The vampire raised the blade, a mad grin on his face. “And now for the feast!” His voice boomed through the hall, carried across the air as if on the backs of invisible bats. Outside, lightning lit the manor’s grounds. Thunder cracked the sky, the rumble of a grizzly bear’s growl. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the castle, a cathedral organ played. The notes vibrated in their bellies, reverberated in their bones.
He plunged the knife in. Those around the table made appreciative noises. The count sliced bits off the cooked carcass. He placed the slivers onto plates and passed them around. Once the last of the guests had a serving, he poured the drinks.
Red liquid, vital and bright, sloshed into crystal glasses. A splash painted the vampire’s pale complexion. He put his hand in his mouth and sucked the juice away. “Mmm,” he said, “delicious!” A few of the guests grinned at each other.
Full plates in front, glasses of claret in hand, the vampire raised a toast. “To family!” he said, chest puffed out. “To friends, new and old! To trying new things and experiencing new ways of life—” he raised his eyebrows at his children “—with an open mind! And,” he turned to a woman on his right and raised his glass ever higher, “to love.”
Everyone around the table raised their glasses. High. Triumphant. “To love!” they all cried, delirious smiles plastered over their countenances. Outside, the storm boomed once more. The organ rose in pitch, the notes morphed into something upbeat — yet discordant.
“And to my bride, the delightful Mrs Haversham.”
“To Mrs Haversham!”
Deidre blushed. “Oh, please, stop it! Besides,” she smiled at everyone around the table, from face to face, “I’m not Mrs Haversham any more.”
“I was going to ask whether you were going to take his name or not,” said Clara. “Mrs Lavode.” She savoured the texture. “It’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” she asked her brother.
Deidre ushered them away with a wave of her hands. Her eyes twinkled. “No, no, I’m not Mrs Lavode!”
“Neither am I!” said the count. “Although, I never was, to begin with.” That got a riotous round of laughter — the alcohol was already doing its job. “That is to say, I’m no longer Count Lavode.” He smiled at Deidre. “Do you want to tell them, or shall I?”
Deidre turned to face her children — both biological and step. “We’re now Mr and Mrs Haversham-Lavode!”
“Or, rather,” interjected the vampire, “Count and Countess Haversham-Lavode!” That prompted a round of oohs and ahhs from the guests.
“Oh, how lovely!” said Elda. She was a young woman with a pale face and a long, slender neck. Her hair was pitch black, as were her nails.
“How modern!” said Dean. “Very twenty-first century, Mum. Very cool of you, Mr— er, Count Lavode!”
Clara elbowed him in the ribs. “Haversham-Lavode!”
The vampire smiled at his step-children. “Please, call me Vincent.” His smile dropped away. “Or Daddy.”
Dean did a double-take. He glanced to his sister, his mother, back to the vampire. “I—”
Vincent burst into laughter, as did the other vampirically-inclined members of the party. “Oh, I’m only pulling your leg!” He let the laughter die down. He gestured at the plates. “Now, please, eat!”
The humans tucked into their turkey. They each paused, for a moment, as they bit into the meat. It was rather dry. They each shared a locked glance, with Deidre’s intention willed at her children with force. The message was loud and clear.
The vampires watched on with mild curiosity. They raised their chalices of blood to their lips and sipped. The actions were almost catlike. “Cheers—” Vincent looked to his wife “—that’s how you say it, right? Cheers?” With confirmation, the vampire nodded and continued. “Cheers, my children. Drink. Feast.”
“Mmm, delicious,” said Clara. “Right, Dean?”
“Mmf,” said Dean through a mouthful of food. “Delifuth.” His tastes had never been that refined. Deidre had always called him the family’s walking garbage bin.
Clara cringed and looked away. She locked eyes with her step-father. “It’s really good… Vincent.” The name would become more normal with use.
“Oh, I’m so glad. We’re not used to meals that require cooking, around these parts. Although, we do like to keep our finger on the pulse of society!” The Count burst into laughter, as did the older vampires. The younger ones grinned and rolled their eyes at their father. They exchanged a knowing look with their mortal counterparts. Embarrassment over parents transcended the barriers of life and death. And the living dead.
Dean nodded at his step-brother’s glass. “How’s the, um—” he swallowed his mouthful “—blood, Alphonse?”
