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Blood Blister

Liam Hogan is an award winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 & 2019, and Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Press). He's been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars' League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details atHappyEndingNotGuaranteec.blogspot.co.uk.

I was in a social bubble with a vampire.
His name was--is--William Sadler. No European Count, he. No ancestral castle lurking in the rain-shrouded mountains of Carpathia. Wills was an Essex vampire, though he'd moved away when the neighborhood got reputable, a century and a half ago. I tried to convince him it had become dis-reputable again, but he wasn't keen to see for himself. Bad memories, apparently.
His North London crypt had been sealed since the start of lockdown, which meant that, for all intents and purposes, he lived alone. As did I, in my top floor, one-bed conversion. Other than a half-brother and his Tory girlfriend, I didn't have many alternatives. Or any; if I didn't want to join a pity-bubble. So Wills it was, but of course, I had to invite him.
"Are you sure, Jessie?" he asked on Facetime, after he'd explained how he was struggling. "You do know what it will entail?"
I nodded, solemn. We had been friends for just over six months, having met online in a Gothic poetry group. At that point I still hadn't met him IRL, the pandemic having put paid to the fortnightly poetry socials. But, outside of the increasingly fractious critique sessions, I'd started to share my work with him and he with me. During the long, dark nights of full lockdown it had been one of very few highlights and I felt I knew him as well as I knew anyone. In discussing some of his more complex allusions, I'd learned what he was and what he did. It hadn't soured the relationship.
"The invitation stands," I told him. "I'll order in some iron supplements."
For a couple of months our arrangement worked well enough. Once a week he would come over an hour or so after sunset and do his best to salvage my sanity. No mean trick, after a day of working-from-home zoom meetings, especially when the early summer turned my flat into a furnace. We'd cook together (no garlic, alas) as he regaled me with tales of other quarantines he'd been through. I suspected he was avoiding some of the more gruesome details, and quite possibly hiding the fact that, often as not, the strange illness sweeping through the small English villages had been entirely down to him. Sometimes he'd read me his latest verse. My muse was self-isolating and hadn't been seen or heard from for a couple of months, but he seemed genuinely interested in my feedback. And then I'd eat the meal-for-one, feeling self-conscious as he watched, as he licked his narrow lips. His close attention made me drink the more than decent bottle of red he always brought a little too fast, so that even before I started on dessert I'd begin to feel giddy in the flickering candlelight. All along he'd be staring at my neck--I always wore something low cut for him--and as soon as I crossed my knife and fork or laid down my spoon he'd carry me over to the pull-out sofa and then he'd... Well. He'd do what he had to do.
It wasn't unpleasant, per se, though it usually left me a bit dizzy. And after the months of isolation, the close contact was insanely intimate.
Though--and this might have been the temporary light-headedness--it usually left me feeling flat and rather unfulfilled.
I'd suggested more than once that he could stay over--you can do that in a bubble, I think. The ever-changing rules weren't always clear to me. But no; as soon as he had had his fill he would leave, saying my black-out blinds weren't good enough. I suspected the real reason was that if he stayed, we would have to talk about what had just happened.
I knew he had his baggage. I guess you don't get to three hundred and thirteen without acquiring some along the way. And yet, and yet, I'd had longer relationships than he.
I reread his poetry with a different awareness. Was there anything genuine in there? Was it all to impress?
Then one night he turned up a little later than I'd expected. Distracted, I nicked my finger as I was slicing an onion. "Sorry," I said, as a drop of blood oozed from the wounded digit, holding it as far from him as possible and reaching for a tea-towel.
He didn't blink. His nostrils didn't flare. And then I realized.
"Have you already...?" I asked, suddenly feeling stupid.
"Ah, yes," he smiled, shrugged. "The Three Crown's beer garden was heaving, so I nipped in for a quick pint."
I must have looked horrified, because he hastily concluded: "Don't worry Jessie; I haven't spoiled my appetite."
I carefully lay down the sharp knife. "You'd better leave."
"Excuse me?"
"You think you're immune. And perhaps you are. But I'm not. If I'm bubbling with you then I share your risks."
He looked confused. "But you're not in the shielding category and anyway the pubs are reopening and--"
"Just because the government says we can do something doesn't make me want to do it." I shook my head. It wasn't so much what he'd done as the realization he wouldn't have said anything, if I hadn't asked. And his offended look told me that as far as he was concerned, bubble or not, I had no real right to know.
"I'm also sharing the risks of whoever it was you weren't social distancing with. And whoever they are mingling with. And on, and on. No, I'm sorry Wills, but your invitation is hereby revoked."
He didn't glance back as he climbed out of the third-floor window, though I could tell from the hunch of his still smoldering shoulders that he was in a huff.
I didn't bother cooking the salmon steak. I went straight to dessert, hacking at the freezer-hard blood-orange sorbet with a spoon rather than waiting for it to warm.
The cold-hearted bastard even forgot the bottle of wine.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021


Author Comments

For those of you not in the know, the UK support bubble system allowed a person living alone to form a "bubble" with either another person living alone, or a single household, during the hardest levels of lockdown. You were SUPPOSED to stay faithful to that bubble, and if you didn't... well, I guess the bubble burst. As to the rest of it, this is all about vampires, and not about relationships, and trust, and communication. No sirree....

- Liam Hogan
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