I´ve decided to develop a little story to one of my sketching-characters: Count Harecula!
Hope you´ll enjoy it!
Count Harecula is really an ordinary kind of guy – well, apart from the fact that he´s a bloody vampire, who´s sucking the life out of his little furry victims.
But after all, he was born that way. So, where did we stop? Ah, yes, he´s absolutely normal. He leads a quiet and secluded life in the country, where he resides in a small but sturdy castle. He likes to hunt bunnies in the near-by city, though, ´cause he prefers his estate tidy and clean.
Besides, we don´t want the neighbours to get suspicious, do we?
Count Harecula does not have many friends, which is not very surprising, if you bear in mind, that he considers everything with a pulse his next meal.
Most conversations are therefore predictably short and end abruptly like this: “Oh! What are you doing? That´s…is that?…Are you…? Hey, don´t….AAARGHHH!”
But one night something happens that´s going to change his life forever…
On a night like so many before, Count Harecula was hunting rabbits in the dark alleys of the city.
After a huge storm, the night was still cloudy, but the rain had stopped at last and the road surfaces glistened beneath the street lighting. Count Harecula was just about to finish his bloody meal, when he noticed something dazzlingly white walking past the entrance of the cul-da-sac, where he was crouching over a now lifeless rabbit.
After a blink it was already gone and he wasn´t quite sure, if it had been there in the first place, being in a blood frenzy and all. But what, if it had?
He let go of the body and hurried towards the open end of the alley. Cautiously he bend around the corner and took a quick glance to the right.
And there it was! Or, more precisely: She!
Forgetting all about precautions, Count Harecula stood in the street and watched open-mouthed after the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Although he could actually only see her back, that sight was all it took to convince him of this simple truth.
She had the most delicate ears, that shone slightly pink in the bright light of a street lantern, and he caught himself wishing to caress them. She wore a simple but lovely dress that matched the colour of her fur perfectly.
When she finally reached the crossing and walked around the corner, he came to his senses just in time to follow her. Although she was quite tiny, she had a quick and determined pace, and Count Harecula found himself slightly out of breath so short after his nourishing meal.
Fortunately, after a couple of minutes, she seemed to have reached her destination, which was – a church!!!
He couldn´t believe his eyes. What the heck did she want in there?! This late a visit to sacred grounds seemed a little bit out of place.
Oh, my God, he whinced, did he fall in love with a NUN?!
Unsure whether he ought to keep following her with his eyes or to shut them, he decided that he needed to know the truth. When he saw, that she did not climb the steps that led to the main entrance, but walked instead alongside the dark building, he nearly sighed with relief. Maybe she wanted to go to the graveyard behind the church? That was a thought more to his liking. But when he watched her entering the building through a small side door after all, he felt desperation grip his heart again.
There he stood, hidden in the shadows of some trees that surrounded the little place in front of the church, and debating with himself whether to go forward and find out as much as he could about this beautiful lady or to go back from where he came and ignore that odd throbbing of his heart.
While Count Harecula stood debating with himself whether to follow his heart or leave it alone, he caught sight of three more people who neared the church and entered it through the same side-door.
Two of them were gruffly looking guys, the third was another woman, who, though in her own way quite attractive, didn´t even come close to the beautiful lady he´d followed. He watched one of the guys open the heavy wooden door for her and receiving a shy smile in return.
All these people seem to have something in common, Count Harecula noticed. An air of solitude and sadness, and he felt a sudden pang of understanding and compassion in his heart, which he resolutely put quickly aside.
After watching several more people stepping through the door, he found himself quite unable to shake that funny feeling off that seemed to have overcome him the moment he´d set eyes on his lady.
And so giving in to his curiosity, he sneaked nearer the church and peeked through a brightly lit window beside the door. He wasn´t quite sure what to expect though and braced himself for the worst – whatever that might be.
The scene which unfold before his eyes revealed nearly a dozen or so persons, all in different shapes and sizes, sitting on cheap orange plastic chairs in a wide circle.
Well, that didn´t look anything like a Mass he knew.
His searching eyes found at once the beautiful lady that led him here, sitting between the other woman he´d noticed before and a guy whose clothing definetly needed some serious washing as it was partly covered in blood. Blood?!
Count Harecula frowned. What kind of meeting was this? He didn´t think that any respectable bible group would tolerate this kind of getup from one of its members. And now that he thought of it, he couldn´t even detect any Bibles lying around either.
This was all very puzzling.
Unfortunately the windows seemed to be soundproof and despite his sensitive ears he was unable to listen to their conversation. Frustrated he continued watching his lady and felt instantly calmed at her sight.
