For the last five years, I've been meeting with a group of friends every other week as we hash out things we're writing. We recently set up this website, named for our fellowship, which we dubbed Pints & Prose (although poetry and liquor are also welcomed). It's a combination of our own writing -- mostly light philosophical and social stuff, and literary-critical style analysis -- and things that we find cool.
Bill Hoard, Ben Faroe, and I probably write the most out of the regular participants, and each of us have several projects we've been working on for years. Bill and Ben have finally reached publication: the two of them are collaborating on an episodic work titled Hubris Towers (partly an homage to Fawlty Towers, with touches of P. G. Wodehouse), which has required me to ask them to stop in the middle of a reading more than once because I was laughing so hard. Ben also has a fairy tale, The Stone and the Song, available, which was his first publication and has already done well.
And I am going to be publishing soon, too! For the last five years I've been working on a novel, and I finished it about two weeks ago. It's set in the mid-Victorian era in London; it's a Gothic piece, indeed (if you own a monocle, now is a good time to insert it) a tragical Bildungsroman, complete with vampires, poltergeists, manticores, and Catholics. It's called Death's Dream Kingdom, and follows the progress of one Marie Redglass as she is initiated into the world of vampires in the London of 1874 and 1875. What follows is a selection from its early pages.
The manor and its grounds lay to the north of the city, east of Hampstead Ponds, with Primrose Hill looming to its south out of the greyness. It was, as Lord Ravenhurst had once explained to Marie over sherry and biscuits at one of the little literary salons he held at his house, the ancestral seat of the Fairfax family, of which he was the last surviving member. Not, he noted, to be confused with the Anglo-Scottish Fairfaxes of Roxburgh; it was rather a curious corruption of the Norman fer-face, presumably in reference to a Mediæval helm. As for Mediævalism, Ravenhurst had as much of that as any Pre-Raphaëlite could have wished: the manor was more castle than house, with spires and embattled parapets thrown up against the sky like jagged stone teeth, a weird and gigantic tower looming out of the unseen center of the edifice, and an age-blackened façade that frowned out of a mass of ivy, pierced by thin, pointed windows heavily draped against the daylight.
Marie had only ever seen it by night before, when the curtains were drawn back and the light of lamps and candles and chandeliers made every window look like a magic lantern, the uglier features being concealed or softened by the dark. Now, as the forerunning light of dawn crept through the late autumnal fog, she wondered briefly whether she would ever have gone near the place, had she first seen it in better light. But this was no time for metaphysical speculations. Having already left the road some time ago, she had to pick her path inconveniently over the railway line, and, once she had cleared it, she lifted her skirts and broke into a run.
It did not take her nearly as long as she had expected. It was a furlong or more from the railway to the front door of Ravenhurst Manor, yet she had traversed the distance in less than a minute. Ignoring this puzzle, she turned to the great front door, with its large brass knocker in the shape of a lion’s head with bared fangs. She tapped it and waited, wishing miserably that she could be anywhere else in England. An owl hooted somewhere nearby, and was promptly contradicted by the chirrup of a sparrow.
The door was opened by the tall, grey-mustached butler of the household, Godalming. “Good day to you, Mademoiselle Redglass,” he said colorlessly, as though he had not witnessed the volatile parting of a few hours before.
“Let me in,” she replied urgently, with no pretense at good manners.
“One moment, mademoiselle. I shall ascertain whether his lordship is --”
“Please, Godalming, you know me, you know he knows me --”
“Forgive me,” he said, now becoming a little stiff in his manner. “I have no power to invite you over the threshold. Excuse me.”
He left her on the doorstep. Marie tangled her fingers together nervously and untangled them again a few times, looking out at the grounds (where the fog was turning from grey to pearl at every moment) like a bird scanning the sky for predators.
“Ah, my dear,” interrupted a basso cantante voice. She turned quickly back. There stood the master of the house himself, Augustus Fairfax, wearing an indecently triumphant smile. “This is a thoroughly expected pleasure. Though admittedly, I wondered, when last you left, whether you realized you would be imparting it; I believe you said you never wished to see me again as long as you lived? -- words to that effect.”
Marie lowered her eyes a little from his. “Please, Lord Ravenhurst; I am sorry --”
“I dare say you are.”
“Please shelter me. I beg you.”
He made a scoffing noise and stood back. “Come in.”
She lifted her skirts and stepped over the threshold. “Thank you,” she said to him quietly.
The aristocrat made no reply, but ordered her to follow with a gesture. Goldaming came over and shut and bolted the door; the sound was curiously loud, yet stifled, more like the shutting of a box than of a door. They went to the library, whose windows, like all the others, were thickly curtained, to keep out the lethal sun; Augustus’ pale shirtsleeves flashed on either side of his emerald waistcoat in the semi-darkness as he turned up a few of the gas-lamps at the edges of the room, and then crossed to one of the chairs near its center, a finely carved ebony thing with cushions in Paris green. Standing behind it, resting his elbows on its back, gazing at Marie as she stood still near the door of the room, he was the very image of leonine, indolent contempt. He sniffed ostentatiously.
“Dead?” he asked.
She stared, uncomprehending. “What?”
“Is he dead?” the vampire expanded; and then, with a touch of impatience, he clarified, “The man whose blood you drank. You are positively reeking of him, there is no use prevaricating. Did you kill him? Most fledgling vampires are more reluctant than that at first --”
“I didn’t! Man whose -- how dare you!”
Augustus’ eyes flashed. “Manners, Mademoiselle Redglass. I speak to you thus because I am your sire. My authority over you henceforward is, as it were, paternal. Accustom yourself.”
Outrage choked her. Helpless to act, dependent and bewildered as she was, she took a few aimless steps about her corner of the room and was still again. Her host watched her, making no attempt to hide his malicious amusement. After a few moments, he turned his gaze to the small circular table beside the chair he was leaning upon. On it stood a jade-green glass vase, about two feet tall, minutely adorned with silver filigree.
“I purchased that in Venice, eighty-six years ago, on the centenary of the deposition of King James the Second,” said Augustus, a little dreamily. “Such a dismal summer that was! But once or twice, when the weather did manage to get hot -- then even at night the Adriatic was like a blue oriflamme, billowing out to the southeast. And outdoors or within, the fragrances of the wines, the perfumes, the scents of grapes and rosemary and pomegranate blossoms … Have you ever been to Venice, my dear?”
Marie was stonily silent. The amused look on Augustus’ face increased for a moment, then faded: he was unnaturally still, his eyes fixed on the vase. Suddenly it exploded, shards of costly glass flying outward with violence. She started and cried out. Then she noticed that the vampire’s hand was extended, not in a fist but spread out flat, into the space that had a moment before been where the center of the vase was. He had broken it with a mere flick of his hand. He stared at the fragments silently for a long while, and then turned back to Marie and spoke.
“It was the wrong color,” he explained placidly. “I take my time in deciding.”