This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Vincent did his best to shut it out. The child didn’t seem to need any answers, or even any participation in her conversation. He suspected she’d have been just as happy talking to empty air if he hadn’t been aboard the cable car. He wasn’t sure if that was normal behaviour for a child of her age. Nor did he really care. He just wanted the cable car to reach the top and to deal with the inevitable questions. Then he could get on with his skiing.
They were nearing the top when Vincent’s acute hearing picked out a strange new noise. It started as a low rumbling but it kept on growing. It sounded like distant thunder, but the sky was clear. The mountain around them was dark now, too dark to make out over the relatively dim light of the cable car. So while the sound kept on growing, turning into a loud roar even humans could hear, Vincent still couldn’t place the source.
Not until the last few moments, when the whole mountain above them suddenly seemed to be in motion. Vincent simply stared in shock for a few moments before his mind took in what he was seeing. An avalanche. A massive one!
The cable car was near the top now, and so was close to the ground. Close enough that the boiling wall of snow slamming towards them was more than high enough to strike the car. He stared in horror for a few more moments, then braced himself for the impact that was coming.
“Wow! Look at that! The mountain is moving!”
Vincent cursed. He’d forgotten the child in his shock at seeing the avalanche, had forgotten she was in the cable car. He knew how frail humans were, especially children, and realised there was no way the child was going to survive.
With moments to go before the wall of snow hit he made a decision. He leapt towards the child, grabbing her with one arm and pulling her to his chest. He used his other hand and his legs to try and brace against the cable car. He wrapped himself around the child as well as he was able. A moment later the avalanche smashed into them.
Vincent was slammed against a window, then bounced around inside the car several times as it tumbled and creaked. All he focused on was holding the girl within his arms without crushing her with his strength, while trying to protect her from their deadly plummet.
The lights went out, and even with his acute vision he could only dimly make out the shapes of the cable car as they tumbled within it. Squealing metal signalled how much damage the deadly snow was doing to it. Then a particularly bad tumble smashed Vincent’s head against something sharp, and everything went dark
* * *
“Hey Mister, are you all right?”
The question was accompanied by something sharp poking Vincent’s chest. His eyes flickered slowly open. He could dimly make out the face of a young child, lit by the glow of a smart phone. What he couldn’t work out was why he was waking to such a sight. Or why his head felt as if someone was smashing at it with hammers.
Then memories of the avalanche and the cable car’s tumbling destruction came rushing back. Vincent let out a groan, but more out of habit than anything else. The pain in his head was already dulling, and the rest of his body while bruised was not seriously hurt. It took an awful lot to kill a vampire, and anything that stopped short of killing one tended to be only a minor inconvenience.
“Mister, are you okay?”
The question was accompanied by a small, sharp finger being dug into his chest again.
“Yes,” he said. “A little bruised but still alive. How about you, child? Are you hurt?”
“My name is Sarah!” she said indignantly.
“I’m sorry, Sarah. Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine. That was fun! Can we do it again?”
Vincent shook his head, amazed that the child’s optimism had survived undiminished.
“No,” he said. “I’m pretty certain that was a one-time only trip.”
He looked around and took in their surroundings. Every part of the cable car was dented and buckled. Where the windows weren’t broken and letting snow drift in, they were blocked with snow on the outside.
Vincent started to wonder if this was going to be a last-in-a-lifetime trip for the child. He knew he would be fine, as long as he didn’t do anything rash and end up crushed under too many tons of snow. He had no need for air, and could take as much time as necessary to find his way out.
The child had no such luxury. Vincent wasn’t sure how long the air trapped with them would last her, but he suspected it wouldn’t be anywhere near long enough. From what he remembered the cable car had tumbled for some time, swept down the mountain by the snow. Any rescuers would first have to work out that there had even been people in this cable car, then work out where it might have ended up and finally dig their way down. None of that was going to be quick.
Vincent held back from mentioning any of this to the girl, but he wasn’t sure what he should say. He had very little experience of children, certainly young children, and had always been happy with that. This was the first time he’d found himself regretting it.