She sat elegantly posed on her seat, one leg over the other as she listened intently to whatever the guy who was now speaking said. Her long ears were silghtly tipped forward and her left hand rested under her chin.
Count Harecula suddenly found himseld torn between his wish to keep watching this beguiling beauty and his urge to rip the tongue out of this stupid guy´s mouth, who seemed to fascinate his lady so much. But being unsure of her reaction and not wanting to risk anything that might meagre his chances, he tried to compose himself.
After a few steadying breaths, he calmed down somewhat. To keep his cool, he retreated into the shadows of the transept and tried to figure out, what to do next.
While Count Harecula turned this dilemma over in his head, he completely lost track of time and jumped awkwardly as he felt a hand tapping him on his shoulder.
“Excuse me”, said a silky voice.
He turned around and right before him stood – SHE!!
Before he could think of something funny or clever to say, she went on talking to him.
“I don´t want to be intrusive, but are you here for the meeting? ´Cause it´s just ended, but if you´re interested, there´s going to be another one next week.” She gazed up at him, a tentative smile on her lips.
“Uh…yes, sure. I mean, of course! The meeting…uh…”, Count Harecula stammered.
“Great!” she answered and beamed up at him.
If he weren´t at a complete loss to know what was going on here, he would have lost himself in that smile forever. Literally.
“Uh…er… How did you know that?” he asked instead and immediately hated himself for beginning every sentence stammering like an idiot.
Now her smile lost some of its intensity and he instantly regreted asking.
“Well… because of that”, she said and pointed with one slim finger at his chest.
Bewildered he looked down at his vest, which by the way was made from the finest silk. Surely it was no crime to present oneself exceptionally well dressed?
But then he saw what she´d meant and tried to laugh it off with a wave of his hand.
“Oh, this?! That´s just a little bit of ketchup. I admit, I have horrible table manners.” Even he could hear the slight tint of hyteria in his voice. Of course, it wasn´t ketchup.
But now her smile completely vanished, and although he didn´t know why ketchup would make her feel so sad, he again wished he hadn´t said it. Before he could think of a way to minimize the damage he´d done, she interrupted his thoughts.
“No, it´s not”, she said matter-of-factly. “It´s blood. If you´re not willing to admit that, you´re probably not ready yet.”
“No, I am ready!” he nearly cried out, though he still didn´t know what was going on. He only knew that he didn´t want her to think bad of him in any way.
She considered his reply for a moment.
“Well, you´re always welcome to visit us. Just try to be on time. And here, take this as a reminder”, she said and handed him a leaflet.
Now she smiled again and he suddenly felt funny fluttery things in his stomach.
“I would be happy, to see you again”, she said.
He couldn´t believe his ears! She wanted to see him again?!
“Me, too!” he squeezed out, and then, more confidently, “I will definitely come to the meeting next week!”
“Wonderful”, she said. “Bye!”
He watched her going away. Then he took a look at the leaflet in his hand:
Now, it was definitely time for Count Harecula to lose his cool.
Count Harecula had one hell of a week.
First: due to a food-poisoned rabbit he retched his guts out, ruined a priceless persian rug in the process and had to lay in bed for several days.
The whole episode made him somewhat afraid of his next bloody meal, but after his illness there was no way around it – he really needed to restore his strength.
So, before he tucked into his next rabbit, he made a point to follow it for a while and make sure, it didn´t eat anything poisened. Of course, this took quite a lot of time, and the feeble animal did nothing to still his hunger.
Consequently he felt very weak and lost his temper more than once with his butler who had the good grace not to comment on it. He did forget to bleach Count Harecula´s new vest though, and now the thing had to go to charity. (Count Harecula was never one to simply throw away clothes – he was absolutely sure that everything he didn´t see fit for wearing anymore was still far beyond the hopes of mere mortals to lay their dirty hands on. Besides it flattered him to see his clothes from time to time worn by unsuspecting people.)
But, of course, as unpleasant as being sick might have been, it was nothing compared to the second thing, that occupied his mind: wether he should attend to that awful meeting or not.
Sure, he´d made a promise, but that didn´t necessarily mean that he would keep it. After all, he was Count Harecula. He was free to do whatever he liked to do.
But the thing was, although he found the whole idea of renouncing to suck blood ridiculous, he knew one thing for sure: he desperately wanted to see HER again!
So, in the end, he decided to attend the meeting – though by no means did he intend to become an “ASS”!
Chapter Six: Stage Fright
Due to an awful food-poisoning the week went by in a blur and Thursday was upon Count Harecula a lot sooner than he´d liked it to be.
