Deadly Night Shade
deadly night shade
A Short Story by Mark Cantrell,
Copyright (c) February 1999
THE night air kissed her shoulders like an unwanted paramour. She
shivered at its chilly touch and pulled her jacket tight around her
slender body. The cold and the dark were terrible. She hated them, but
they seemed like perfect companions for somebody alone.
It was dangerous, hanging around street corners. Supposedly she was the
one to be feared, but so far they hadn't convinced her. She just looked
down at her feet, and hoped nothing in the world would notice her fear.
That was supposed to be the victim's problem.
"Shade!" She looked up. They called her that because she was afraid of
the dark. She hated the name - it was meant to be a joke - but she
didn't mind when Damien used it. Now his broad shoulders and tall body
loomed up from the darkness. The figure brought a sense of security and
she felt her body relax.
His hand took her own. Big, firm, reassuringly warm. She let him pull
her deeper into the shadows. She knew what he wanted. What she wanted
too, in a way. The bile rose in her throat but she fought to swallow
"You'll get over it," Damien said. A memory. It felt like telepathy all
the same. He was like that. He sought to ease her into the life. Not
like the others who simply laughed. That was Damien. He was the first
man who ever tried to make her feel worthwhile.
Just as her body was unused to the frigid night, so her eyes were not
yet accustomed to the shadows. Not like Damien, who could read them
like a book. Even now, they told him what he needed to know. Shade
watched his silhouette. He'd found something, she could tell by the
delicate shift of his head. He was smiling. That much she knew.
The sounds of traffic emerged from the distance, laughter, and shouts
of joy and despair. Revellers on their way home. A world she longed to
rejoin. She swallowed her tears, and watched her lover intently. At
least she had him. Company, a guiding hand, some kind of
Damien beckoned her forward. She moved reluctantly. A boy squinted from
the shelter of a doorway. His eyes stared dully from a wasted face,
cracked lips moved: "Spare any change?"
Darkness flowed in a blur. Light glinted from a pale face, from a
blade. The boy struggled. His legs kicked uselessly at the air. No
sound from Damien, even of exertion. A gurgle followed by a jet-spray
of fluid. Shade felt her legs liquefy, her stomach heave. Damien's firm
but guiding arm pulled her in until the blood took hold. It smelled of
living death, yet it triggered the terrifying lust that took her with
strength far greater.
Tears felt hot on her cheeks and stung her eyes. The blood felt hotter
on her lips. With Damien's heat by her side, she found herself at the
centre of a cocoon of warmth. Her tongue darted into the wound of its
own volition, channelling the boy's heat until his struggles
A grunt from the shadows as Damien's lust neared its peak. Shade felt
her own rising. A tooth pricked her tongue, mingling her blood with the
boy's. She whimpered. Her skin rippled with electricity. A ball of
energy tightened at the base of her skull until it exploded down her
spine like lightning and discharged between her thrumming thighs. She
screamed and the fear retreated into the shadows.
EVEN through the dark glasses the city's glare stung her eyes. Not that
she cared. Damien's arm held her waist and she felt wonderfully alive
beneath his touch.
He stopped suddenly and pulled her in. She moaned at the sensation of
his lips pressed against her own. Here was a hunger she could
understand, not fear. It spoke of life, and the promise of life. Now
she felt her own enhanced and fulfilled.
She tried to speak, but Damien's lips swallowed her words. Instead
their bodies communicated, and she enjoyed his hands mapping her body.
The sound of a car back firing interrupted their passion. Damien
flinched. Shade began to laugh but her giggles were squashed by his
increasingly painful grip. He grunted. His mouth jerked and his fangs
pierced her lip. Her knees buckled under his weight and she went down
with him. He slumped to his knees and looked up with gaping eyes and a
mouth that belched blood.
"Nononoooo -" her shivering voice seemed to come from somebody else. A
low rattle in Damien's throat turned to silence. A few moments, that's
all it took. All it ever took. She was alone again. A wave of numbness
froze her body.
The outside world returned with a savage click. Shade looked up through
her tears and saw the few scurrying figures and their screaming faces.
A man smiled from the midst of the panic, and raised a shotgun's hungry
muzzle. Before she could even fully comprehend the scene, the
primordial urge to survive took hold. Her loss forgotten, she ran into
the maze of alleys.
THIS time the shadows welcomed her, or maybe she welcomed them. It
didn't matter anymore. The fear was no longer all around; it was
focused to a point closing from behind.
She turned corners blindly and stumbled over rubbish. Somehow she kept
her balance. Even with her eyes closed, she couldn't tell where she was
going. There was no heat, even if her eyelids worked properly. They
tingled, but there was only the occasional blur of an ill-formed
Something snagged her feet. She flew forward and landed heavily. Pain
brought tears to her eyes. In the poor light she saw the boy. His stiff
fingers were tangled in her skirt as though trying to hold her back.
