*

A SHY VAMPIRE

Amy was only a little girl at the time, and in one sense she would always be so.

The war had been historically positioned for a length of time sufficient to take it from the day it started to the present, giving her blitzkrieg instead of nightmares: skyfuls of flak sparkling like God’s migraine.

She had not been evacuated from the city, since nobody important enough knew of her existence. There was a small coterie of other similarly placed children who squatted in the corner of the otherwise empty schoolyard, exchanging shrapnel as their predecessors used to exchange marbles or prize conkers.

Her parents chose to ignore her. She slept in the backroom and was not even invited into the Anderson shelter when the bombers droned in upon her eardrums. She used to creep further down under the duckdown, trying to blot out the insidious rumble of dark shapes she imagined to be in the even darker sky. Shapes that were until now very bashful. They had not even been dreamed before. Very few folk had ever heard of vampires in those days, so any comparison remained unsaid and mostly unthought. Spitfires didn’t suck blood anyway, merely shoot it out, she thought, in sparkling sprinkles of flak. And Spitfires were on her side, if she had but known.

Somewhere inside of her, she knew there would not be a direct hit of such flak upon the house in which she cowered, but the doubt was ever present; hence the fear, hence the encroaching terror. Even when prototype doodlebugs abruptly cut their engines at the point when they sounded to have reached their loudest, the splintering explosions always ended up streets away toward the Cathedral area of the city. If only that would continue. Shy bombs, bashful shapes in the sky.

One of the other kids who lurked by day in the school playground was a strange whimsical boy called Arthur, a boy with an overgrown ear on one side of his face. She could not usually bear to look at him, as he spun cigarette cards into the street from between the spear-like railings. One ear was quite normal, but the other had a lobe like a pink duffle-coat hood and curlicue innards which seemed biologically untenable, extraneous holes forming in the fleshy labyrinth at every opportunity of rupture. She could imagine, when he became older and consigned to the trenches of another war, he would be able to stub out his cigarette ends in the lobe, only to scoop them out later and make them into the longest tobacco joint in the world, to outlast the sleepless night — with only the red glistening tip comforting the restless fearful souls who bivouacked close by.

As the regressive cycles of war turned into huge wastelands of spent history, only Amy and big-eared Arthur were left in the playground. Grown-ups had gradually latched on to the existence of most children and had evacuated them to the hills near Kidwelly in Wales. But not Amy or Arthur.

When Amy began to acknowledge Arthur, his ear still bothered her with its bizarre ugliness. But, as the summer became endless one year, they took to staying in the playground come the night and cuddling up to each other while the sky lit up with one false dawn after another … and poured its uncertain shining over the depictions of cars or footballers or sea-birds upon Arthur’s cigarette cards. During the sporadic attacks, he felt the long undergrunts of the bombers worse than the girl, since his ear was tantamount to a radar dish. Undergrunting, because, he assumed, they were more bashful than aggressive.

The two children were too young to realize that they would never grow up to be grown-ups.

One night, before the summer finally ended, the blitz was brighter than normal, often illuminating the barely discernible dome of the Cathedral, and lasting well past daybreak. This became indeed the first air raid in the cold light of the sun. So, the two children could now see the dark shapes for what they really were: not angels in splints, but other shapes altogether. But still assumed to be shy, if shining now.

One of these so-called shapes looked heavy with child, soaring against the sun as if trying to obtain retribution, as any night-creature would. Eventually, its belly yawned and dropped its payload upon the school playground, knowing that, as the arcanely white-lined concrete appeared empty of children, there could be no accusations of war tactics which contravened the Geneva Convention. The explosion was so loud, the pilot, if there was one, could not have heard the screams of life and death.

And each of the by now skylit, spotlit shapes saw themselves as constituents of a group of full-blooded vampires in surefire purpose. They were not, therefore, single-minded and shy angels that all of them had assumed each other to be when they had surfed the sky’s spark-sprinkled night’s darkness as shy shapeless shapes alone together.

Nobody could now exchange shrapnel, as it takes at least two to exchange anything. There was only a butcher’s joint of smouldering ear-flesh spiked upon a railing. Arthur had lost it before he could hear Amy whispering toward where she thought his radar of an ear to be, whispering that she really loved him and would do so forever and ever, whispering too low for even believing such whispering existed at all without the equipment to hear it.

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