He´d hoped to mentally prepare himself before the meeting – which simply meant that he wanted to practice lying convincingly about his willingness to give up on blood sucking in front of the mirror.
Contrary to general belief he had no problems whatsoever to look at his reflection. Truth be told, he rather enjoyed it. But he simply couldn´t muster the sufficient strength to do it and had to return quickly to his bed after each hunt.
So, when Thursday arrived, Count Harecula found himself really nervous. Not only did he not know how to pull off the charade, but he also felt a terrible shyness rising up in him when thinking of HER. (For reasons unknown to him he couldn´t stop thinking of her in capital letters.)
What was he supposed to do, or even worse, say to that heavenly creature? Did it even count as a date? He wasn´t sure, simply because he´d never had one before. What did people do on dates? He considered asking his butler Igor for advice but then thought better of it and refrained from doing so. There were certain things one should never let their servants know about their master.
When it was time to get dressed, Count Harecula stood in front of his gigantic wardrobe and lost it: he simply didn´t have one bloody decent thing to wear!!! While he rummaged furiosly through his clothes, the pile of rejected garments grew steadily.
Had it not been for Igor, who´d decided to save his master from disgrace by bringing him a brand-new vest he´d secretely ordered online just for this occasion, Count Harecula might very well have fallen to pieces.
What Count Harecula didn´t know – and never would – was that all of his servants knew pretty much everything there was to know about him.
When finally Count Harecula found himself to be presentable and was ready to leave the castle, his gaze fell upon a beautiful bouquet of red roses lying on the highly polished hallway table (which was a Louis XV by the way).
His first impulse however was to shout for Igor and to demand to know what this silliness was all about.
But then he had second thoughts about it: What if his beautiful Lady would like them? Surely women liked flowers, didn´t they? And if they did, Count Harecula thought, maybe she would like the person presenting her with them as well?!
Before he could think about it a third time, he heard heavy footsteps coming down the hall and rapidly grabbed the bouquet.
As the massive oak doors closed behind Count Harecula, Igor stood in the hallway right where his master had been only seconds before and smiled.
Chapter 7: An Unexpected Invitation
Although Count Harecula wasn´t very keen on going to the ASS-meeting this evening (ASS –Anonymous (Blood-)SuckerS), he made sure that he was on time.
Actually he arrived half an hour too early at the St. Matthew´s Church where the meeting was to be held.
This late in the evening it was already dark outside and the streetlamps gave their best to illuminate the city. But there were always dark corners somewhere and Count Harecula knew them all.
So, instead of stupidly waiting in front of the church, he lurked about in a near backyard behind a bar.
He´d already precautionary dined on a young rabbit ´cause he didn´t want to get distracted by his stomach whilst pretending not wanting to do the most natural thing in the world anymore. Nevertheless he had to control his reflexes when he saw another rabbit hopping along. The possibility to stain his clothes with even the tiniest spot of blood was too great a risk to take, considering the uncanny ability of the Lady to detect it.
It was a surprisingly warm evening for November which explained why so many people stood in front of the bar smoking their cigarettes. Count Harecula remembred having read somewhere that smoking supposedly helped people to calm their nerves and he considered briefly to join the group and to beg for a cigarette or preferably the whole pack. But then he didn´t really mingle with mere mortals, did he?
As Count Harecula paced up and down the backyard for the umpteenth time, the backdoor to the yard suddenly opened. A big guy holding two enormous plastic bags full of garbage came out and went to dump them into the near container.
“Hey, handsome! What are you doing out here?” he asked Count Harecula cheerfully.
It were exactly moments like these, that Count Harecula sincerely regretted to feed only on rabbits.
Under normal circumstances he wouldn´t even have considered acknowledging the guy, let alone talk to him, but these were obviously not normal circumstances. And before he could stop himself, he answered the guy.
“I am going to meet a Lady.”
“ Here?!” said the guy with plain disgust.
“No, of course not!” Count Harecula hastened to correct himself.
“Inside then?” the guy asked.
“No, no, not inside. I am meeting her… somewhere else”, he added lamely.
“Let me guess: you´re way too early for your date, eh?” The guy did something funny with his eyes – Count Harecula supposed this was what people called “winking”. He´d never seen someone doing it before simply because his servants wouldn´t dare to and his victims usually starred at him with eyes wide open.
“Well, yes, actually I am a little bit early,” he replied somewhat stiffly.
“Fancy some liquid courage then?” the guy asked.
“Eh… liquid courage?”
“A drink, man!”
