Something To Eat

Something To Eat by Orren Merton
Something To Eat by Orren Merton (Heinrich Saga #2, ISBN: 9780983023630) published on October 19, 2011 by Darkling Books.

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“PLEASE!” Lola begged. She scurried backwards as fast as she could, not daring to take her eyes off the knife-wielding man crawling after her. “STOP!”

She and her patron had been lying some fifty feet from an unlit secluded dirt path in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the interests of privacy.  There was nothing unusual about this particular transaction—until he pulled that knife out of his jacket.  At that moment, being so far from the walking path—let alone the horses and carriages clattering past the Gardens—terrified her.  Lola desperately hoped she was skittering back towards the trail; she felt all turned around in the undergrowth, and her fear was clouding her mind.

He leaped up from all fours and lurched forward, slashing as he landed nearly on top of her legs.  She sprung backwards.  The blade sliced through the waist of her underdress, cutting a gash in her abdomen. She was far too scared to feel the sting.

“Don’t run away sweetie!” the man laughed. “You don’t want my mate to have all the fun with _his_ whore, do you?”

Lola kicked at his head and continued scrambling away. “Look ‘John’—or whatever your name is—let’s just call it even, okay?  You don’t owe me anything…consider this a night’s free entertainment and just leave me be.  PLEASE!”

John laughed and slashed at her.

She paused to kick at his knife hand.  Her shoe impacted his fingers hard.

“Ow!” He winced, and then lunged forward with all his might.  His torso landed hard on her thighs and shoved her down into the thicket.

She screamed.

“Now that’s what I like to hear!” he sniggered.

She grabbed his knife arm with both of her own.  She strained to push it away, but he forced it back toward her.  With his free arm, John punched her cheek.  Her head slammed into the undergrowth, and she released his arm.

John pressed his knife against Lola’s throat. “Go ahead and keep squirming,” he grinned, “it just makes the game more fun, it does!”

A boot crashed into the undergrowth beside the assailant’s head, startling both John and Lola.

Can I play too…?” a voice seethed through the darkness.

An arm reached down, grabbed the attacker’s knife arm away from Lola’s neck, and lifted him into the air.

“What?” John strained to see who was holding him. He caught only a shrouded view of a dark figure with white teeth curled in a cruel smile beneath glowing red eyes.

The figure jammed the claws from his free hand into the John’s side.  His sharp nails sliced through John’s shirt and punctured his gut.  John cried out and kicked at the menacing figure.  The figure took the blows to his thigh and stomach without motion.

“You think cutting women is fun?  Hurting women is a game?” The figure tightened his grip deep inside the assailant’s flesh.

John wailed in pain.

The figure hurled the man through the air some twenty feet onto the dirt road.

The figure looked down at the trembling woman.

Lola met his gaze with a mixture of surprise, fear, and gratitude. She gazed intently into those blazing red eyes.  Instead of hatred, she saw compassion in them.

He quickly determined that she wasn’t bleeding heavily, then hurried after his victim.  The man had landed on his side, grunting from the blow.  He looked up to see the dark figure racing towards him.  The assailant leapt up and jammed his knife all the way to the hilt into the figure’s left side.

The figure grimaced in pain as he seized both hands of the man and held them in his iron grip.

“That hurt!” he fumed.  He squeezed John’s wrists until bones started snapping.

“STOP IT!” John howled, “I…I’ve got money…What do you want?”

The figure’s eyes burned with rage.  “I want you to suffer…”

“But why? SHE’S JUST A WHORE!”

The figure released one of the man’s wrists and grabbed his neck.  He dug his claws into his victim’s throat.

And you’re just a meal!

The figure shoved the man by the throat and wrist down into the dirt, forcing him into a kneel, then kneeled down beside him and opened his mouth.  The full length of the figure’s razor-sharp canines glistened in the moonlight.

Horror enveloped his victim as the figure sunk his teeth into the man’s shoulder.  John screamed and flailed as the figure’s teeth tore larger and larger gashes.  The figure held his victim tight, sucking down large gulps of the man’s blood, pausing occasionally to take a breath, then continuing.

