‘Open Wide’ by Jennifer Moore

There’s been a lot of nonsense written about my line of work. Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for. Admittedly I eat a lot of garlic, but that’s French cooking for you. It’s true I wear a crucifix under my coat but I’m a God fearing man from good Catholic stock. And yes, I admit it, I do carry a stake with me at all times but it’s strictly for emergencies. I mean, what fun is a stake through the heart? It’s far too quick for my liking – wham bam, dissolve into dust. Where’s the suffering in that? One minute they’re tucked up in their coffin, sleeping off the excesses of the night before and next thing you know they’re the wrong side of a dustpan and brush. It’s too instant, too humane.

No, I say if they want living dead, eternal life etc etc then fine. Go ahead. Let’s see how far they get without their teeth. Give them a few months of that and they’ll be begging for the stake. I’ve seen the pale drawn faces pressed up against the darkened window of the blood donor unit, the withered bodies hunched in the doorways of cheap motels, sucking noisily on a crushed bedbug, or out by the dank river in the summer, lying in wait for the drunk, sated mosquitoes, returning from an evening’s gorging. That’s more like it. After all, what is a vampire without teeth? And who better to take on the forces of darkness than a dentist? My waiting room is crammed full of terrified souls – dentists are scary, ask anyone.

This evening is going to be a good one, I can sense it. The air is heavy with the scent of violets. I could smell it as soon as I stepped off the train. That’s something Bram Stoker left out – not quite macho enough I suppose. Perhaps it’s time to set the record straight. Vampires and violets go together like death and lilies, dark and night. The stronger the scent the hungrier the vampire. There are some pretty hungry vampires round here, I’d guess. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It’s five o’clock now. That gives me a good three hours before sundown. I finished work early today to get here in time. Word is that Robert Dents has been making merry with the inhabitants after hours and he and I have what you might call some unfinished business to attend to. It’s been fifty years since we last met, though I’ve seen enough of his handiwork to last me a lifetime, chasing him through the sleepy villages of Northern France, across Europe, snaking along the Rhine, narrowly missing him in Florence, always one step behind. He knows I’m coming, that’s the problem – he can smell it – he’s tasted the same blood that runs through my veins, my mother’s blood. Even then, at the tender age of five, I realised that my destiny was inextricably linked with his. It was the single defining moment – I stood there helpless, drawn to the bedroom door by the sickly scent of violets and watched him suck the very life out of her – I knew that one day I would make him pay. He turned to me and smiled, the blood still dribbling from his mouth, eyes blazing with a frenzied hatred that made me cry out in fear.

“You’ll keep,” he whispered. “I’m a little full at present.”

I’m shivering now, despite the gentle heat of the sun. He still has that effect on me. I sit down to check through my armoury one last time, drawing warmth from them, a sense of power. Drill, pliers, white mask, pink mouthwash… emergency stake tucked under the lining at the bottom of my bag. Head back, open wide, you won’t feel a thing… Of course not having any anaesthetic to hand might be considered something of a hindrance in my normal line of work, but I like to get back to basics with my blood sucking friends. Besides, I’m sure a seven hundred year old vampire like Dents won’t be too shocked if I get a little ‘medieval’ on him. He’ll wriggle of course, maybe writhe around in agony for an hour or two but I’ve always got that stake if he needs pinning down. And when he looks up at me, blood dribbling from his mouth, eyes blazing with frenzied hatred then I’ll know I’ve won. You’ll keep, I’ll whisper, smiling sweetly, I’m a little busy at present.

First things first though, I’ve got to track him down before the terrible revenge wreaking can begin. Once upon a time this would have been very straightforward – head for the nearest ale house and corner a superstitious local who, for the price of a drink, would be all too willing to share their story of mysterious coffin cargoes transported under cover of darkness. For the price of two drinks they’d probably even furnish you with directions. Of course that’s all changed now that we’ve entered the age of the courier. Parcel Force have a lot to answer for. The property game’s all new as well. Vampires have got wise. Gone are the days when they hung out in the oldest, creepiest looking house in town, all lined up in neat rows of coffins for ease of staking. No, nowadays they lie low in neat suburban terraces, in pretty country cottages with roses round the door, basking in the squalor of student flats or living it up in their chic loft conversions. They could be anywhere. If you want to find a vampire these days you have to follow your nose.