For a second Count Harecula thought the guy was offering him a juicy rabbit. But then he put two and two together. Not once in his very long life had he ever drunk any alcohol, but then he´d never had any reason to do so.
Now, however…if it really would give him some courage as the guy claimed it would, it maybe was worth a try. And anyway, he still had twenty minutes to kill.
“Sure,” he said, already feeling a bit courageous and followed the guy into the bar.
Chapter 8: The Bar-Fight
Inside the building the guy led Count Harecula through a dark, short passage before he opened another door.
The barroom was only dimly lit and packed with people. At first Count Harecula didn´t know what was worse: the awful smell that appalled him or the awful noise – music he guessed – that tried viciously to perforate his eardrums.
The guy said something to him, but Count Harecula couldn´t understand a word. He then made a following gesture with his hand and Count Harecula wriggled his way through the dense crowd.
When he finally reached the counter, he saw the guy now standing behind it and opening a bottle of beer which was then put right in front of Count Harecula.
“Here, mate – on the house!” the guy – obviously the barkeeper of this establishment – said and again did that funny thing with his eyelids.
Count Harecula squeezed himself more tightly between a heavily overweighed man with red hair sprouting from his enormous head and a very pretty woman dressed in something so short, that he wasn´t quite sure, if one could still call it a dress. Then he took the bottle and eyed it suspiciously.
“Come on, man”, said the barkeeper, “drink!”
Not wanting to be rude, Count Harecula took a tiny sip from the green bottle and sneezed explosively as the carbonic acid hit his nose, after which he added a loud burp for good measure.
Highly embarrased he excused himself by the woman in the … dress, but she didn´t even seem to have registered his ungalant outburst.
The barkeeper laughed in a not unfriendly manner and reached over the counter to clap Count Harecula on the shoulder.
“Don´t tell me this is your first drink, mate?!”
Since he clearly told Count Harecula not to, he merely shook his head and mumbled something about allergies, whereafter the guy made an understanding face.
Heroically Count Harecula took another sip from his bottle, this one slightly bigger than the first. He then waited a few seconds and when nothing happened, risked to take a third one.
After his sixth sip or so he began to feel mildly warm and a curious sensation creeped up his legs and arms. He also noticed with surprise that the bar didn´t seem to be so unbearable a place anymore and he even stopped minding that most people around here seemed to have confused cologne for water.
Everything was somehow blurred around the edges.
All of a sudden he remembered his date and tried to stand up when he noticed that his legs had gone all wobbly.
“Watch out!” growled the fat man beside him when Count Harecula accidentally bumped into him.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Count Harecula said, his speech slightly slurred.
Count Harecula thought that maybe a splash of cold water in his face might help him to regain his strength and made his way to the restrooms.
Unfortunately the water didn´t help as much as he´d hoped it would and Count Harecula returned to the counter to fetch the bouquet of red roses he´d left behind. He also wanted to say good-by to the barkeeper and thank him for the drink although he wasn´t quite sure if it had fulfilled the purpose of giving him more courage for his date.
As Count Harecula was just reaching for the bouquet, he witnessed a rather unpleasant scene.
“I said NO!” the pretty woman in the … dress said to the fat red-haired man who´d deftly put one of his hands on her behind.
Count Harecula didn´t really know what was happening to him, but he felt a sudden upsurge of anger rising inside of him.
Before he knew what he was doing, he leaned forward and bit the fat guy in his enormously unappealing rear.
The jeans and… ugh… underwear were an unusual hindrance to him, but his sharp teeth simply sliced through them.
It tasted disgusting!
The man yowled in pain and turned instantly around.
“What the f*#& !?” he roared and punched Count Harecula in the face.
Count Harecula stumbled, came down on another guy who took offense and shoved him away. Before one was aware of it a fully grown bar fight was going on.
At some point Count Harecula managed to crawl behind the counter. His jaw hurt horrendously and there was something in his mouth …panicking he thought he´d lost a tooth in the fight but soon noticed his mistake when he spit out a piece of cloth.
He looked around but the barkeeper was nowhere in sight.
Cautiously he lifted his head above the counter, saw his miracously undamaged bouquet, grabbed it and slowly retreated on all fours to the back door.
When he finally stood in the backyard, he wondered if any of it would have happened, had he not drunk the beer.
Chapter 10: The Meeting
When Count Harecula arrived at St Matthew´s Church he saw with relief that the door to the meeting room was still ajar.
He had been worrying that he would be too late for the ASS-meeting (ASS – Anonymous (Blood-)Suckers) after first getting involved in a bar-fight and then side-stepping into a costume shop in order to cover his black eye with a mask.