The footsteps grew louder, the boy's eyes stared, the gash in his
throat looked like a grin. The killer turned the corner and came
She cried and broke free. Then she was running unsteadily until she
came out into the light on the other side of the alleyways. People
scattered from her path. Muttered voices and shouts followed in her
wake. She scarcely noticed - she could scarcely see - it was just
background detail to terror. It wasn't until the city centre was left
behind that she eased her pace. Her lungs ached and her throat felt
sticky. Sweat was clammy beneath her armpits and there was a painful
stitch in her side. At least the streets were darker now, and that
eased the burning in her eyes.
Without people around, she felt somehow lonely and exposed. She
hurriedly glanced behind, and scanned the shadows for any hint of human
heat. Police sirens sounded distant but comforting. It seemed safe.
Maybe - just maybe - she'd lost him. She hoped so, prayed it was so,
and with the hollow ache of grief opening in her heart, she headed for
the only home she had left.
NOBODY was laughing now. She almost wished they were. Even laughter
would be better than the awful silence. She could feel the eyes of the
gang staring from their hideaways beyond the firelight.
She looked at Morgan. She'd never been able to look at him directly
before. Now his dead face held a horrible fascination. His eyes peered
up at the ceiling; one partially closed in an eternal wink. His mouth
retained its cruel sneer, though his lips were wet with blood. She
could smell the stench of his spilled life, still dribbling from the
rib-fringed crater in his chest. The others were scattered nearby,
watching with the unflinching stare of the dead.
The warehouse had always been a place of unease. Only Damien ever made
it seem welcome. Now, empty, it was alive with hideous motion. The
shadows danced beyond the firelight, and each flicker brought a fresh
urge to crawl into a ball and hide. She didn't know what to do, or
where to go. She was completely alone; everything that gave shape to
her life was gone. The old was forever closed, and the new was lying
cold all around.
A sound of metal on metal echoed through the warehouse. Shade stopped
breathing, and peered into the gloom. She closed her eyes, but saw
nothing except for the heat-glare of the fire. She swallowed a whimper
and staggered back out of the light, edging precariously towards the
When the door creaked it felt like her insides were being torn apart.
The sound was that loud. She froze and listened to the night. Her
breathing sounded too loud, the blood rushed in her ears, her heart
pounded like a hammer on the hollow walls of the warehouse. She ducked
into the shelter of a twisted girder embedded in a concrete block and
peered into the gloom.
Someone emerged from the warehouse and walked across the rubble. She
felt her body tremble, but part of her mind simmered with a burning
rage born of sheer terror and grief. That rage forced her to stalk the
killer. No man could do what this one had. It went beyond belief,
beyond reason. They were the ones to be feared. That's what they always
said. But now they were dead, and this man walked away so
He stopped. Shade froze and hoped the shadows were enough to shield her
from sight. The man pointed at a silver Jaguar. It beeped, and then he
opened the door and climbed inside. A sense of desperation stung Shade
as the man started the engine. She couldn't lose him now, not so
On an impulse she ran into the road and forced a taxi to stop. The
driver leaned out of his window and began to shout abuse, but Shade
ignored his rage and climbed in beside him. The driver's expression
turned from anger to uncertainty. "I'm off duty, luv," he said,
She lunged. The engine screamed. She was a wild thing. Her snarls
sounded strange in her own ears. She watched herself from the calm
place in her head, as this stranger chewed at the man's neck. He tasted
bad, the smell was even worse. The teeth were useless. She knew she
should have used her knife. The taxi driver struggled and lashed out. A
blow caught her face but she didn't let go. She gripped his head with
the strength of madness, kept on scraping and chewing until she was
finally rewarded with a powerful jet of blood. It cascaded into her
throat and she let out a reflex yelp of elation.
The man's struggles became more intense. Shade tightened her grip and
widened the gash. Soon the man weakened and began to whimper
helplessly. Shade regained control of herself and leaned over to open
the driver's door. She flung out the dying man and clambered into his
seat. "Don't call be luv," she said, and slammed the door.
FRESH from the kill, her head buzzed with confidence. She was the
hunter, Death prowling the shadows. She wiped her sleeve across her
chin, slipped the car into first, and moved off.
This first solo kill had changed her in some way. She felt different,
bigger, stronger. For the first time the world made sense. No longer
was she the lost thing, afraid of the shadows. Now she had a purpose, a
reason. At last she knew what and who she was. She would find Damien's
killer, and explain it to him in painful detail.
Trouble was, she'd delayed too long over the kill. She cursed her
useless teeth yet again. In the films they always seemed so perfect.
What did humans know? They didn't have to live with the sore tongues
and punctured lips; that's all her teeth were good for. The trademark
wasn't a patch on a good solid blade.