In the absence of any words for her he began to look for a way out, somewhere he could begin to dig at. The coldness of the snow wouldn’t bother him, and he was more than strong enough to dig his way out no matter how deep the snow was. His biggest fear was of triggering a collapse while he tunnelled and being crushed under so much snow that it destroyed even him.
No. That was his second biggest fear. His biggest fear was taking too long to dig his way out and emerging from the snow into bright sunlight. Or remaining in the cable car and being dug out by rescuers after the sun rose.
Left to his own devices that should be no problem, he still had many hours till daybreak. He could dig slowly enough to be safe and still be out in three or four hours. But now he had to consider the child.
She was well bundled up but cold could still become a problem for her, especially if he took her through a tunnel he dug in the snow. He couldn’t leave her in the car, not without sealing her in again. That wouldn’t work — the snow he tunnelled out would have go somewhere, and that somewhere was behind him. He knew that very well for this was the second time in his life, or post life, that he’d found himself trapped by an avalanche. The first time had been more than a hundred years before, but the memories were still strong.
“I’m bored!” The girl said. “I want to get out now. I want my mummy.”
Vincent sighed. This was not something he wanted to be dealing with. He turned to the girl, thinking how much easier things would be if she just went to sleep for a while. As soon as he had the thought it set off another idea… if the child, Sarah, was asleep she would need less air.
That would give her a better chance of surviving, as well as giving him some peace to figure out a way to save her. He might even be able to take her with him as he tunnelled if he didn’t have to worry about her moving around and triggering a collapse.
He leaned in closer to the girl then turned on what he thought of as the charm. One of the talents he’d gained when becoming a vampire was the ability to calm a human mind, to send it into a relaxed state or even send the target to sleep. Now he let his power rise, unleashing the full force on the young girl.
“Listen very carefully,” he said. “You are completely safe. You are perfectly fine. But this is very boring. Your eyes are getting heavy. Your eyes are closing. As they close you are drifting into sleep…”
He smiled as the girl’s eyes closed and her breathing deepened. His smile lasted all of ten seconds, which was how long it took for her to start giggling, open her eyes and smile at him.
“You’re silly!” she said. “I’m not sleepy at all! But I am bored. Can you get us out of here now please?”
Vincent had to bite back a curse. Typical! Of course the child would turn out to be a resistant. They were rare, very rare, but they existed. Humans that the charm totally failed to work on. No one really knew why, though some speculated that the humans who could resist must have some element of supernatural blood in their ancestry. Others thought it was just a freak mutation. Whatever the cause, right now it was damned inconvenient!
* * *
Vincent pulled back from the short tunnel he’d dug in the snow. It was no use. There was no way he could make a tunnel without pushing a lot of snow back into the cable car. The girl would probably still have some space left, but it would cut down on the air she had to breathe. He wasn’t certain she had enough to survive anyway, he certainly couldn’t do anything that would reduce her chances.
He briefly thought about trying to take her with him, but the same objections came up. There would be very little air in the tunnels as he dug, and what was there would soon be exhausted. If she’d been deeply asleep and using much less air he might have risked it, but not now.
“Are you giving up, Mister?” asked the child.
“I have to. I could dig my way out but I can’t take you with me. You wouldn’t survive it.”
“You could dig your way out and then bring people back to get me, couldn’t you?”
Even Vincent could hear the uncertainty in her voice at the thought of being left behind. He shook his head.
“It’s not that simple. If I do that it’s going to cut down how much air you have and that means you’ll run out sooner.”
The girl’s eyes went wide and her lower lip started to tremble.
“What do you mean sooner? Are we going to run out of air?”
There were tears in her eyes and the way she was looking at Vincent made him want to kick himself. So far he’d managed to avoid letting the child know about the situation, now he’d gone and blown it.
“There… there is only a limited amount of air. It might be enough to last until people find us, I just don’t know.”
“So we might both die here?”