As he neared the entrance, he wondered if his Lady was already there.
The meeting room was brightly illuminated and several people were standing around in groups and talking with each other. No sight of his Lady though.
But before he could turn around to wait for her outside, an elderly woman looked at him and then strode in surprisingly quick steps and outstretched hands towards him. She smiled warmly up at him and said:
“Ah – a new face! Welcome to our meeting!”
Count Harecula unsure what to do and slightly overwhelmed by the attention, automatically shook hands with the old woman. When he wanted to withdraw his hand though, the woman didn´t seem to want to let go of it and used their connection to draw him further into the room. Count Harecula who still held the bouquet of red roses he´d brought for his Lady, felt more and more irritated by this behaviour and would have considered hitting the woman with it over the head no matter what her age, if it were not for the fact that he´d ruin the roses by doing so.
So instead he gritted his teeth and let himself be led like a child to a circle of orange plastic chairs.
“Why don´t you take a seat, my dear?” the woman said and pushed him firmly into one of the chairs. Finally she had let go of his squashed hand, and only his pride prevented him from rubbing it.
“Would you like something to drink?” she now wanted to know, still smiling.
“Yes! YOUR BLOOD!” Count Harecula thought with startling fervour that was unknown to him, especially since he didn´t even like human blood. He prefered the fresh green taste of rabbits in that matter.
It was only the sight of HER, now standing in the doorway and searchingly looking around, that kept him from actually saying what he was thinking.
Just as before, her sight simply took his breath away. He would have been happy to just sit here for ever and simply look at her beautiful face.
But the old woman had other plans.
“How about a nice cup of coffee, dear?” she asked.
Count Harecula who also had never drunk coffee before, couldn´t have cared less if she´d offered him a nice cup of sewage. He just wanted her to be gone and the fastest way to achieve that seemed by assenting to everything that woman proposed.
“Yes, thank you. A cup of coffee would be lovely”, he replied with a grin that was only too well-known among the community of both – dead and still alive rabbits.
The old woman either didn´t notice or simply choose to ignore it, since she patted him on the shoulder and said in a sing-song voice: “Coffee it shall be!”
His toothy grin would have scared the living shit out of a great white shark by now.
His mood changed instantly as soon as SHE stood before him.
Like the last time she wore a beautiful dress that flowed heavenly around her body though this time it was a light green instead of white.
“Hello”, she said and again he was lost – lost for words, lost for anything really.
“I wasn´t sure if you´d come”, she added with a tentative smile.
Stupified he hastened to get the right words out of his suddenly paper-dry mouth.
“Eh…of course I came here, you´ve invited me, didn´t you?” This was supposed to sound offhandish but was ruined by his slightly alarmed looking eyes. What if this was all a big misunderstanding?
The Lady saw this, found it very charming and quickly reassured him.
“Yes! Yes, indeed! I did invite you! And I´m so happy to see you!” Her smile could have molten an iceberg.
Her gaze then fell to the bouquet of red roses Count Harecula had all but forgotten about. He followed it, realized what it was that his hand was so tightly clenching around and hold it out to her so abruptly that he nearly punched her in the face.
“For you!” he declared.
“Oh! Thank you! These are lovely!” she said and took the roses from him. When her fingers slightly brushed his for a moment, he felt electrified.
“You´re welcome”, he managed to say.
Say something you stupid idiot!, he thought fervently while she sniffed at the roses.
“Dress!” he blurted out.
“Excuse me?” she asked a little confused and questioningly raised one perfect eyebrow.
“Eh… you´ve got a very beautiful dress. I mean… It really suits you very well”, he added hastily, remembering having read somewhere that a compliment should always be accompanied by this kind of emphasis.
“Oh! Thank you… eh, I don´t even know your name”, she said with a tiny giggle that somehow managed to make his blood roaring in his ears.
Automatically he giggled, too – another first for him.
“I beg your pardon, my Lady. I am Count Harecula”, he said, quite proud with himself.
“A Count?” she asked.
“Yes, that´s right. I am a Count.”
“And what do your friends call you?”
“My friends? Eh…”
Never having had any friends but only servants, Count Harecula found himself in a slightly uncomfortable position here.
“My friends, eh, they call me… they call me…Harecula! Just Harecula”, he said and longed to wipe off the sweat that had suddenly appeared on his forehead.
The old woman chose that particular moment to suddenly reappear at their sides.
“Lizzy, dear! I see you already met our newest arrival. How lovely!” she said.
Then she pushed a chipped mug containing a conspiciously looking black fluid into Count Hareculas now empty hands.
