Everyone loves a back story. Every great character deserves a back story. What’s the point of introducing a new key character without giving the reader some insight into his/her life, even if they are not your main protagonist? Some characters cry out for it. And as a writer, it’s always an enjoyable diversion away from you main characters. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE writing about Michael and Sarah, but what’s a novel without variety? Sebastian is definitely one I will come back to. Maybe even Marcus. But new character Montague Kerr (from Lost Creatures) had me hooked from the start and begged for a back story.
Montague is an Elder vampire; exiled from the vampire council for refusing to agree with their views that all sensors must be killed and now lives his life as a night-shift warden caring for the elderly at Auburn Mews Residential Home. When Sarah and Michael seek him out in the hope he can help them find the answers to Michael’s heritage and the reason for their strange connection, he offers up the story of how he was transformed into a vampire. Born in Elizabethan England, trained in medicine but with a secret yearning for the theatrical world; he had denied his true self all of his human life to keep his father happy, even marrying a young girl called Millicent, although he knew it was nothing but a charade. After his father dies, he happens by chance to renew an old friendship with Cuthbert Burbage, part owner of The Globe theatre. It is through Cuthbert, that Montague meets the mysterious William Jonson, a writer from York, whose tales of great travels across Europe captivate Montague and they agree to meet up at The Globe’s first performance of Julius Caesar. However William doesn’t show until the final act and does not seek Montague out, and Montague is devastated……
I made my way towards the river, moving further away from the stench of the crowd and closer to the stench of the water. I paid little attention to anyone around me, I just had some vague notion of many people walking past me, some heading back to towards the taverns and inns near the playhouse where the night would continue and some heading towards London Bridge as I was. I had no desire to walk amongst them and discuss the afternoon’s entertainment as I would usually do after a performance. I just wanted to be on my own so I took a diversion down a less travelled road. As soon as I did so, I realised that it was probably folly to walk alone down such a quiet alley. The evening was now upon me and I was all too aware of the dangers that such a route could present. The back streets of London, especially those down by the river, were not known for their safety and if you did not want to meet your fate at the hands of robbers and other unsavoury beings then you would be advised to avoid them at all costs. How easy it would be for them to cut you down, take all your possessions and then dump your body unseen into the filthy depths of the Thames. You could spend eternity down in those murky waters, your decomposing body nothing but fodder for the river beasts.
Maybe I had a death wish? I think maybe I lost my mind for a moment, so deeply entrenched I was in my own shame and foolish desires and it was not until I was halfway down the thin cobbled street did I realise just how foolish a man I was. I suddenly became very aware that I was being watched. I turned but did not see anyone but I was sure that somewhere, deep in the shadows, lurked someone who meant me harm. My skin prickled in warning. My heart beat raced until I thought it might explode inside my rib cage. I was in danger! I abandoned all proprietary and decided to run for the other end of the alley which opened up near to the entrance of the bridge. But of course, an old man I was and had never been much of a sprinter, even in my youth and I struggled down the street, desperately listening for a pounding of footsteps behind me and hearing none; but no matter, I knew they were coming.
Just as I somehow managed to reach the end of the alley, a figure appeared in front of me and it was then I realised how wrong I had been. The danger had not been behind me, it had lain in wait for me the whole time and by then it was too late to turn back. I was captured!
‘Montague! Whatever is the matter? Why do you run so?’ a familiar voice with a soft northern lilt said.
William! I clutched at his coat, feeling so relieved to find someone who I knew but desperate to warn him of the danger that stalked me.
‘Quickly!’ I cried ‘we must keep going, we are in grave danger!’
He wrapped an arm around my shoulder, comforting and protective, drawing me closer to him.
‘Come, come my friend, what on earth has happened? Have you been attacked? Are you hurt?’
‘No but they are coming!’ I urged gripping his coat tighter in painfully clenched fists ‘please William, we must go!’
He smiled at me, with no hint of concern etched upon his face and I thought he must be quite mad not to be alarmed and turn on his heels in fright.
‘Who is coming?’ he said, quite unperturbed ‘there is nobody here except for you and I’
Turning to face the danger I was sure must now be right behind me, I looked to find a very empty alleyway, except of course for William and myself and I felt stunned and all at once quite sick. There had been someone there! I had felt it with absolute certainty and I was sure it had not been the workings of a very overactive imagination. Scanning the shadows for any signs of movement and seeing nothing but the dalliances of a few street rats, I could feel my cheeks burning through the dusky evening air and my soul sank as I knew that William must think that I was mad, or worse, senile. With a heavy heart, I turned back to face him and he was looking at me in the same way he had back at the playhouse. His eyes were fixed on mine so intently that the saliva in my mouth dried up immediately and I wanted to clear my throat, so dry and arid it felt but I was scared that I would end up choking in front of him; another indication of my cursed age. I let my hands drop from his front, but he did not let go of me.
‘I’m sorry’ I croaked ‘I’m sorry, you will have to excuse me; I am tired and feel not quite myself’
‘Are you sick, dear Montague?’ he asked softly ‘what ails you my friend?’
I felt quite hypnotised by those eyes I must say and it was as if all my anger from his earlier performance seeped from my skin and trickled towards the river, to mix there with those dark waters.
‘No’ I replied grimly ‘not sick at all, just perhaps taken leave of my senses for a moment. Forgive me, I am an old man and it was foolish of me to come this way. I grew fearful in such a place and panicked. Like I said, I am an old man and sometimes commit such acts of stupidity that I thought I had outgrown when I was but a child’
I felt his eyes flit across my face and he inched slightly closer. If I had felt panicked before, I felt utterly flustered then! I wanted to flee, I wanted to slip free of his grip and run; even though I knew my tired limbs would not carry me very far.
