"You think that's all that's out there?" She cackled at him then, like a stereotype. "You're a child, young man, for all your years."
Mitchell stared up at her, and didn't call her a benighted hag, because unlike the - witch - his mind supplied, he wasn't a cliché. He tried the ropes again, tied tightly around his wrists, behind his back. They didn't move. He was laying on them too, which didn't help. Apparently they were made of titanium mixed with spider's silk, or something equally unbreakable.
"How old are you?" she asked, coming over to stare at him, to paw at the corners of his eyes. Mitchell felt a little bit like a chattel and a lot like a whore. He didn't like either metaphor.
"I was born in 1894," he offered at last, hoping it would stop her fondling him, but helpless, he knew, to do much about it.
"A baby!" she said, but seemed pleased anyway. She wandered off, rattling away amongst her paraphernalia. There were clinking sounds and the scraping of metal, Mitchell didn't like the sound of that.
He looked around, lifting his head as much as he could. It seemed he was in some kind of dank basement, with dripping walls and its very own species of flora and fauna. He dropped his head back with a thunk. Wonderful, the clichés just kept on coming. He was lying on a table, oaken and darkly stained, but under his legs there seemed to be a kind of channel cut into the wood. Mitchell turned his head as much as he could, while raising it too, which wasn't far, but it did allow him to see the edge of – what was that? A tin bath on the floor? God, he hadn't seen one of those in years.
The witch came back then, and Mitchell stared at her. She was old, true, but not more than seventy or so, surely? Younger than him, anyway.
"Don't worry, it will all be over soon," she crooned, and Mitchell redoubled his efforts to break free.
"It's a curious thing," she said, as she moved down, out of Mitchell's eyeline, "So many rumours persist, about your kind, and mine - and yet they get it so wrong. Don't they, pretty boy?"
There was the hiss of a blade stropped against fine leather, Mitchell would never forget that sound, and then he bucked, and kicked, or tried to, as the straps binding his legs pulled tighter - because it was then that the witch began to fumble with his belt and pull his trousers down.
"Hey, now, can't we talk about this?" he said, his voice high and thin, but she just chuckled, and pulled his boxers down too, leaving him flapping in the wind. He felt cold and small and terrified.
"For example," she said, "Countess Báthory was meant to remain young and beautiful because she bathed in virgin's blood. Now that's nonsense, of course."
Mitchell felt something cold and infinitely sharp run along the top of his thigh, and he gasped at the shock of it.
"No, it's not virgin's blood you need," she said and raised her arm. Mitchell stared up at the well-honed blade held high above him, hypnotised by its sheen and the evil promise that it held.
And that's when the door was broken in and George stood there, brandishing an axe. An axe? Mitchell thought, randomly, in his relief, where did George get an axe?
The witch was pretty easy to fend off after that, Mitchell was pleased to see, as Annie hurriedly untied him, trying not smirk at his state of undress. Because he wasn't at all sure that George could actually do more than brandish it, really. And they even left her alive in the end, because what else could they do? George was too squeamish to do the deed, Annie too insubstantial, and Mitchell? He had sworn off violence, along with the blood.
Anyway, she did apologise very nicely afterwards, and claimed she only preyed on vampires, and only once every hundred years. Mitchell paused and considered most of the other vampires he knew - their crimes were a lot worse. Even his own were a hundred times as bad. And if a little old lady - witch, he reminded himself - could manage to catch one of his kind, then. Wasn't it actually a weight off his conscience?
It turned out that it was pretty fortunate Mitchell had been knocked out so hard too, which was something that hadn't occurred to him at the time. George said they'd been able to follow the drops of blood that had fallen from the wound.
"Like breadcrumbs," said George cheerfully. "I could smell them. It's lucky I'm near my... you know. It was easy."
"Lucky..." murmured Mitchell and eyed the witch. "How old are you?"
"A lady never tells her age," said she, "But William Rufus was a saucy one." And her eyes twinkled away merrily.
Nina didn't talk to many of her family, but the one person she always made an exception for was her grandmother. Now it didn't matter what else was happening in her life, Nina always tried to visit her Gran at least once a month, and more often if she could manage it. Even after she started seeing George, and especially after she suspected there was a problem in George's life, she kept up the visits. She thought about George and their potential future together all the time, and while she didn't talk to anyone else about their relationship problems, Gran was different. It often felt to Nina as though Gran was the only person that understood her. She was certainly good at listening. She was also bed-ridden, and needed both the company and the gossip.
"Nina, love," she'd say, "Worse things happen at sea."
And Nina would know that she was right, and be comforted, because even if Gran's advice wasn't always useful, she always put things in perspective.
On the day after Nina discovered that George didn't have a nasty temper, didn't just get violent when drunk, or take drugs (her worst fear until then), but instead turned into a... Turned into... She couldn't say it. She thought it instead. A werewolf. George turned into a bloody werewolf. On the day after she found out, Nina went to visit her grandmother in Epping Forest.
She sat in her grandmother's chintzy bedroom, looking out over the lawn of the nursing home and just couldn't admit it. She couldn't say what was on her mind. It was so fantastical, so unbelievable. Unless you had been there, had seen for yourself, she wasn't sure Gran would be able to even cope with the concept.
"George is..." She attempted and stopped.
Gran looked at her. "Has he hurt you, love? Is that the problem? You keep touching you arm?"
"No, Gran, " Nina laughed, trying and failing to find something funny in the situation. "George hasn't hurt me, not like you mean. He begged me to keep out of it actually, it was my own stupid fault, I went blundering in. That's me - blunder, blunder!"