Turning a corner, she suddenly found her prey. The Jaguar cruised
across the junction ahead like a great white shark patrolling its
feeding grounds. She tensed. Her knuckles whitened on the wheel, but
she forced herself to relax, flexed her fingers and casually followed.
Just a taxi driver cruising for trade, that's all. She kept the killer
in sight, but otherwise held back.
This discrete pursuit kept on for more than hour. The tension knotted
Shade's insides. They left the city behind. The traffic dwindled as she
found herself in quiet country lanes. The roads twisted and turned
until she began to worry that she would lose him, and then the shark
turned into short driveway leading to a solitary house. This was it,
her mind screamed, time to put her thoughts into deed. Fear returned
from its brief sojourn.
SHE stalked the lane and flitted through the night's comforting gloom.
The house looked sinister in the shadows, as though there was more of
it than there should be. The windows were dark; no sign of life, but
the Jaguar gleamed in the glow of a solitary street lamp. The engine
was still warm, and she savoured the heat by running her hand over its
There was no turning back now. She swallowed her fears and stealthily
headed for the door. To her surprise it was unlocked and she slipped
inside. Just enough light filtered in from outside to allow her to see.
Compared to its brooding exterior the inside of the house was
disappointing. The hall was perfectly normal; it might have been a
flashback to her childhood, until she glanced down at the umbrella
stand by the door. The shotgun's muzzle peered out, no longer menacing,
just an object. She stared at it for a few moments, and then picked it
up. Finish the man with his own gun. Damien would have appreciated the
She became a cat prowling a rival's territory. A faint light flickered
from a door at the end of the hall. She stalked towards it and
carefully edged through the opening. The stairs creaked slightly, and
she winced with each noise.
The cellar was filled with candles. A large coffin dominated the floor.
Its silver furnishings glinted like something from a horror movie.
Posters of those very same 'B' movies covered the walls. Bela Lugosi
and Christopher Lee stared from the walls. Anthony Hopkin's rendition
of the duel-scarred Van Helsing studied her until she began to feel
like Lucy, trapped in the unforgiving tomb.
Reminding herself that she was the slayer, Shade wandered over to a
bookcase and ran her fingers along the book spines on the top shelf.
Each one related in some way to vampires. A desk nearby was littered
with papers. A skull held them down. From the teeth it had obviously
once belonged to a vampire. She pushed it aside with distaste and
flicked through the papers.
More vampires, but the papers made no sense. She scanned a yellowing
newspaper clipping. 'Escaped vampire gunned down,' the headline
screamed. She felt an ache in her chest as she thought of Damien and
she threw the clipping aside. She picked up an official looking
document and tried to understand the language. Complex, scientific
jargon, it meant nothing. Something about retroviruses, activators and
genomes. She threw it aside and ransacked the pile for something she
"You should always know your prey, don't you think?"
Shocked, she turned round. The man was casually leaning against the
doorway, his arms loosely folded, his piercing blue eyes mapping her
face. She'd heard no movement, sensed nothing - not even the slightest
shift in the air. Shaking, she raised the shotgun and watched him over
the wobbling muzzle.
"Do you like my little museum? I find it fascinating, this cult that
people have made." He unfolded his arms and stood up straight.
"Keep your hands where I can see them!"
"Of course." He slowly began to walk around the coffin, allowing Shade
to creep towards the door, and some sense of escape. "By the way, we
haven't been introduced. My name's Kemp, Simon Kemp. And you
A little smile touched his lips. "Please, no games, your real
"Such a pretty name," he said, leaning against the desk. "You know,
I've been looking forward to meeting you in the flesh. I was worried I
might have lost you."
All her confidence was gone. She trembled with fear and edged back
towards the door. She didn't dare take her eyes off him. She sensed
some underlying threat, yet his body seemed so relaxed and unassuming.
He watched her with mild curiosity, as though the shotgun was nothing
more than a child's toy. Despite her fear, she couldn't help the
question that formed in her mind.
"Why?" she blurted.
Kemp laughed pleasantly and then looked her over. His face turned
serious, sad even. "Your kind are an abomination, Emma. You're freaks
insulting nature. Man-made vampires. They made you to entertain, you
know. Nothing more chilling than the real thing they thought, until one
got loose and learned how to pass its genome into wider circulation.
They shot it, the original."
He stepped forward suddenly. Shade's nerves snapped and jerked her
finger. The shotgun sounded deafening in the confined cellar. Kemp's
chest exploded crimson and he flew backwards against the wall. Shade
struggled to chamber another round. She pulled the trigger. The shotgun
knocked her off balance and stung her ears. One more time. The shotgun
clicked its impotence. Kemp slithered down the wall.