‘Montague!’ he smiled ‘but you are not an old man! You contain a vibrancy that I do not see in men even half your age. The light inside you burns brighter than anyone I have met in a long time. Do not be so hard on yourself, please dear friend’
I felt my shoulders sag in despair. I knew his words were nothing but falsehood. How could he possible see me as anything but a stupid old man?
‘I think maybe you mock me’ I said, feeling my dejection turn into the embers of a fire, ready to be re-ignited in anger ‘otherwise why would you have not joined me this afternoon like we had arranged? I waited for you. I waited alone only to find that you were in the theatre all along!’
‘But of course I was not!’ he said, still smiling in a way that was starting to drive me half-mad ‘I am sorry if you think that, Montague but I was held up. I arrived halfway through the end of the final act but could not gain entry to the second tier. So I thought I would wait for you on the other side’
As I looked into his eyes I just knew that what he said was a lie. I so wished that it wasn’t but I could just tell that it was nothing but fakery. I was done with his games! An old man I might have been, but I would not stand back any longer and let him make a fool of me!
‘You lie!’ I said, pulling myself out of his embrace.
He said nothing for a moment, just brushed at the front of his coat as if trying to remove the ruffles I had created in the fabric. Pulling at the lapels, he looked down at his feet and when he looked back at me, his face seemed quite solemn.
‘Yes, yes I do’ he said ‘you might be in the twilight of your years, Montague Kerr, but you are sharp and incredibly observant. There really is no fooling you, but of course I never thought you would make this easy for me. It is, simply, what attracted me to you in the first place. In a room full of young bodies and wonderful minds, it was you that reeled me in. On first sight, I was already captivated’
I gasped; stunned that not only was another man saying such words to me, words that I had longed to hear but never thought I ever would, but astounded also that he claimed to feel exactly how I had felt when we had met each other. How could this be? He reached out and rested a cool hand on my neck, the contact of skin against skin making me flinch.
‘I don’t understand’ I whispered.
‘I could not come any earlier. I lied to you. I had to wait until dusk started to draw in, but when it did, I did not want to join you in the box. Watching you brings me great delight, Montague. I have watched you every night since we met at Cuthbert’s home. I wanted to watch you this evening, a jewel amongst the dirt of the playhouse and think about how sweet it would be to make you mine. I stood there in the bottom tier, pondering on how much of your life has been wasted and how wonderful it would be for you to be like me; for me to make you like me. I think I knew that it was what I wanted as soon as I saw you and trust me, that rarely happens. I have only made one other in my lifetime, Montague and she died such a long time ago. I have walked this earth for too many years, alone, despairing that I would ever find another and as if by fate, you came along’
He lifted his other hand and touched fingers ever so lightly to my cheek and then he moved it down until his palm was flat on my chest.
‘Is that desire or fear, dear friend?’ he smiled, wider now and when he opened his mouth I saw sharp teeth; pronounced canines that you only ever saw in animals, certainly never in humans. I draw back quickly, stumbling backwards until I felt my back hit the wall behind me and I felt my hands instinctively cover my throat.
‘Do not fear me, Montague for I can give you everything you have ever wanted. You feel that, do you not?’ he stepped forward, one hand over his own heart and the other palm outwards ‘all your life you have lived according to another’s wishes. I know this. What must have that been like for you, my dear? To deny your very being, to be someone who you were not, all just to please your father? To be a good son. And you were that, Montague, really you were, because I don’t think I could have done the same. I have never really been one to deny myself anything and now I stand here after so many, many years, knowing that my wanton desires never gave me anything but loneliness and wanting’
‘What are you?’ I gasped.
‘I am me, Montague. I am William Jonson and always have been William Jonson. I have never known any other life than this. I was born as what you see before you today and one day, maybe I will die the same. Do not fear me, please. I am still the same person that you met, the same person that you conversed with, dare I say the same person that you flirted with; the same person you ached to meet again tonight, and do not say that is not the case, as your heart betrays you, just like it did earlier. You wanted to be angry with me but the moment you saw me, your heart rang out across The Globe, loud and clear above the performance as if it were you on that stage; a lone player, bearing his soul for the whole audience to see. I know this, Montague, I know this! But whilst your heart and your mind pulsate with the most beautiful energy, your body grows old, does it not? It fails you when you need it most. You would like to run, but you know you cannot. There are days when you feel it more, yes? The tiredness, the decay?’
I found myself nodding in response, suddenly feeling that exhaustion more than I ever had in my whole wretched life. William stepped closer still.
‘I can stop all that, you know. I can stop the rot, I can banish the decay. With one kiss, I can end it. I can make you like me, Montague. No more aging skin. No more aching bones. Just wondrous life! You will run; you will jump; you will feel movement in your limbs that you have not felt in years. Nay, you will feel movement that you have never felt! You will be stronger than you have ever been. And more than that, you will be free! You will be free to live how you have always wanted to live. You can be you, Montague!’
Those fingers were on my skin again, tracing a faint line across my cheek and he was so close now, so very close. I stared into his eyes, feeling a multitude of emotions; fear, joy, lust, despair, love and hope. Here was the danger lurking in the shadows; that much I knew for certain. Here he was, standing in front of me, and yes, I knew he was a monster; and yet for some inexplicable reason, I could feel hope in what he said. I believed him; every word. I knew it was the answer.
And so, I let him kiss me. His lips gently touched mine and his hand gripped the back of my neck and very quickly his head moved down and I felt him kiss me again, this time on the throat, and this time with an open mouth and teeth that pierced my skin so sharply that my knees crumbled beneath me. He brought me to the floor very slowly and continued until it was done. As I lay there, with my blood spilling out onto the cobbles and his blood trickling from my own mouth, darkness overtook me and his words carried me into the night:
‘I was born free as Caesar; so were you:
We both have fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he’
Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2012