After a minute, the man stopped screaming.  A minute after that, his flailing was reduced to spasms.  Another minute later, he stopped moving altogether.

When he’d drunk his fill, the figure pushed the corpse away and sat back onto the dirt. He gasped deeply—feeding was a rush; he needed to catch his breath.

As he sat there, his eyes blankly staring at the dirt beside his boots, he noticed the luminescence from a small handheld oil lamp.  He looked up and saw the young woman he rescued walking toward him, having gathered up her belongings from the undergrowth.  She held the lamp in one hand, a few items of clothing folded inside her other arm in the other, and she wore a wool wrap that covered her torso over her underdress.  She sat down at the edge of the dirt path, a few feet away from the bloody and panting figure.

“Thank you,” she said. “I…my life may not be worth much, but I’m attached to it.” She flashed a weak smile.

The figure smiled back.  “Are you hurt badly?” he asked softly.  “I saw the gash near your belly.”

“A gash…?  Oh, right,” Lola remembered.  She’d forgotten about her wound in her panic and fear.  She let her wrap fall from her torso and looked down at the split in her dress.  It was red with her blood, but it wasn’t wide enough for her to gauge the severity of the cut.  She slid her underdress off of her shoulders and pushed it down past the wound, holding the small oil lamp up near her belly.  Her stomach and abdomen had congealed blood caked on it from the wound, but the slice itself wasn’t very thick or deep, and it had already closed.  She raised her head to tell the figure she was fine.

“Awww,” she cooed, completely charmed. She couldn’t help but smile; he had turned away so as not to gaze upon her bare breasts.

“I’m so sorry!  Please forgive my immodesty,” she said as she quickly pulled her dress back over her shoulders. “In my line of work…I’m used to undressing for men.  I didn’t mean to—”

“I understand, really,” the figure swallowed.  He took quick bashful glances toward the woman, only turning himself completely toward her once her chest was covered. “Of course you had to look at your wound.  I…I just—”

“Never apologize for being a gentleman,” she smiled.  “I’m Charlotte, but my friends call me Lola.  And I think you’re incredibly sweet.”

“I’m Heinrich.  My friends call me Heinrich,” he grinned. “Nice to meet you Lola.”

“Nice to meet you too, Heinrich.  Anyway, I’m not hurt badly.  Are _you_hurt badly?”

Heinrich stared at Lola.  “Excuse me?”

“Are you hurt?” Lola repeated.  “Your shirt is cut through; it looks deep.”

Heinrich smiled, almost in disbelief.  “I’m fine, Lola.  It hurts, but I don’t bleed or die the way the way others do.  I’m surprised you asked.  People…they don’t usually see past…what I am.”

Lola shrugged. “People don’t normally see past what I am, either.”

“You’re not a monster,” Heinrich said, his expression more melancholy than menacing.

Lola face curled in sympathy. “I don’t think you are either.”

“Thanks,” Heinrich replied.

“So how did you find me?”

“I was across the Gardens at the poetry reading, spending time with a friend and his mates.  I heard you scream, excused myself, and raced over here.”

“Thank heavens for your ears!” She sighed heavily, her face becoming drawn.  “I have to ask…I came to the Pleasure Gardens with a friend, Bess.  We found a pair of interested…um…patrons…and they took us here for some privacy.  Did you find her, too?”

Heinrich swallowed hard and looked away from Lola.  “I found the other man…but not her.  I can smell living people…and I can’t smell anyone else but you alive here.”

Lola lowered her head, nodding slowly, tears beginning to fall.

“Lola I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time.”

Lola stood up and walked toward Heinrich.  He stood to meet her.  She put her arms around him.  He held her as she wept.  After a moment, she regained composure and looked him in the eye.

“Don’t apologize.  It’s those rascals who thought to murder us. You did everything you could—you were amazing.”

She wiped her face dry and looked up at him.  “Do you have a moment?  Could you help me look for her?”