“Delicious,” said the vampire. His eyes sparkled like black coals. His hair, slicked to one side, was obsidian. He wore a three-piece suit. Blazer, waistcoat and shirt were all night-black. His tie was a deep crimson. Like Elda, he had black nails. Were they painted or was that their natural colour? Would it be rude to ask? “It’s an excellent vintage, Father always has excellent taste.”
Dean grinned and nodded. Was it allowed to ask where they got it? “I’m glad. It, er, looks great!” Had they killed him or her? Or milked them, like a cow? Dean’s smile faltered. Which would be worse? Best not think about it. They were, after all, family.
“Oh, and I almost forgot!” Vincent pulled a cardboard box from beneath the table. “I’ve bought these.” The vampire kept the box at an arm’s length — as if he held a bomb. He read the words imprinted. “Christmas crackers.” He raised an eyebrow and looked up at Deidre. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips, long fangs extended.
“Oh, Vinnie!” Deidre slapped the vampire on the arm. “You shouldn’t have!”
The head vampire distributed the crackers amongst the party, human and vampire alike. The bloodsuckers rotated the cylindrical objects, this way and that. They raised it to their ears and shook it, listened to the rattle within. “Is it a bomb?” asked the Count’s daughter.
“No, it must be bones. I know that noise.” The young vampire waggled it. Alphonse nodded. “Small bones. Perhaps of a mouse?”
“No, see?” Clara demonstrated with her brother. “You each hold an end like this, right? And you each—”
The bang startled the vampires. “It is a bomb!” said Elda.
“Duck!” said Alphonse.
Vincent wore a concerned expression on his countenance. He glanced at his wife, who smiled and patted his hand. “It’s fine, dear.” After that, the vampire seemed more reassured.
Clara won the cracker. “Look,” she presented the innards to the table, “it’s fun.” She unravelled her coloured paper hat — gold on one side, purple on the other — and pushed it down onto her head. The vampires squinted at her.
She fished a Fortune Teller Miracle Fish out of the cracker. “What’s that?” asked the vampire’s daughter.
“Oh, just a fortune-telling fish.”
“Fortune?” asked the son. His eyebrows, stark black against his pale complexion, raised.
Dean grinned. “It’s not really a fortune-telling fish. It’s just a toy.” Then he added: “For kids.”
“You let children play with fortune-telling devices?” asked Elda. “Isn’t that dangerous?” She shook her head. “You think you know humans…”
“Tell the joke,” whispered Dean. “I think we’ve confused them.”
Clara pulled the joke out and cleared her throat. “What do sprinters eat before a race?” She looked from face to face, eyes locked. The vampires looked at her, as if undecided whether she had lost her marbles. “Nothing,” she said, “they fast!”
Dean slapped his forehead. “Oh Jesus, that was terrible.”
The vampires said nothing. Clara repeated the punchline. “They fast.” One second. Two. Three. Four. Five. Realisation dawned on Elda’s face and she burst into laughter. She slapped the table as she giggled. Her father followed soon after.
Alphonse looked to his family with a confused grin. “I don’t get it.”
“Never mind, dear,” said Deidre, “those jokes are always terrible. I think that’s the point.” She gestured at their crackers. “Now, pull yours!”
Seven minutes later, they all wore their paper hats — a gathering of kings and queens. They told their jokes and laughed until the tears streamed down their face. They howled without irony, their humour still in its infancy. They even giggled at the small pop! from the crackers — now that they knew it wasn’t an explosive device.
Each pulled a terrible toy from the pried-open ribcages of the cylindrical cardboard. Marbles, plastic combs, puzzles and brainteasers, inexplicable oversized paperclips, and so on. The vampires grinned at the toys, pointed and laughed at each other with their hats on, pulled goofy faces. The humans, who’d danced this dance before, grinned along with them. The vampires’ discovery of their tradition lit a warm fire in their hearts.
Outside, lightning lit the manor’s grounds, lit up the place like fairy lights. Thunder cracked the sky, the chortle of a fat man in a red suit. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the castle, a cathedral organ played — a holiday song the humans all knew. It was close enough for them all to recognise and hum along. The notes vibrated in their bellies, reverberated in their bones.
The laughter echoed across the hall. It bounced through the air like the dance of snowflakes.
26th November 2020
Written for Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Contest