The smell of violets is growing stronger as I turn off the high street onto the long tree lined avenue so I know I must be on the right track. The street is smart and classy, with big bay-windowed apartments and polished brass railings. Robert Dents is a creature of refined tastes. With seven hundred years of European culture and money behind him he has come to appreciate the finer things in life. He also has seven hundred years of successful hunting behind him which makes him as difficult to catch as he is easy to track down. The scent here is still so strong that I automatically quicken my pace, wondering, praying that for once I’m not too late.

I stop, on a hunch, outside number 42. There’s something about the heavy brass knocker and the blackout blinds in the basement window that catches my eye. The scent is unbearably strong here, heavy cloying fingers of violet grasping at my throat, tightening round my neck as if to squeeze the last breath from my body. This is the place. The street is empty. I check one last time before donning my white gloves and picking the lock. When it comes to breaking and entering I have all the skill and swiftness of a practised criminal.

Inside the air is dark, thick and pungent. A quick glance around the empty walls and bare unfurnished rooms tells me I am right. This is not a home, merely a resting place, another staging post on Robert Dents’ never ending vacation. The big Victorian rooms and polished oak staircase are merely ostentation. He was never one for roomfuls of beautiful maidens, the vampire harem. No, Robert Dents has always travelled light. He has everything he needs in a darkened room in the basement, of that I am certain. He’ll be travelling even lighter before long if I have anything to do with it.

Drill at the ready, and bootless, I descend the basement stairs. The practised hunter knows the value of stealth. By my calculations I have a clear hour before he wakes but I can’t afford to take any chances. It is some time before my eyes grow accustomed to the dark and I stare blindly at the dense shadow in the centre of the room, watching for movement, praying for life. The low coffin shaped futon comes slowly into focus, the reclining figure wrapped in a rich purple sleeping bag. ‘It could be anyone,’ I tell myself sternly as I creep towards him. ‘He’s not the first to choose purple,’ but my heart is beating fast with an unshakeable certainty. Robert Dents. He’s mine, all mine.

The face is still, eyes clamped shut, lips curled together, hiding the long white teeth. It is the face I see every night, the face of my nightmares. The mouth twitches and I am five again, rigid with fear, helpless. ‘Deep breaths,’ I tell myself sternly. ‘He’s not going anywhere. It’s my turn now.’ A stake through the neck would hold him steady of course, make things a little easier but that’s not how the story goes. I’ve waited fifty years for this moment – I want to do it right.

He stirs slightly as I straddle his stomach, pinning him down beneath me. I rev up the drill. My hands are shaking as if I haven’t done this a hundred times before, dreaming every time that it was Dent. I lean in towards him, gagging on the warm violet breath, watching the eyes flicking restlessly beneath their eyelids. His skin is cold to the touch. I pull back the thin purple lips and prise open the heavy jaws. “NO!” I reel back. “It can’t be.” I’m too late. Someone has been here before me. The mouth gapes up at me, black and empty, the shrivelled pink gums bare and useless. My mother’s face flashes before me. After all this time…

My stake. It’s not too late to make my mark. I know what I said – it’s too quick, too humane – but I have to do something. Where would the satisfaction be in letting him live, in letting him suffer if that suffering is not at my hand? I need to see the fear in his eyes, to hold him, just once, in my power. I owe my mother that much at least. I climb off unsteadily, kicking him in the process, no longer caring. He stirs behind me as I grope for my bag but I barely notice, ripping out the contents, sending dentistry tools flying. There! My fingers curl round the wood, testing the point with the flesh of my thumb. It’s sharp, very sharp.

I turn back towards him. He is still again, sleeping. I’ll be waiting when he wakes. My breath comes in short gasps as I take up my position and raise my hand, ready. The eyes are flickering… any moment now… I steel myself. ‘One… Two…’ The crocodile eyes snap open and a hand shoots up, locking tight around my wrist. ‘Three’ chokes in the back of my throat. He’s strong.

“Looking for these?” he asks, opening his mouth wide to reveal a perfect set of dentures, the long white points flashing in the darkness. Of course. I should have guessed. I struggle to move my hand. I have to reach him. The vice like grip tightens and he twists it sharply to the left. I can hear the faint crack of bones and the stake drops, useless, to the floor. It’s over.

“Nice to see you again,” he whispers, his mouth cracking open into a dry smile.
“I’m feeling a little peckish at present.”

(c) Jennifer Moore, All Rights Reserved.

Comments are closed.