This is an odd one. I was challenged to write a horror story about gay vampires in the times of homophobia – as though they ever ended. I ignored it for a while, did not feel qualified but then got intrigued. I don’t think that this is great, or that the various tropes work well together, but hey here it is anyway.
Summer in the UK that year was hot. We are getting used to searing heat due to climate change, but in those days having more than a handful of overly warm days would send the newspapers into a ferment of hysterical headlines whilst giving them the opportunity to print pictures of bikini clad underage girls, captioned, “Phwoar, wot a scorcher!”.
I was young then and did not immediately notice the unease beginning to surface in the older generation. I was more interested in dogs and horses, so the fact that my older brother had male friends but never a girlfriend meant nothing to me. As far as I was concerned life was idyllic, I spent all the time when I was not at school outside, taking long walks in the local countryside, and trying to make friends with a girl who I was afraid of, because she had a horse.
I was ultimately successful in this and one hot afternoon we were standing in a tiny paddock petting her pony, Bradley. She had allowed me to brush his coat and he was gleaming in the sun. We looked at him admiringly and I nearly swooned with delight when she told me to climb onto him.’Go on’ she said, ‘he won’t run off or anything.‘
I did not need telling twice and scrambled onto the animal’s warm back where I sat, no doubt grinning like an idiot and running my fingers through his mane.
She started telling me about a boy she fancied at school. I was a late developer and totally uninterested, but made listening faces while I dreamt of owning a horse myself. As I imagined riding along the local lanes, maybe with a dog of my own running alongside, I heard her say casually,’
You’ll need to tell Michael to be careful, won’t you?’
‘Michael?’ I was confused. He was my older brother and to the best of my knowledge Lyssa did not even know him.
‘Don’t say you don’t know; I know he’s your brother and all, but you can’t deny he’s a poofter.’
I was utterly shocked. This came out of nowhere and Lyssa smiled triumphantly, having managed to catch my attention and, she thought, upset me.
I was not particularly worried about who my brother might or might not fancy, but I recognized malice and was hurt by it. Much as I loved the horse, I slid down from his back and turned to her, accusing her hotly of lying.
‘Why would you even say such a thing, you’re crazy. I’m going home.’ Tears stung my eyes.
Perhaps worrying that she might lose her willing slave, me; she was conciliatory.
‘It’s only ’cause you’re my friend,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want you to get caught up just because your brother’s queer. Maybe you should try and get him to go to a mental hospital, see if they can cure him.’
‘It’s you who is mental, not our Michael’ I told her coldly and walked off, trembling with rage.
She threw a stone at me, it whizzed past my ear but did not hit me.
‘Suit yourself,’ she yelled after me. ‘I bet you’re queer too. You never look at boys, lezzie!’
I ran down the lane until I turned a corner, here I slowed down and rubbed at my eyes with grubby hands which smelt of horses. By the time I got home I had calmed down, at least outwardly. Inside I was still seething with rage and also upset because I knew I had lost my chance to spend time with Bradley.
At tea that night I was quiet, but this was normal for me so nobody noticed. I was listening to my parents and siblings talking, watching Michael to see if there was any way of telling if somebody was queer by looking at them, some stigmata or something. However he was just Michael; even so I felt the truth of what Lyssa had told me.
Probably everyone around the table recognised this about him, but as I said, I was uninterested in relationships at that point; I also did not care. Why should it bother anybody who one person might or might not fancy?
My parents were discussing the news, a young man had disappeared, the papers referred to him as a youth, which made him sound rough and someone who probably had criminal tendencies.
‘I hope he doesn’t turn up like the other one.’ Michael spoke.
Our mother frowned at him. ‘Little pigs have big ears’ she told Michael, letting him know that we were listening, enrapt.
Michael was much older than the rest of us, her favourite and she had always treated him as an adult. We pricked up our ears at her admonition, but he duly changed the subject, talking instead about some band which was boring to me so I stopped listening.
Later I went to see him in his bedroom. I asked to borrow a cassette tape, remember them? It was of course just an excuse and I sat on his bed and talked to him, we were close and he recognised that I struggled with communication.
I have Asperger’s but this was not recognised, especially in girls in those days, and Michael was the only person with whom I felt comfortable discussing feelings.
‘I had a fight with Lyssa today’ I told him. ‘She’s not my friend anymore.
”’She was never really your friend’ Michael comforted me. ‘She just used you. What did you fight about, do you want to tell me?’
‘She said that you’re queer and called you a poofter’ I told him.
‘Don’t let it upset you,’ he answered, not denying the charge. ‘Is that all?’