“Here, darling. Your coffee. You didn´t tell me how you like it, so I assumed you prefer it strong and black.”
Both women were now expectantly looking up at him and Count Harecula felt cornered.
He really didn´t want to drink this stuff! Not only did it have the wrong colour (naturally he prefered his liquids to be red), but it also filled him with fear about the possible side-effects this drink could have on him. The beer was still unpleasantly slushing around his stomach.
But there was no way around it, protocol simply demanded that he at least take a sip of the offered beverage.
He braced himself with a deep breath, and then drank the coffee.
Chapter 12: „Hello! My name is… and I´m a bloodsucker.“
As Count Harecula was sitting amongst the 12 other people attending the ASS-meeting (Anonymous (Blood-)SuckerS) he couldn’t help wishing he was somewhere else entirely.
The only thing, or rather person who made this whole situation kind of bearable was his Lady – Lizzy he reminded himself to call her, not without feeling a tiny flutter of excitement in his stomach. She was sitting right beside him on one of those hideous orange plastic chairs.
He wasn’t sure why the seats had to be so uncomfortable. Maybe it had to do with an unspoken code of how best to make people feel bad that already felt like their life sucked – literally. Or maybe they were chosen because they were simply cheap (which in his mind was an even bigger crime).
The old woman he still held a grudge against for interrupting his conversation with Lizzy earlier, stood erect and silent, patiently waiting for everybody to fall silent too. Count Harecula noticed that nearly everyone held a full cup of coffee in his or her hands and he stared with regret at his empty one. He considered swiftly standing up and getting himself a refill but knew with certainty that the old woman wouldn’t approve of it right now. Under normal circumstances he couldn’t have cared less but as it was that old woman so far represented the only source of that mysteriously stimulating beverage to him and he really couldn’t risk loosing it, i.e. her. Not yet at least.
The only one who didn’t held a coffee mug in his hands was that annoyingly handsome guy sitting on Lizzy´s other side who kept nervously combing his bronze colored, tousled hair with his long pale fingers. Count Harecula would have happily sacrificed his coffee to pour it over this guy´s head if he´d still had it.
„Welcome to this week´s meeting of the Anonymous (Blood-)Suckers!“ boomed the old woman into the round, making little quoting gestures with her fingers as she said „Blood“.
„I am very pleased to see new faces here (here she cast a meaningful glance to Count Harecula and that stupid guy too) and I am sure you will find our little group a real heaven for troubled souls.“
Count Harecula doubted that but then he wasn’t a troubled soul, so what the heck? The only thing that really troubled him at the moment was how he could come up with a nonchalant way of asking Lizzy out for dinner afterwards, an especially difficult task since he assumed that she wouldn’t agree on his preferred source of nourishment, meaning the blood of tiny juicy rabbits. He wasn’t at all familiar with restaurants and worried about embarrassing himself by making the wrong choice. Maybe he could let her choose?
While Count Harecula was busy pondering over this question, he droned out what else the old woman had to say in terms of welcoming. Lost in his thoughts, he barely noticed that someone else took over after her and started complaining about how difficult it was for him and suckers in general to integrate themselves into the non-sucking society.
This went on and on and Count Harecula would have happily nodded off after half an hour if it weren’t for a sudden change of speakers.
The stupid guy next to Lizzy had abruptly stand up after the old woman had asked if anybody else wished to address the group, sending his chair nearly toppling over in his enthusiasm.
„Hi! My name is Edw …. Edmund“. He was clearly stating a false name but Count Harecula wondered why he had to chose such a cheesy one.
„Hi, Edmund!“ the group replied as one except for Count Harecula who knew of course nothing of ASS etiquette.
„Hi“ Edmund repeated and and added with a crooked grin Count Harecula just knew to be trained in front of the mirror for countless hours: „I am a Bloodsucker.“ The group responded with murmurs of approval and nodding heads to this statement.
Count Harecula couldn’t believe that he had to sit here and listen to that pathetic little prick. He looked around, searching for individuals who were just as appalled as he was but found to his astonishment only encouragingly smiling faces all around. If he hadn’t viewed it as extremely ungentlemanlike behavior, he would have thrown up immediately, and thus risking to stain his beautiful new brocade vest. Instead, after casting a quick glance at Lizzy who seemed fascinated by that scum, he hastily pasted a polite little smile on his features and hoped it would do the trick. (Also he didn´t really want to be confronted with Igor´s look of disappointment when presented with a bloodied vest. His butler had the scary ability to make Count Harecula feel sometimes guilty, though he never knew exactly what he could possibly be guilty of.)