“Of course.”

Lola put the clothes she’d been holding down on the path and held out her hand. Heinrich took it.  The pair started through the undergrowth at the point where Lola and Bess had originally parted and methodically covered the thicket spanning outward from there.  Lola’s lamp barely gave off enough light to see ten feet around her.  Nevertheless, they covered a wide circle, at least a hundred feet out and around from where they’d left the dirt path.

After more than an hour of searching, they reached the body of the man that Bess had left with.  He was lying in the thicket, eyes wide open, shirt bloody, bloody knife in his hand.  His head was twisted unnaturally and he wasn’t breathing.

“You snapped his neck?” Lola asked, trying to hold back the tears.

“Yes,” Heinrich answered, gently pulling Lola closer. “I wanted to dispatch him quickly, so I could save you.  Yours was the only voice I heard.”

Lola sniffled back a sob and put her arm around Heinrich.  “He probably held her mouth…“  Her chin, already quivering, twisted with rage.  She stepped forward and started screaming and kicking at the body with all her might until she couldn’t scream anymore.  Heinrich stood behind her, gently holding onto her shoulders.  When her voice failed, she turned and sobbed on Heinrich’s chest.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.  “I’m so very, very sorry….”

After Lola had cried for a spell, she wiped her eyes and regained some composure.

“Thank you.  I feel bad about leaving without finding her…her body.  But in this darkness, we could look all night and not find anything.  Any ideas?”

“Come back tomorrow during daylight.  I’ll get some help to keep looking tonight.  But you’re right; there’s nothing more we can do now.  Let’s go back to your clothes.”

She nodded and they started walking back to where they started their search.  When they reached the path, she kneeled down to pick up her clothes, and Heinrich squatted down and began to quietly howl.  Lola stood up and stared quizzically at him.  After a few moments, a pair of medium-sized dogs trotted up to them.

Heinrich spent a moment patting and playing with the unkempt strays, then spoke to them:

“I need you to search the ground for a human female.  She is not living.  Find her.  Then find other people here and show them what you found.”

The dogs panted happily and pawed at Heinrich.  He smiled and rubbed their backs, cooed and scratched their fur.  Lola smiled, too.

When the dogs bounded away, Heinrich turned to Lola.  “They’ll find her; don’t worry.”

“They understand you?” she asked.


“You are a man full of surprises,” Lola offered.

“I’m not a man,” Heinrich admitted.

“Then what?  A…a vampire?”

Heinrich nodded apologetically.

“Well, I’ve never heard of a vampire anything like you,” Lola admitted. “You’ve been wonderful to me.  Truly.”

Heinrich smiled. Then he picked up his victim and held him in his arms. “I’m going to make this look like the two men were fighting.  If you’d like to follow…”

Lola nodded, and the pair walked back to the man with the broken neck.  Heinrich dropped the other body next to his and arranged them to appear as if they had scuffled.  Heinrich took the knife of the first man and cut into the teeth marks he’d left on the second, to erase any outward signs that he had been drinking his blood.

Once the men were arranged to Heinrich’s satisfaction, he reached down and patted the waistline and jacket of the first man and produced a small purse.  He also found a small pouch in the jacket of Lola’s patron.  He quickly shook them to confirm they contained coins.

“Here,” Heinrich said as he handed the bags to Lola. “It won’t come close to covering what you’ve been through, but you should have them.”

“No, I…it feels strange to me….”

“It’s okay,” Heinrich reassured her. “They don’t need the money, and they put you through hell.”

“Do you normally take the purses of the men you…”

“Yes,” Heinrich admitted.  “It’s hard to make a living when you can’t go out during the day, you know.”

Lola nodded.  “You should have them, then.  You earned it.”

“But this man—” Heinrich kicked the corpse, “took his liberty with you. You should at least be paid for your time.  Take it.”

Lola stared at the purses.  She took the one that was her attacker’s and opened it up.  There were at least ten guineas inside that pouch, far more than the price they’d agreed on.  Then again, she’d not agreed to be murdered, nor had her friend….