Shade stood frozen. Her ears rang. Her arms ached from the shotgun's
weight. Her lungs ached for air until she finally remembered to
breathe. The smell of gunsmoke mingled with the blood and the
"You... see... I'm a traditionalist." Kemp spat blood and struggled to
stand. Shade moaned in dull fear, and watched the blood ooze from the
wound in his chest. She looked up at his bloodstained face and was
horrified by the revelation of his smile. Two fangs slid from hidden
recesses to form a perfect cutting point.
Shade dropped the shotgun, and backed away as quickly as her shaking
legs would let her. This couldn't be happening. She felt confusion and
terror in equal measure. People died when you shot them. Damien had
died. The others had died. Yet this man walked.
"Mortals playing at vampires, Emma, that's what you are. I find that so
offensive. So you have the trappings demanded by this strange cult,
thanks to some creative genetic engineering, but that only makes you a
worse caricature of my kind."
"We're not fake, we're real, I am what I am!"
"No. You're a figment of the imagination. You don't exist. You never
existed. But I'm real."
She fell backwards onto the stairs. From somewhere a clock chimed the
hour, a strange intrusion of normality. Kemp approached slowly as
though savouring the moment. She crawled up the stairs and was amazed
at her sense of detachment. It was as if the urge to survive had sealed
her terror and panic in a glass cocoon, safe from harm's way.
"You should feel special," Kemp said as he stepped onto the stairs.
"I've never killed one of your kind this way."
Shade finally dared to turn her back and run. She raced to the front
door, only to find it locked. Kemp laughed from behind. "Looking for
these?" He stood at the cellar door, and jangled a set of keys.
This couldn't be happening. There had to be a way out. She rushed
towards the living room, feeling a knife-blade of fear as her feet took
her closer towards Kemp. He stood where he was, smiling so the light
reflected from his fangs with an eerie luminescence. He was the cat to
Inside the living room, it was too dark to see. Some light filtered in
from the hallway but not much. She stumbled over furniture and placed
her arms out like a blind man to feel her way through the unknown. She
heard Kemp shuffle into the room
"There's no way out," he calmly said. "Don't fight it. It's a beautiful
way to die - two souls flaring in the void of lifelessness, one shining
all the brighter until there's only me left."
The panic was beginning to break from its cocoon. It rushed into her
mind like a tornado. She turned round, her eyes desperately trying to
pierce the veil of darkness for some avenue of escape. Suddenly a
shadow appeared in front of her. The smell of blood rushed into her
nose and brought with it the usual feeling of giddying lust. She
stepped backwards, frozen by the shape like a rabbit caught in the
glare of headlamps. A hand lightly gripped her shoulder. She screamed.
"It's getting late, Emma. Time to go," Kemp whispered.
His lips brushed her cheek. She whimpered and tried to pull away. Pain.
Sharp with a white-hot intensity, so that it took her breath away. She
looked down instinctively and saw the dawn sunlight peering through a
crack in the bottom of the curtains. Already her calves were bubbling
with porphyric blisters. Kemp's lips explored her neck with a lover's
sensitivity, moving towards the fatal spot.
With a yell of fear and rage she found the strength to push Kemp away.
She turned and leapt, grabbing handfuls of the thick fabric. As she
fell to the floor, her weight tore the curtains down. Light flooded
into the room and bathed her in pain. Kemp's scream stung her
Blisters bubbled on her hands. Her face already felt swollen. She
moaned and struggled to stand. The cellar was all she could think of.
Shelter from the sun. Safety. Relief from the pain. Not even Kemp
mattered now. She rushed for the door and saw him stumbling ahead of
her, his body shrouded in smoke. A vague thought wondered what was
burning, and then she pushed past him. A brief glimpse of charred flesh
and then they were falling together: a nightmare of choking smoke and
tangled limbs, terrible pain and monstrous images.
They landed heavily in the cellar. The fall left her dazed and she
found herself staring at Van Helsing's image. There was something
knowing in the eyes. In her dazed state, she almost felt as though he
was trying to speak. Eventually, she struggled to sit up. The movement
brought a fresh burst of pain. She looked down at her raw legs. Her
skirt was damp with the excrescence of ruptured blisters so that the
thin cloth clung to her flesh.
A rattling gurgle sounded from Kemp, and he stared with horribly white
eyes. His burned body looked ancient, just like in the movies. She
couldn't understand why he didn't just blister, but a rising sickness
pushed away the last of her rationality. It no longer mattered as the
revulsion brought the bile to the back of her throat.
She swallowed hard, and tried to recall Damien, but the memories were
gone. She no longer remembered his touch, or saw his face. The
tenderness in her lover's eyes was replaced by the ferocity of his
killer. She especially hated Kemp for that. Now, she saw the fear in
his eyes. It gave her the strength to overcome both the revulsion and
the pain. There was only one thing left to do. This time she would do
it properly. She fumbled in her pocket, and pulled out the knife.
Bradford, 21 February 1999
Copyright (c) February 1999