Friday, 10 June 2011

Beasts

I entered a short story competition for my local town and won first prize.  This is the story.



Beasts
980 words

It is said that a great white shark can sense a single drop of blood from over a mile away.
Whoever did that experiment must’ve had a pretty massive fish tank.

* * * * *

Proof is a funny thing. You can prove pretty much anything if you know how to go about it. Proof, in the non-mathematical sense, is all about perception. If you are trying to prove something to someone, you need only coach them into perceiving your truth. You ask me about Absolute Truth; “The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth”? Such a thing does not exist. In an infinite universe there are infinite possibilities – room for every man’s truth.
It is my job to ensure this is so. Proof is as much about deception as it is about perception. And I am very good at my job.
Even so, the gentleman before me had me at a disadvantage. “Could you repeat that, sir?” I asked him, sure that I must have misheard.
“I want you to prove that vampires do not exist.” His voice was soft and he spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully, as though mentally passing each one through quality control. There was the slight hint of an accent, possibly Scandinavian, although his expensive waistcoat and garrick suggested wealth. His features were mainly hidden in the low light. I’m not sure why, but I felt distinctly uneasy in his presence.
“But, sir. Vampires don’t exist.” I told him, forcing a grin.
“Then your job should be easy.” Came his reply. “Will you accept this charge?”
“To whom must I prove this truth?” I asked. I am used to working with civil and criminal courts, but I have been known to accept the odd independent commission.
“The village of Saltford, in Somerset.” His reply was short, but to the point.
“A whole village?!” Exasperated, I considered asking the man to leave. It had been a long day and it was late. This nonsense was getting tiring. But the expensive clothes and manner of the man called to my purse, which never was quite full enough.
“You will be well paid.” He seemed to read my mind. Another wave of unease swept through me, but my avarice won over.
“What is the payment?”
“Five thousand every year and your own house in the village. You will be required to move there. Permanently.” The gentleman answered my next question as I opened my mouth to ask it “Yes, you can resume your current profession in Saltford.”
Looking back now, it’s at this point that I should have asked “Are there any other conditions?” or even “Is that all?” But hindsight, especially that granted by nearly 150 years, has a funny way of highlighting the alternative paths of your life that were simply not visible at the time. Needless to say, I ended up accepting the stranger’s deal that night, and left for Saltford in Somerset later that week.

The first few months of my new life in Saltford went without incident. The local inhabitants of the village were friendly and welcoming.
The gentleman had kept his word and I was provided with a large house on the outskirts, towards the town of Keynsham.
It was late autumn and the winter seemed to be setting in early. I’d been to a committee meeting at the village hall (I always found it helped my cases if I was a respected member of the community) and was on my way home in the dark and the rain when I heard the first scream.
I ran towards to noise, various grizzly scenarios running through my head. Another scream chilled my bones and then; silence.
I rounded the corner and saw before me a man, lying on the ground. Beside him, sobbing was a girl of about twenty. As I drew closer, I noticed blood on the man’s coat and collar. It was running freely from two holes in his neck and mixing with the dirty rainwater that was pooled around his lifeless form.
The girl saw me and sprang up. “Stay back!” She yelled, wiping sodden hair from her face and brandishing a wooden stick.
“It’s OK” I said “I’m here to help - What happened?” I approached with my arms outstretched to show that I meant no harm. The girl dropped the stick and fell into my arms, wailing uncontrollably.
“He’s dead! M… My father! The v… vampire…”
At the mention of the word ‘vampire’, I stiffened. “You must be mistaken, child. There is no such thing as vampires.”
“There is! See, how he is stricken in the neck; his lifeblood sucked out to feed the unholy beast!” She cried “Oh sir, I am so glad you got here when you did. He could come back any minute - We must warn the others!”
I realise, now, that this was a test of the contract I had signed months before. But then, on that stormy night, I didn’t see the convenience of it all; just around the corner from my house and without another soul in sight…

My hands drew in tight around the girl’s thin neck and I squeezed.

They came for me later that night. I had passed the test; to them, that’s all that mattered. Two lives, inconsequential against the security their trust in me now offered.
Over the next few months, I went about my usual business. But the guilt of what I had done ate away at my heart. I had done foul things in my past and had ruined many lives with my profession, but murder?

Ask yourself this: Who is more the beast; he who kills for food, or he who kills for greed?

There are no vampires in Saltford, Somerset. I made sure of that in the years that followed. But I cannot guarantee that the village is free of beasts.

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