“How about this,” Lola suggested. “I’ll take the purse of the bloke who attacked me.  But please, you take the other purse.  Consider it a reward for saving my life.”

Heinrich handed Lola his victim’s purse. “Saving your life has been reward enough for me.”

Lola smiled and rested her head against Heinrich’s chest.  Heinrich embraced Lola and caressed her wavy brown hair.  The pair stood over the two corpses for a moment, when Heinrich pulled away to speak.

“Do you leave around here?  Near Vauxhall?”

“No.  I live a ways from here, over London Bridge in Whitechapel.”

Heinrich scowled.  “There’s some pretty dodgy neighborhoods between here and Whitechapel.  Not that Whitechapel isn’t dodgy itself.”

“I hadn’t imagined I’d be walking home alone…”

“Would you feel comfortable if I escorted you to your door?”

“I was hoping you’d offer…” Lola admitted.  “Thank you.  Just let me put my dress on.  Don’t worry,” Lola winked, “I don’t need to take anything off.”

Heinrich grinned and took her wrap and lamp for her while she changed.  She quickly put her corset around her waist and very loosely tied it on.  Then she put her overdress on top of her underdress and corset.  Heinrich handed her back her wrap, which she spun around her torso and tied at her neck.  Finally, she took hold of her lamp.

“I’m sorry I look a total shambles.”

“You look lovely, even as you are,” Heinrich said.

“And you look quite tall and dashing with your black hair and shirt and trousers.”

“Thanks,” he grinned.  Heinrich held his arm out to Lola, and she wrapped her free arm around his.  “Let’s go.”

The pair left the Gardens toward London Bridge.  Even with the gaslights aligning Kennington Lane burning, shadows and darkness enveloped the street, with Lola’s dim oil lamp barely shining past her feet. Thankfully, other than the occasional rustling near buildings or dark alleys, they never saw or heard anyone else.

“So,” Lola began, trying to make conversation, “Heinrich isn’t a common name…”

“I’m originally from a village in Lower Saxony, not too far from the North Sea.”

“You don’t have an accent at all,” Lola said.

“Thanks.  Yeah, I used to, but I’ve been here quite some time.  I’ve stayed longer in England than most places.”

“How long have you been here?” Lola asks.

Heinrich stopped talking and concentrated for a moment.  “I don’t remember exactly but it was in the early 1700s.  It’s 1817 now, so I’ve probably been here just over a hundred years.”

“Well, you don’t look much older than I am, and I’m twenty-two,” Lola smiled.

“Thanks,” Heinrich smiled back. “I was turned into a vampire when I was twenty-six, so I think that’s when I stopped aging.”

“How did that happen?  You becoming a vampire, I mean?  Was it…was it horrible?”

“It’s a long story…I don’t like to talk about it.  My family…” Heinrich swallowed back a sob.  “I’m sorry.  Maybe someday.”

“I understand; I didn’t mean to pry,” Lola said. “So…what’s it like, being around so long?”

“Lonely,” Heinrich lamented.

Lola tightened her grip on Heinrich’s arm and moved closer to him, leaning her head against his shoulder as they walked.  She cried softly.

“Bess and I spent so much time together…I guess now I’m alone, too.”

Heinrich gently caressed Lola’s arm as they continued on in silence.  As they continued up Borough High Street the gaslights got closer together, illuminating more of the shops as they neared London Bridge.  They remained silent as they crossed London Bridge, then Lola resumed the conversation.

“What do you do?  I mean, when you’re not…”

“Feeding?” Heinrich finished her sentence.  “I love to read, and I read whatever I can: books, poems, papers, you name it.”

“That’s why you were at the poetry reading at the Gardens,” Lola said.

“Yes,” Heinrich agreed.

“I’m sorry you missed it.”

“Don’t worry, it was worth it,” Heinrich grinned.

“I started learning to read a bit in Sunday school at Church.  But they don’t really teach girls much, and my dad wasn’t much for reading.”