‘She threw a stone at me and called me a lezzie and told me that you should watch out, what do you have to watch out for?’
‘I expect it is something to do with the young men who have gone missing’ he said gently. ‘We should pray for them, that they turn up well and healthy.
‘I must have looked horrified, suddenly realising that my brother was a similar age to the boys who had disappeared.
‘Don’t worry about me’ he told me, ‘with Mother’s heritage, we are the safest of anyone.’
We always joked about our Transylvanian relatives and Michael flung a blanket over his shoulders like a cape, made a face which exposed his upper teeth and said,
‘Do not be afraid, young von; ve vill prevail against these forces.’
His accent made me laugh and we started to chat about school. I was still top of my class in everything except for maths which I was and still am totally unable to comprehend, putting the lie to ASD people all being mathematical geniuses. Michael gave me two books, one of European monsters and myths and a reference book for university level zoologists. I was almost born able to read and was frustrated with the books in the children’s section of our library, having outgrown them by seven or eight years of age so I hurried off to my bed with my treasures.
The papers the next day told us that the body of the missing ‘youth’ – he was only sixteen – had turned up, he had been beaten and strangled to death.
A big deal was made of the fact that, as with the other two, still missing men, he was probably gay. The phrase ‘rent boys’ was mentioned several times, as if this was a justification for anything which might have happened to them.
I felt sick to my stomach as I secretly read the overly salacious article. This boy had been local to us, and I worried again about my brother. I heard him talking with our mother in low tones as I loitered outside of the kitchen, but could not hear what was being said. I did hear mum say, ‘Be careful’, just as Michael came through the door, bumping into me as he answered over his shoulder to her, ‘Don’t worry.’
He looked irritated to see me there but said nothing as he swept past me, up the stairs.
He was not home that night, having gone for a meal and later a sleepover at his friend’s house. The meal was unusual as my brother was very faddy about what he would, what he could eat; the sleepover not so much so I thought nothing of it. The next day Michael stayed in his own room most of the day before emerging at teatime. Everyone ate meals together around a table in those days, and I watched Michael surreptitiously with my newly developed gaydar, but he was just Michael, the same man he had always been, my brother.
We all watched the news on the BBC, our mother was highly political and very keen for us to grow up knowing how the world worked. We heard that another body had been found, another ‘rent boy’ and I glanced at Michael to see his face darken. This was not one of the already missing men.
The broadcaster gravely told us that we should be careful. The media had christened the predator, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ assuming that the killer was a wealthy theatre goer. In spite of the fact that this creature was targeting and killing young men, women were told to stay home, to only go out if absolutely necessary, and at night only with a man to protect them.
Yes, I am rolling my eyes at this even now, as you probably are too.
Michael went out for the next three evenings and the day after his last sleepover, a very prominent local politician was found dead at his home. The following day the papers hinted that two bodies, thought to be those of the missing two men were found in a freezer in the property. Both had been beaten and strangled.
The papers were far more close mouthed than they normally were over the death of the politician, saying only that he had committed suicide, slitting his wrists in the bath and bleeding out. Later we would hear rumours that whereas he had been completely exsanguinated, no blood had been found at the scene.
It appears that nobody was ever caught in connection with the deaths of the young men, but it seems likely that the police did not try too hard to get further information. The politician was very rich, very powerful, and the verdict of suicide stopped all talk.
Michael was very animated for a week or so after this, but gradually returned to normal. I remember how he looked though, flushed and extra healthy; somehow bigger.
The following year Michael’s health started to deteriorate, he grew pale and thin. Our family is very private about personal matters, but we were eventually told that he had a rare blood disease and he needed frequent transfusions to keep him not just healthy, but alive.
We are all great travellers and Michael was no exception, frequently going to Eastern Europe to catch up with our relatives there. Each time he came home he looked happy, relaxed and more than healthy. He put this down to the European countries having more knowledge of his illness.
Although we were optimistic and hoped for a cure to be found, we lost my brother just shy of his fortieth birthday. I remember thinking how well he was doing a few months prior to this. It was about the time that financier killed himself; you know who I mean, the one who was later found to have been part of a ring of child predators.
My mother never got over the loss of her oldest son and faded away a few years later. Time has taken a toll on the rest of the family; I am the only one left of our bloodline now and sometimes I feel the years lie heavily upon me. I have developed the same condition as Michael, but unlike him I can usually find a donor to help with transfusions.
I read about a gang of people smugglers online recently, and thought to myself how Michael would have hated it. I smile at the thought that these powerful people continue with seeming impunity, thinking that the law will never catch up with them as they move from country to country.
I think that I will book myself a holiday I always feel so much healthier after a holiday.