Although that wasn't quite true, was it? Nina rubbed her arm again, where George had scratched her. But he certainly hadn't meant to do it.
Gran stared at Nina with her habitual, concerned, slightly absent expression. "Do you love him?" Gran asked, and Nina laughed and could only say, with a clear conscience, "Yes. Yes, I do."
"Well then," said Gran, "It will all come out in the wash."
And Nina felt so comforted, so comfortable that she did end up telling her grandmother what she - suspected - about George. She didn't quite go as far as to tell her that she knew.
"Oh dear," said Gran, "Oh dearie, dearie me." Her eyes flashed from behind her glasses, and she sat up straighter in the bed. "It's a pity that you love him, but it can't be helped. Now this is what you have to do."
And Nina's grandmother described a time in her life when she was but a girl, when there was a killer in her village, that hunted like a wolf, but walked like a man, and how some of the young men had banded together to hunt the creature down and kill it.
"Silver doesn't work" said Gran, "Not really, but it might protect you if you're lucky. You need to cut its head off. That's what we did. There was blood everywhere." And she nodded wisely.
"Gran," asked Nina, aghast, but hiding it, stopping herself grasping at her own scratch by main force, "What were you doing there? If it was the young men doing the hunting."
Gran smiled, coldly, a much more unpleasant sight than Nina was prepared for.
"Someone had to be bait, my dear," she replied, "I wore red."
Tully had been an arse, George thought. An arse and a fuckwit. And a murderer, a little voice added from his conscience. Tully might have put him in this position in the first place, even, but despite all that - because of it, really, George admitted to himself - he did know what he'd been talking about. Oh, not about all the animal magnetism shit, but about how to control the beast once it was out.
He didn't manage it every time, the little voice reminded him, and George knew that, he did, but still. It was all the advice he had to go on.
"I want to test something," he said to Mitchell one month. "What if It gets out? What if the room at the hospital is full of builders again? What if..."
Mitchell shushed him, and George realised he'd done it again. His voice had been rising, too high-pitched, too hysterical. He took a deep breath instead, and Mitchell smiled, nudging him gently with his elbow. "I need to know," George insisted, more quietly, lower. Manly.
"What about it? What do you want to do?" Mitchell asked, his attention already turning away.
"The chicken trick," said George, and held his breath.
Mitchell did not laugh, and George counted it a win. "The chicken trick?" he asked, incredulously, "Really, George, do you think that's even worth trying?"
"I want to give it a go," said George, "Since It can't harm her, Annie can observe, to see if it works."
They both looked up at Annie in the kitchen, making another cup of tea. Mitchell looked doubtful. "I don't know, Annie's terribly squeamish - I don't know if she could take it, watching you abuse a chicken like that." His lips twitched.
George shoved Mitchell then, and they had a very pleasant wrestling match on the sofa, until George was crying with laughter and crying, "Uncle! Uncle!"
They did it though, in the end, at the next full moon. Annie was happy to help, and Mitchell got over himself eventually. George bought a raw chicken, and found a wood and some fields far enough from civilization to be safe. He hoped. He dragged the chicken in a circle, then took his clothes off and put them in a bag. Without looking at her, he asked, "Could you not 'observe' me, yeah, until I've changed? If that's ok?"
With a squeak, Annie turned her back, or turned invisible, or whatever - George didn't know. This was already embarrassing enough already. And then after the unbearable agony, he knew no more until morning.
When George woke up, the first thing he noticed was the blood around his chin, and the unfamiliar meaty taste in his mouth. It was sweetish, and tasty, delicious even raw, and absolutely terrifying. He sat bolt upright, and screamed. Annie, who hadn't meant to frighten him, screamed too, and after that they sat next to one another, companionably, until George had stopped shaking. He hugged his knees, and eventually even managed to put on his trousers, once Annie had brought them to him.
"Well," she said, looking guilty, "I expect you've realised."
"What?" said George.
"The chicken trick didn't work."
George looked around, they seemed to be in farmland of some kind, but buggered if he could tell if it was the same fields that he'd changed in. Obviously not. There was a nastily strong smell in the air around here too. He'd have probably noticed that before.
"What did happen then?" he asked, guilt making his voice wobble, "You can tell me. Go on. Did I... Did I kill someone?" He held his breath.
Annie was looking at him like he'd grown another head - which he hadn't, George checked quickly.
"No," said Annie, "Not people, it's nothing like that." She was looking shifty, George realised.
"What? What is it?"
"You'd better come and see."
Arse, George thought, once he'd seen the damage, buggering arse-biscuits. It was a pig farm, probably, yesterday. Today though, it just looked like some kind of hurricane had blown through it.
"You... I mean, It, started with the nursery barn - I think that's where all the straw comes from, " Annie offered, trying to be casual. "And then It carried on straight through the weaning sheds, where most of the burst planking comes from, look see..."
"It could be worse," said Annie, after a pause. "It couldn't get through the brick walls of the main piggery. So most of the livestock is intact. Really. The compensation probably wouldn't be more than..."
"Compensation? I'm not worried about bloody compensation!"
George was scrabbling at his tongue, trying to get rid of the taste, the smell - even the thought of it in his mouth was making him nauseous. He began to gag.
"George!" Annie held him by his shoulders, anxious and fluttering by turns, "What's wrong?"
"Arghh, yuck, you don't get it," said George, in despair, "I can't eat pork, I'm Jewish!"
He threw up on Annie's boots. It was lucky she could be insubstantial when she chose.