Vincent grimaced. He really didn’t want to tell the truth, but lying felt equally wrong.
“I… I don’t really need air. I haven’t for a long time. I’m not even breathing now. You’re the one who needs the air and I’m afraid you’re the one’ll be in trouble when it runs out.”
“Silly! Everyone needs air!”
Vincent shrugged. He wasn’t going to press the point. He knew the facts. Vampires didn’t need air. Human children did. And that led to an idea. One he was exceptionally uncomfortable with, but one that wouldn’t leave his mind. Human children needed air. Vampires didn’t. If the child was going to die anyway… then maybe there was a way to save her. Kind of. All he had to do was change her from being a human child to being a vampire.
The process was relatively simple, but the implications were huge. Being turned into a vampire was a difficult transition for anyone, but for children it was far worse. Vincent had only come across two such children in his unnaturally long life. Neither had been happy at all.
Part of the problem was the obvious issue of not being able to go out during the day, not being able to fit in with your peers, but there was a much worse issue. Children turned into vampires would still age, would still mature, but at a much slower rate than their human counterparts.
With the girl being so young it could be forty or fifty years before she reached adulthood if he did turn her. Quite apart from that he’d never actually turned anyone, and had promised himself that he never would. Then again, he’d never envisioned a situation like this.
He thought about it for several minutes, during which time the girl made small snowmen out of the snow that had pooled in the carriage. He still would have come down against the idea, but there was one other factor which might change things. It might not work, but it might. In the end he decided it wasn’t his decision to make. The girl might be young, but ultimately he had to give her the choice.
“There is a way I could save you,” he said. “But it’s not very pleasant, and it would change you forever.”
She just stared at him, eyes wide, so he continued.
“I told you I don’t need to breathe. It’s because I’m… do you know about vampires?”
“Oh yes! The big men who can turn into bats and have big sharp teeth and only come out at night and wear really cool capes!”
Vincent blinked for a few seconds, trying to untangle the jumble of words before speaking again.
“Well,” he said. “Some of that is true, but the bit about turning into bats isn’t I’m afraid. I know because I am a vampire.”
“You’re a vampire? Does that mean you want to drink my blood?”
“No! I don’t ever do that!”
“Well you aren’t much of a vampire then, are you?”
Of all the responses Vincent had expected, that hadn’t even crossed his mind. He stared at her for a few seconds before breaking down into a chuckle. He shook his head.
“No, I don’t suppose I am.”
“Are you sure you aren’t going to drink my blood?”
“No! Under no circumstances at all would I ever drink blood from a human! You’re completely safe! Well, apart from being stuck under all this snow.”
“You said you could save me by changing me. Did you mean you’d turn me into a vampire? Does that mean I’d have to drink blood?”
“No! No vampire has to drink blood. Some, a few, choose to. None of them need to. It’s like eating chocolate, you might like doing it but that doesn’t mean you have to.”
“Will it hurt?”
Vincent paused. It was a long time that he was turned, but the memories were still quite raw.
“Yes. I’m afraid it does hurt. It burns its way through your body, changing it as it goes, but it doesn’t last for very long.”
“And if the air runs out, will that hurt?”
“No. From what I’ve heard you’ll just get very sleepy, and eventually you’ll drift off to sleep. But you won’t ever wake up.”
“Just like my bunny! She went to sleep and didn’t wake up and now she’s in heaven!”
“Well… a bit like that, I suppose.”
“But… if that happens I won’t get to see my mummy and daddy again, will I? Not for a really long time?”
“No, no I don’t suppose you will.”
“If you turn me into a vampire I will get to see them? But only at night?”
Vincent paused. He was starting to wish he hadn’t brought the subject up at all. Perhaps letting the child drift off when the air ran out would have been a kinder way out of the situation.
“They… they might struggle to cope with the changes in you. Most grown-ups don’t believe in vampires or things like that, so when they find out what you’ve become one they might find it quite difficult.”
“I don’t care! At least I’ll get to see them. Can we do it now?”