Heinrich shook his head. “Such a shame.  Even in the worst ugliness, words can be so beautiful.”

“Sounds nice,” Lola sighed.  “I’d love to know more poetry, and to learn to read.”

“It’s not too late,” Heinrich said.

“So there’s still hope for me?” Lola grinned.

“Very much so,” Heinrich smiled back.

The pair finally reached Whitechapel High Street.  This was the darkest major thoroughfare yet, with gas lights both sparse and in disrepair. The sounds of nervous shuffling from within dark alleyways and behind shadows were unmistakable.

Lola instinctively held closer to Heinrich.

“Don’t worry,” Heinrich reassured her.  “You’re completely safe.  Of all the monsters of the night…I am the worst.”

“Not the worst,” Lola smiled, “even if the fiercest.”

Heinrich returned the smile.

“So I live in a room in a building on Hope Street,” Lola told Heinrich.  “We should turn there at Green Dragon Yard across from Saint Mary’s; that’ll get us there.”

Heinrich nodded.

“How do you spend your days?” Lola asked.  “You don’t have to sleep in a graveyard or something, do you?”

“No,” Heinrich smirked.  “I usually find an inn before it gets light.  I always ask for a room with no windows, so it’s completely dark…”

”…because you can’t be in the sun,” Lola continued.

“Right.  But I don’t need to be in a coffin or anything like those stories.  Don’t believe everything you hear.”

Lola nodded.

Once they turned from Whitechapel High Street, there were no gaslights at all.  Heinrich could still see in the blackness and found Hope Street easily. Even in the near black, Lola could find the old three-story building in which her room was housed, and she made her way to the building’s main door.

“My flat is on the first floor, toward the back,” Lola said.

The old floorboards creaked under their feet as they walked through the dark hallway.  “This is it,” Lola said when they’d reached the far end.

“You are wonderful company, Lola,” Heinrich said as he removed her arm from around his. “I’m so glad we met—I just wish the circumstances could have been…different.”

Lola nodded, turned, and opened the door.  Then she turned back to Heinrich.

“Please come in.”

Heinrich raised his eyebrows, confused. “What?”

“Please come in, Heinrich,” Lola repeated.

“I…I’m not…”

“Please,” she implored.  “I…I don’t want to be alone…it’s been…please come in.”

“Aren’t you afraid…if I get hungry…”

“I’m not afraid,” Lola said.

“Maybe I am…” Heinrich admitted.

Lola smiled. “I know you won’t hurt me.  You wouldn’t save me and walk me home just to kill me.  Besides, I could tell from when you turned from me undressing you were a gentleman—and gentleman vampires don’t feed off young ladies,” she winked.

Heinrich couldn’t help but chuckle.

“My room is completely dark—there is one window, but I keep it covered, so nobody can peep.  You’ll be safe with me. Please come in.”

Heinrich nodded and followed Lola inside.

Heinrich awoke to find Lola sitting in a wooden chair by a small wooden table to his right.  He took a moment to adjust his eyes to the room, illuminated by an oil light on the table and candles on the counter on the other side of the bed and on the mantelpiece across the room next to the small bar on which Lola hung her dresses.

“Good evening, Heinrich,” Lola smiled as she set aside the underdress she was sewing.  Her warm expression bore more than a hint of sadness. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did, thank you.” He slid his legs over the side of the bed next to her and sat up.  “When did you get up?”

“I’ve been up for a while,” she said.  “Around the noon hour I crept outside, so as not to wake you.”

“I didn’t hear you at all, so thank you.“  As Heinrich focused his eyes, he noticed Lola wore a simple yet tasteful beige wool dress.

“May I ask, did you—”

“I went back to Vauxhall Gardens,” Lola nodded.  The hint of sadness became more pronounced.  “One of the dogs from last night saw me walking, came up to greet me and led me to Bess.  She’d been dragged far from where we were.  Her throat—” Lola choked on her word, tears welling up.

“I’m so sorry…” Heinrich reached out and placed her hands between both of his.