And so this „Edmund“ kept whining about how wonderful and at the same time awful his life had become after he had met a certain „Stella“ a couple of weeks ago (another obvious fake name if he´d ever heard one). How difficult it was for him to control his feelings and his bloodlust in order not to harm his little precious girlfriend that seemed to be fabricated out of sugar and unable to walk around without stumbling over her own two feet every five meters.
Count Harecula really had a hard time not to interrupt this preposterous love story by shouting out loud: „Boooring!“.
Everybody else seemed to be enthralled by this account of undying love however and so he decided to simply give into the pleasure of imagining how he would rip off „Edmund´s“ head as soon as the meeting was over. (Of course he knew that he wouldn’t really do that but one was entitled to dream from time to time, wasn’t one?)
After half an hour of more senseless debate Count Harecula noticed with relief, that the group seemed to become a bit restless and the shuffling of feet was clearly audible now. He eyed the old woman from the corner of his eyes to check if she showed any signs of ending the meeting for this night as he was sure the decision depended entirely on her.
When she got up from her chair, he nearly led out a loud sigh of relief that his misery was finally at an end. He had used the time to come up with a line, that in his mind at least, sounded quite acceptable in order to invite his Lady to dinner for the following evening.
„I am very glad that so many of you came to the meeting tonight and as always invite you to our next one taking place in a week. And since one of our new friends had the courage to speak up this evening, I wanted to ask if anybody would like to volunteer for being his sponsor?“
Count Harecula was still digesting the fact that the old woman had called the stupid guy courageous, when Lizzy, who was sitting beside him, held up one of her beautiful hands.
„Excellent!“ said the old woman delighted. „Edmund, from now on you can rely on Lizzy if you feel in need of a friend. She will guide you in your efforts to abstain from your bloodlust. Do not hesitate to call her no matter the time. We are all familiar with your problems and will do anything in our power to help you overcome them. Let us pray now for strength and guidance now before we will part.“
While the group started speaking in unison, Count Harecula tried feebly to overcome his shock. Lizzy was Edmund´s sponsor? What did that exactly mean? What had the old woman done? What had Lizzy done? Why did she put up her hand?
Count Harecula felt suddenly sick and just wanted to leave. He barely noticed the end of the prayer. Then he saw how Edmund and Lizzy stood together and began talking to each other. Count Harecula couldn’t move and at the same time wanted to run away as fast as he could.
He gathered all his will to stand up when a small withered hand landed on one of his shoulders.
„So, my dear“ said the old woman with a smile that Count Harecula found suddenly terrifying. „I hope you liked your first meeting? I´d actually hoped that you would find it in you to speak tonight but don´t worry, I know that some people need more time than others to open up. In the meantime I want you to know that as soon as you´re ready, there will also be a sponsor for you of course. Maybe I´ll do it myself, who knows?“
Count Harecula thanked her automatically for her kindness though he doubted that he would ever be an ASS.
Lizzy and Edmund were still talking to each other and Count Harecula wondered if he should say good bye or just leave. He doubted she would notice it anyway. Not with all that bronze hair blinding her effectively. He´d just decided to go without a word as „Edmund“ called him over.
„Hey! Lizzy just told me that this has also been your first meeting. What do you think?“ he asked, his gold colored eyes shining brightly.
Count Harecula simply stared at him and his perverse halo of hair.
„Harecula?“ asked Lizzy. „Are you alright?“
He altered his gaze and looked at Lizzy who´d stopped smiling and was now slightly frowning. This somehow brought him back to his senses.
„Yes, thank you, I am fine. I just remembered that I have an urgent appointment. I bid you good night then.“
„Oh“ said Lizzy, „I´d hoped you would stay a little and talk? I mean, I´m Edmund´s sponsor but I really wouldn’t mind, you know?“
„Me neither“ added Edmund with a cheerful grin.
„That´s very kind of you both, but I really have to go now.“ With that Count Harecula turned around and walked stiffly to the door.
„Will you join us next week too?“ Lizzy called after him but he feigned not to have heard her and left the church.
He didn’t intend to ever set a foot into this building again.
Chapter 13: Finding Solace
Devastated and heartbroken Count Harecula tumbled through the deserted streets of the city. Unforgivably he´d convinced himself that Lizzy really liked him. He´d even brought her some flowers! (He´d conveniently forgotten that this had been actually Igor´s idea.) Something had gone very wrong this evening and he simply couldn’t figure out what it might be.