“No! No, I think we should wait. We wait and if the air starts to get stale, if you start to get really sleepy, then we can talk about it again.”
She actually looked disappointed. She tilted her head to one side studying Vincent before she spoke.
“Are you sure you don’t want to drink my blood?” she asked.
“No! Not ever!”
“But… that’s what vampires do! Everyone knows that! You refusing to feed is not natural. It’s going against all your base instincts. It’s going against the very thing which defines you as a vampire.”
“It is not what defines a vampire! That’s just what some people choose to believe!”
Then he paused for a moment and looked at the girl, studying her carefully.
“Since when do six year olds use words like define and instincts?”
“Damn. Alright, I’m not six. I’m somewhere past thirty. I lost count a few years ago. I’m not a little girl. What I am is a vampire hunter.”
She managed to go from sitting to standing in a moment, and to Vincent’s horror he saw she had a very sharp wooden stake in her hand. It wasn’t necessarily a threat, he had his usual body armour under his designer suit, but still… a stake!
He stayed very still, trying to think what to say and trying to look as unthreatening as possible while not looking like an easy victim. The girl… no, the person who looked like a little girl, stared at him defiantly for several long seconds, then seemed to shrink in on herself.
“And you had to go and spoil it all!” she said.
“What? What do you mean?”
“You! I came here to destroy a vampire, to stop a bloodthirsty killer. Instead… I get you!”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Vincent was confused. The person he faced certainly handled the wooden stake scarily well, but something wasn’t quite adding up.
“You!” she spat. “I spotted you were a vampire easily enough. And then here you were, getting on the ski lift late at night. Clearly aiming to find someone on their own to feed from and kill. I came along to stop that!”
“I was doing nothing of the sort! I got on the ski lift because I wanted to ski! Why else would I come out here?”
“Why else? You’re a vampire! Vampires kill people! Especially when they’re stuck in confined spaces with a victim who can’t run away! But not you. Oh no. Not you. Just my luck!”
Something clicked in Vincent’s mind.
“Tell me,” he said. “How many vampires have you killed?”
“What? Well… I don’t know exactly!”
“How about roughly?”
She wouldn’t meet his eyes. One foot started shifting backwards and forwards.
“Well, do I get to count you as I was going to kill you?”
“No! How many vampires have you actually killed up till now?”
“Well… the number I’ve actually killed… it’s… well… Fine! None!”
Vincent nodded. He’d half expected the answer. Everything about the way she had been, even before she’d revealed herself as not being a child, suggested she’d been testing him. Waiting for him to do something.
“That’s why you played the little girl. You were waiting for me to attack you. And when I did you’d feel it was alright to kill me?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“Is that how you’ve been taught to take down vampires?”
“No. We’re taught we should kill a vampire the first chance we get. I knew I should do that… but it didn’t feel right. It felt like I needed to see quite how evil you were before I could kill you.”
“And I didn’t quite meet your expectations?”
She shook her head.
“No! In fact… when the avalanche hit you risked yourself to save me. Once you realised we were trapped together you didn’t try to attack. In fact you gave up your own chance to burrow out of here to keep me safe, and then you tried to find ways to save. Though I’m not sure turning me into a vampire would really be saving me.”
“Well, I think your views on vampires may be a little skewed. There are a few that behave exceptionally badly, but most are reasonable people just trying to get on with their… well, lives for the want of a better word.”
“No! That’s not true! All vampires are killers. That’s what I’ve been taught. We have to kill them straight away, we have to make sure they don’t get a chance to spread their evil any further.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Vincent. “You’ve been taught to kill a vampire on sight, but doesn’t that mean you never get a chance to tell whether they really are evil? Doesn’t that mean you are acting in exactly the way you think vampires do?”
“That’s not what we were taught. That’s not how I saw it. But… having got to know you… it does make me uncomfortable. If I’d killed you straight away, as soon as we were alone in the cable car, then I would never have known any better. I’d have made my first kill, and I’d have been convinced I’d done the right thing. Now… now I just don’t know what’s right!”