Lola’s gratitude for his sympathy shone through her tears. “One of the Bow Street Runners had already arrived to investigate the crime.  They’d found the men, too.”

Heinrich nodded.

“I told him who she was, then said that she came to the Gardens with me and my lovely gentleman caller from Lower Saxony who loves poetry…”

Heinrich smiled and caressed Lola’s fingers in his hands.

“I said we left together, but she wanted to leave us and spend time with the man who…” Her throat caught on her words again.

“A good story,” Heinrich said.  “Her family will be notified, and that’s the important thing. You should be proud of what you did for your friend.”

Lola nodded, sitting silently for a moment, telegraphing her affection through her smile.  Soon she removed her hands from Heinrich’s to wipe her eyes.  She rose and walked over to her counter.

“I’m going to fix myself something to eat, if you don’t mind.  I’d love to fix you something to eat, too, or can you only—”

Heinrich shook his head. “I can only feed on blood…”

“I thought so, but I had to ask.  Can I get you something to drink?  I can make you some tea or get you a cup of water, if you’d like.”

“Water would be fine, thank you.”

Lola reached for one of the cups on her counter.  She grabbed a pitcher and poured in some water, then turned back to Heinrich.

“Do you like mint?”

“Sure,” Heinrich answered.

“Good.” Lola pinched off a leaf from a small mint bush she had in a pot on her counter and crushed it into the cup. She smiled and shrugged girlishly as she handed him the glass.  “The mint will hopefully make it taste better…but really I just wanted to fuss over you at least a little.”

“It’s perfect,” Heinrich smiled, “I couldn’t ask for more.“  He sipped the water and held the cup in his lap.  Lola spread preserves on a slice of bread and put it on a small plate.  She walked with the plate back to the chair next to Heinrich.

“I apologize for not being a ladylike eater,” Lola confessed.

“Please, don’t apologize,” Heinrich grinned. His grin quickly turned pensive.

“I’ll have to soon, too.”

“Have to what?”

Heinrich swallowed. “Eat.”

Lola nodded, putting the bread back on the plate. “Let me quickly sew up the hole in your shirt.  It’s a small one; it won’t take long.”

“You don’t have—”

“Please Heinrich.  I want to do this for you.  If you’re feeling modest, I won’t watch you take your shirt off, I promise.”

“It’s okay,” Heinrich smiled as he removed his black shirt, “I’m not _that_shy.”

“Good,” Lola smirked. She looked his torso up and down. “It’s a shame I _can’t_ fix you something, I’d love to put some meat on those pale, skinny bones of yours,” she winked.

Heinrich playfully sighed and shook his head as he handed Lola his shirt.  Lola reached down and grabbed a spool of black thread from under the table.  She unwound an appropriate amount of thread, snapping it off the spool.  She threaded her sewing needle and proceeded to sew the hole closed.

“Do you have any clothes other than the clothes on your back?”

“No,” Heinrich admitted.  “When I wear them out, I buy new clothes.  I travel very light, because I never know where I’m going to be from one night to the next.”

Lola’s face tightened.  She avoided eye contact with Heinrich.  She quickly finished sewing the hole and handed the shirt back to him.

She swallowed her trepidation and then spoke. “Well, you know where you’ll be tonight….”

Heinrich put the shirt back on, never taking his eyes off Lola. “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t.”

“You should. Please.”

“I…you know what I do, Lola.”

“I do.  I know what you are. I know you’re not a monster.”

Heinrich sighed.  “Lola…it’s not that simple.  I try to only feed off people doing deathly harm to others.  This means I have to travel all over London sometimes.  I can’t promise I’ll be back…I may be too far away…”

“This is Whitechapel,” Lola attempted a lighthearted tone.  “There’s always unsavory people doing unsavory things around here.”

“Someone doesn’t deserve to die just for being unsavory, do they?”

“Of course not, but…oh wait!” Lola remembered, “What about The London?”

“The London…?  The London Hospital?”

