It began, quite simply, with a bat.
Königsberg had always been moderately cold in the winter and one could reasonably assume that any poor student foolish enough to study in the generously large (but drafty) halls of the university was sure to be thoroughly chilled by the end of the term.
Alfred was one of such students.
Poor, that is—though no less ‘thoroughly chilled’.
He was currently seated between Peter and Bernard at one of the longer tables, the former hunched over old articles concerning philosophers of a greater time, of Kant and Wolff and Sophocles, as the latter began the long and tedious process of writing a reply to his poor mother back in Paris, who was still reasonably displeased that her son wanted to continue his education in a ‘German’ institution (being true to her French nature) but was, nonetheless, delighted that he was doing well in his studies. Alfred, on the other hand, was straddling the thin line between sanity and madness as he poured the last of his good sense into the equation scribbled before him.
“I almost have it...”
“Dear Alfred,” Peter murmured fondly, “It is as the French say: ‘Rome was not made all in one day’.”
“You’re not helping.”
“It’s a single equation,” Bernard sighed. “And your thesis won’t complete itself in a day either. You have time enough to work on it, so please, calm down.”
Work, he though miserably. Between trying to work and keeping up in his studies, coasting through life on the bare minimum of another human being’s hospitality (there was only so much his parents could spare), he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in the last few months. He was cold, and tired, and hungry, and he was beginning to feel the true weight of time as the days wore on. His companions couldn’t possibly understand...
“...The devil is that?”
Alfred tried to ignore them, but Peter elbowed him once in the ribs for good measure. He had grown too fond of ignoring them over the past year and they were beginning to grow wise to him.
“You heard that, didn’t you?”
Against his will, he listened...
It sounded like a chirp.
“That’s not a bat, is it?” Bernard asked warily. “I hear they’re as bad as mice.”
Internally, he cringed, because, really, the last thing he needed was a nasty disease...
“They don’t come after people,” Peter whispered, although it sounded more like a question than any kind of reassurance Alfred had ever heard. “If we ignore it, it’ll leave us alone.”
“I doubt that. I have an uncle who sailed across the sea to live in the New World when I was younger. He said that father south, where the Spanish live, there are bats that will attack a man when he’s sleeping...says they fancy themselves a little warm blood after the sun’s gone down.”
“But it’s true.”
“Then maybe they like Spanish blood.”
“I don’t think that matters,” Alfred interjected, hoping he was right. “Even if there are blood-sucking bats in the New World, that’s there, not here.”
And so, chirping aside, each of the young gentlemen returned to their respect activities.
That was, of course, until someone crashed into the door.
Alfred felt his nerves fray.
In the silence that followed, even the bat relented in its chirping. Nobody dared to move until the door crept open sheepishly and an elderly gentleman hobbled inside, rubbing his nose tenderly as he stumbled over to their table. In his right hand he carried a small and rusty birdcage; tucked under his arm was a broomstick.
“I was told...” the man began quietly, eyes darting briefly to the ceiling, “...that there was a bat sighted in this very hall?”
Alfred blinked. “Well...yes, but—”
“Excellent! Young man, I require your assistance.”
Bernard snickered and Peter elbowed him again in jest. Alfred half-wondered if he should just sit there and continue his work quietly before his conscience got the better of him...
Meekly, he pushed back his chair.
“Wonderful. Take this!” the man ordered, shoving the broomstick boldly into his scrawny arms.
“Sorry, sir, but I don’t think I can reach quite that high...”
“No worries, my boy!” he declared. And with that, he whipped out his pistol.
“...And he actually pulled the trigger?”
“Yes,” Alfred sighed. Being dead had made him rather nostalgic—and Herbert being Herbert, Alfred was never in want of an audience. “Although he only meant to startle the poor thing...I think we were all rather surprised that he managed to kill it in one shot.”
“The great vampire hunter Abronsius, hm?" Herbert managed to look very amused "...Then what, per say, happened to our mutual friend?”
“The university, more or less, forced him to go on a sick leave. It was Christmastime, so I was supposed to travel home to visit my family, but the Professor decided that he wanted to go on a little adventure and offered to pay me if I assisted him on his journey.”
“To kill us?” he deadpanned.
Alfred tried to force a smile but it didn’t work.
“...In my defence, I didn’t actually believe you were real. I read all the books he gave me but I thought someone was having a bit of fun when they whipped up those apparent ‘vampire sightings’.”
Herbert snorted in offence but made no further comment, waving the excuse off idly with a flick of his wrist. It was the vampire’s usual manner of dealing with conversations when they digressed from what he wanted to hear.
Internally, Alfred sighed. This was right about when Herbert would make another pass at him, maybe ‘invite him upstairs’ to show him something or other, and Alfred would meekly decline his offer before wandering off to find something else to do.
Needless to say, he was honestly surprised when Herbert didn't.
“Well, go on,” he murmured, trying to look uninterested (and failing). He flicked his long locks over one shoulder carelessly and then pretended to be fixated with the current state of his nails. “I’m listening...”