It’s rather embarrassing really,” Serena began, looking determinedly at the floor. “Robbie arrived on my doorstep rather the worse for wear and brandishing a certain item of my undergarments which I must have left at his flat weeks ago, bellowing at the top of his lungs that he wanted us to get together again. Unluckily, I’d forgotten he still had a key and he decided to let himself in when I didn’t answer the door. After that, it’s all a bit of a blur…” her tongue slid subconsciously across her lips.
“I did a little digging… apparently an anonymous member of the public rang the emergency services and Robbie was picked up a couple of roads away from here.” Bernie smiled gently at Serena, “Looks as if the medic in you won out and you got him to safety regardless.”
Serena was still staring stubbornly downward, twisting her hands in her lap. “I attacked an innocent person Bernie, hardly what I swore an oath to do upon completing my medial degree.”
A scalding tear slid down her frozen cheek, “I’m a monster.”
She sniffed deeply, “And as for Jason, how on earth did I think I’d be capable of looking after him?”
A soft pair of hands wiped away her tears and gently lifted her chin.
“You’re no monster, Serena.” Bernie whispered softly, “I’ve never anyone who sacrificed so much for their family and friends, as well as managing to be one of the best surgeons in the country.” She stopped to smile warmly, “You’re amazing.”
Serena went to interject, but Bernie continued, “And Jason? The art of diagnosis certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree. He had you pinned ages ago. It might be early days, but I wouldn’t worry too much. I’m sure he’d be delighted to quiz you in extensive detail upon all of the benefits of having supernatural powers!”
“Thank you.” Serena produced her first genuine smile of the evening.
“Thank you for, well, being you.” She visibly relaxed and allowed herself to slump into Bernie’s side, resting her head upon her friend’s shoulder in a familiarity which felt so automatically comfortable. “I just can’t believe how calmly you’re taking all of this,” she murmured quietly.
Gentle fingers brushed through her tousled hair, combing stray damp hairs away from the nape of her neck.
“Well, takes a lot to scare me...” Bernie’s words were cut short by the electric jolt of a familiar pair of lips meeting with her own in a gentle caress. Without hesitation, she allowed herself to lean into the kiss.
A soft exhale was the only audible sound from both women as they eventually broke apart for air.