“Yeah.  It’s not but a few blocks from here.  They’re always bringing in folks just before they die or freshly dead.  Why not feed off them?  They’ll not miss their blood once they’re gone.”

Heinrich nodded.  “A good suggestion.  I’d not thought of it…I may try.  But I can’t be sure.  I…”

“Please come back,” Lola interrupted, her voice quivering.

Heinrich stood up.  “I should go,” he uttered softly. When he reached the door he turned around. “Lola thank you for—”

Lola rushed from the table and put her arms around Heinrich’s neck. She planted a quick, passionate kiss on his lips. “Please come back tonight.  We can talk or not talk, touch or not touch, whatever you want.  Just come back…please.”

“I’m not even alive, Lola,” Heinrich said, lowering his head.  “Could you ever be happy with me?”

“Yes…I think so…I don’t know—but I want to find out.  Don’t you?”

Heinrich, deeply conflicted, looked into Lola’s eyes.  He kissed her forehead tenderly.

“Goodbye,” he whispered.  He slowly backed through the door and closed it once he was outside.

Weeping quietly, Lola bolted the door behind Heinrich and slowly returned to her table.  She tried to continue eating, but salt from her tears mixed with her bread and jam turned it sour.  She put the bread back on her plate and pushed it across the table.  A moment later she returned to sewing.

Lola finished repairing her underdress.  She sighed heavily and contemplated her next move.  She had enough money now to not need work for a while. She didn’t want to go out alone.  And besides…he didn’t say that he _wouldn’t_ come back…

She decided to see what other items of clothing were in disrepair and spend the evening sewing.

After a few hours of sewing, she heard a soft knocking at her door.  Her heart leapt into her throat.

“Yes?” she said, almost trembling, as she rose and approached the door.

“May I come in?” a familiar voice asked hoarsely.

Lola’s face erupted in excitement and relief as she unbolted the door.

“Heinrich!  I’m so glad you…” Her eyes noticed the large hole in the middle of his shirt and she gasped.  “Come in!  Sit down quickly!” She guided him by the shoulder to the chair by her table.

“Are you hurt?  What happened?  Can I get you some water?”

“Water would be wonderful. Thank you Lola.”

She hurried to her counter to pour him some water.

“It’s okay—I’ll be fine. It only aches for a while.  I took your advice.  I went to The London Hospital.  Around the back, they had an entry.  I snuck in past the guard and saw a fair number of corpses.  It looks like they have a medical school—most bodies were all cut in very specific ways, as if to demonstrate anatomy.  I waited for a new body to come in.  When the guard was busy talking to the deliverymen, I fed.”

“I’m glad I could help,” Lola said, calmed by seeing Heinrich in good spirits.  She handed him a cup of water.

He drank some of the water before continuing. “Unfortunately, the deliverymen left before I was through.  The guard walked in and saw me.  I stood up, and he started yelling and shot me with his pistol.” Heinrich poked his finger through the hole in his shirt.

“Oh darling…” she said, stroking his hair.  “I’m glad you got away!”

“I turned into a bat,” Heinrich said, “and flew out a high window.  I didn’t kill the guard.  He was just doing his job.”

Lola nodded.

“Although he _was_ quite annoying.  Not just for shooting me, although that’s pretty annoying, too.”

Lola smiled.

“He was full of himself, but buffoonish, making pronouncements like a general or king, not a hospital guard.  And he just yammered on and on and on…I flew away and he was still yammering!“  Heinrich shook his head and finished the cup of water.

Lola took the cup from his hands. “So you’ll heal?”

“Yes.  And it will stop stinging soon.”

Lola placed the cup back on her counter.

“I’m so glad you came back,” Lola said.  “You didn’t just return for…water and maybe a patch for your shirt, did you?” she swallowed.

“No.  I came…to stay.”

“I’m glad,” Lola replied, her eyes welling up. “I’m so glad….”

“Although I may need to go out again tonight…since I was interrupted, I’m still hungry.”