“I’m not saying there aren’t vampires that deserve that treatment,” said Vincent. “Just that there aren’t very many. Those that do insist on feeding on humans really should be hunted down. So maybe you have the right idea, you just need to be more selective in your targets.”
“How do I know which are which?”
“Well… I can’t believe I’m saying this but… you could talk to people like me, and my friends. We do hear rumours when a vampire has gone to the dark.”
“Friends? More vampires?”
“No, not vampires. There aren’t actually that many vampires around. I’m starting to think the people who taught you may have something to do with that. No, my friends are… an interesting bunch. But they have friends and those friends have friends and word of the vampires who are rampaging, who are out of control, gets back to us. I’m sure that some of us would be happy to share that information with you, as long as we were certain the only targets you went after were rogue vampires.”
“I… I need to think about that. I need to think about a lot of things. Everything I was taught, everything I’ve learnt, seems like it might not be completely true. It’s a lot to take in.”
“I can believe that. Now can I at least turn my back without worrying about getting a spiked surprise?”
“Yes. I’m pretty much convinced that you are the worst vampire I’ve ever heard of.”
Vincent started to reply sharply, but managed to choke it off and just shrug. If she really felt that way about him then maybe that was a good thing. He was still acutely aware of the stake she was handling far too expertly for his liking.
“We still need to worry about getting you out of here,” said Vincent. “The air won’t last forever.”
“Well… that won’t be a problem. I don’t actually need to be breathing.”
“Really?” Vincent raise an eyebrow. “So you’re… well, what are you?”
“I don’t really know. I was taken is in as an orphan, I know I’m not a normal human, but I don’t know what I am.”
Vincent sighed. He seemed to have a habit of attracting waifs and strays, people that needed support and nurturing. It wasn’t his strong point, but he had friends who were much better at it than him. Stan in particular, despite his massive size and terrorising face, had an immense heart and was always good at helping strays find their way.
“Well, I guess we can get out of here then. When we do I’d like to take you to meet my friends. I think it would be good for you to talk to them, or if not I think you should at least take some time away from those who’ve been teaching you. I don’t think they’re being completely honest with you, and I definitely think you need the chance to do some thinking on your own.”
“Yeah. Well, let’s dig our way out first and then we can talk about it. Whatever happens I’m going to take some time to think. But what will you do when we get free?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Half the mountain just came down. The loosely packed snow from the avalanche has made surfaces that no one has ever skied before. Surfaces that most people wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving. So what do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to climb to the top of the mountain and enjoy the best skiing of my life!”
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head.
“You really mean it don’t you? That really is why you were on the ski lift? You weren’t looking to find someone to kill. You weren’t looking for someone you could isolate. You were on the ski lift to go skiing!”
“Yes! I did try to tell you that. Now, if you don’t mind I’d like to get digging. Time is ticking away, and I can only enjoy this wonderful new challenge while darkness lasts. After that… Well, the snow reflects sunlight. Being a vampire anywhere in the daytime without shelter is bad. Out in the middle of a snowfield, well… that’s a really bad idea.”
* * *
An hour later Vincent was streaking down the mountain, the wind tearing at his face and body and every sense he had attuned to the snow in front of him. Even with his night sight the way ahead was gloomy and difficult to make out, with frequent rocks and trees leaping out at the last moment to try and snag him.
He’d already had several close calls, including just keeping control as an unexpected patch of soft snow caught him out, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. All thoughts of the vampire hunter, and everything else, had been replaced by this moment, this instance. Hurtling down the mountain. The only thing running through his mind was how to safely reach the bottom.
Oh, and one other thought… the question of whether he would have time to climb to the top of the mountain and ski down again before the sun rose. He thought it was possible, and it was definitely worth the risk. After all… he could always burrow his way into the snow if the sun was about to rise, bury himself away until night fell once more. And when would he ever get the chance to ski such an exciting surface again?