“You know you can always—”

Before Lola could finish her thought, the door swung open. A short brawny man burst in and pointed a flintlock pistol at Lola.

“Stay where you are!” he shouted histrionically at Heinrich.  “You won’t escape me again! Don’t move or I’ll cut your witch down where she stands!”

Lola gasped, her hands instinctively covering her chest.  She threw Heinrich a quick, frightened glance, then turned back to the gunman.  Heinrich stood up and walked around the foot of the bed towards the door.

“That’s far enough!” the guard hollered.

Heinrich stopped.

“Please,” Lola implored, “we—”

“Silence, harlot!” he yelled as he shut the door behind himself. “I have come to slay the evil creature sharing your bed!”

The guard inched towards Heinrich with his pistol trained at Lola.  “I’ve read about vampires you know.  I—” he raised his voice even louder, “_I_shall defeat you!  I shall banish you back to the flames!”

Heinrich shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“You doubt me, Hellspawn?” the man proudly pulled a sharp wooden stake from inside his cloak with his free hand.  “I shall run your heart through!  Your days of torment and evildoing are over!”

“He’s not tormenting anyone; _you_ are!” Lola cried.

“Silence, whore!” The guard screamed, waving his pistol at Lola.  She jumped.  He took another step toward Lola.  Heinrich took another step towards him.

“One move, vampire, and I shall send your lover to The Pit!”

“All right, look,” Heinrich said, effecting a fearful tone. “Please don’t hurt the girl.  She’s done nothing.  It’s me you want.”

“If she doesn’t get in my way, once you are dispatched, I will let her go.”

“All right,” Heinrich sighed, holding his arms out to his sides.  “You win.  I am beaten.  Send me back to Hell.”

“Gladly!” the guard shouted.  He pulled his stake above his head and plunged it into Heinrich with all his might.  He shoved the stake so deeply into Heinrich’s ribs that the tip poked through his back.

“Aaaaaah!” Heinrich screamed. His hands gripped the stake in his chest, and he fell backward onto the bed.

“NO!” Lola cried.

“Yes!” the guard shouted.  “I’ve done it!  I’ve _really_ done it this time!”

He turned to Lola and waved his pistol at her. “I am the vampire slayer!”

“I have vanquished that fiend—” He pointed his pistol at Heinrich.

At that instant, Heinrich sprang from the bed.  In one fluid motion, he slammed his hand over the guard’s pistol hand, deftly prying the flintlock from his grasp.  Heinrich thrust his other hand to the man’s shoulder.  His claws dug through the guard’s jacket, shirt, and flesh and wrapped around his collarbone.

Heinrich forced the guard down to his knees.  He handed Lola the guard’s pistol.  She reached out with a trembling hand and took it.

The guard cried out in pain.  He tried to remove Heinrich’s hand from inside his shoulder using both of his own, to no avail.

“Do you have _any_ idea how much that hurts?” Heinrich said, tightening his grasp around the would-be vampire slayer’s collarbone.  “Can you _imagine_ how much it stings to breathe with a piece of wood sticking through your chest?”

“But I read…” the guard wheezed.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Heinrich shook his head. “I never understood the whole stake-through-the-heart thing, anyway.  If a sword through the heart won’t kill me, why would a stake?”

“Look,” the man panted, “maybe we can—”

“Oh shut up,” Heinrich demanded, snapping the guard’s collarbone like a twig. “I’m sick of your yammering.  You haven’t exactly endeared yourself to me by threatening Lola and stabbing me.  Besides,” Heinrich added, using his free hand to pull on his top, “look what you did to my shirt!”

“I’ll buy you a new one tomorrow,” Lola said, her hands steadier but her voice still breaking with emotion. “I’ll buy you more than one. We’re a couple, you and I.  I’ll help you…any way I can.”

Heinrich directed a tender glance at Lola.

“You said you’re still hungry…” Lola’s chin quivered as she raised the pistol to the guard’s head.

“Let me fix you something to eat.”

“Wait!” the man screamed as the flintlock’s barrel flashed.