As he reached his castle, he hoped none of his servants would notice him, but that was of course an idle wish. Igor would never go to bed without seeing to it that the Count had safely returned home and had everything he possibly could need before he retreated to his coffin. Well, he had come safely home, Count Harecula thought. Apart from the fact that his heart lay in tiny little pieces scattered all over the empty streets he´d wandered tonight, he added bitterly.
Normally Count Harecula entered his stately home through the large wooden doors in front of the building. But tonight he hoped to sneak in unobserved through the kitchen door in the back.
Feeling like a thief in the night, he stood in front of the door, unsure how to open it.
He prodded it cautiously with his forefinger.
He suspiciously eyed the doorknob.
Then, with his tongue slightly sticking out of the corner of his mouth, he reached for it.
The door swung silently open on well oiled hinges.
Pushing it close again he still had his back to the large room when a voice behind him made him jump.
„Good evening, Sir“ Igor said and looked up from the newspaper he had been reading. He stood up from one of the benches that stood on either side of an enormous wooden table right in the middle of the room. Folding his newspaper neatly together, he looked expectantly at the Count.
„May I ask how his lordship´s evening did fare?“
Count Harecula who still had to recover from his shock of having been caught sneaking into his own castle by his butler, suddenly saw red.
„It was fine!“ he snapped. „Fine! Absolutely fine! Really, very fine! Very fine indeed!“
„Anything repeated four times must indeed be true, sir“, Igor said, striving to keep his features emotionless.
The ensuing silence was only interrupted by the ticking of a hot water boiler in a far corner of the cavernous room.
Igor cleared his throat.
„May I ask what exactly has happened to turn this evening into such a fine one for his lordship?“
Count Harecula couldn’t believe his ears. How could Igor even dare to ask him such a personal question? He would have to put him in his place at once!
Then Count Harecula burst out into tears.
Through a series of little hiccups he told Igor everything, starting with his unintended visit to the bar, where he´d unwillingly become part of a fight (he slightly exaggerated his active role in it), the short stop in the costume shop to get something to hide his blackened eye with (at this point he finally removed the satin tie from his head and threw it in the bin) and finally he told him what had happened at the ASS-meeting.
When he reached the part of his story where Lizzy had lifted her hand to volunteer as a sponsor for „Edmund“, his tears flooded more vigorously than ever.
Igor, who had listened without interrupting his master, reached for a clean kitchen towel and handed it to him. The Count blew his nose and gave it back. Igor, used to grossly stained textiles of all sorts, accepted it with a straight face.
„She even proposed that I join them and TALK!“ Count Harecula said indignantly. „Together with that stupid guy! Can you believe it?“
When Igor was sure that his masters flow was ebbed for now, he said,
„Well, I don´t know her ladyship in person, but from what his lordship had the kindness to share with me, I gather she is a very fine young lady who simply wants to help those in need. I don´t think that she wanted to insult his lordship´s feelings. She simply felt that this young man needed her help in this delicate matter and offered it generously. As his lordship will surely not have forgotten, that seems to be the whole point of the ASS-meetings“, here he raised an inquiring eyebrow before he continued to speak. „This young man clearly wants to get rid of his condition in order to protect the woman he loves. I fail to see what his lordship might have against it.“
„But why didn’t she offer me her help?“ Count Harecula petulantly demanded to know.
„Maybe her ladyship sensed that his lordship´s interests lay somewhere else?“ he hinted.
Count Harecula who had composed himself somewhat by now looked at his butler and considered this for a moment.
„You really think she could tell?“ he asked.
„I´m afraid so, my lord.“ Igor replied.
Igor knew from experience that his master would be occupied with thinking this through for a while. He went to the enormous fridge that still looked tiny in comparison to the room and took out some ice cream that he had secretly stored there. It was his all time favorite: Chocolate Macadamia. He gave one half of the little container into a bowl, added a silver spoon that was decorated with the Count´s coat of arms and put it in front of his master.
„I suggest that his lordship have a taste of this ice cream. I always find it very helpful in times of… stress. If there´s nothing else I might do, I bid his lordship goodnight.“ With that, he tucked his newspapers under his arm, grabbed the now half empty ice cream container and left the kitchen.
„Yes, yes…good night, Igor“, Count Harecula replied. He absentmindedly took the spoon in his hand and dunked it into the bowl of ice cream without really looking at it.
The taste of the ice cream successfully diverted him for a moment from rolling his thoughts over and over in his head. Although he found its temperature slightly irritating as he was mainly used to hot blood, he found the texture of the stuff extremely appealing. Moving it around in his mouth from one side to the other, he was hit by two equally pleasant sensations: the strange combination of sweet and bitter of the chocolate that reminded him a bit the coffee earlier that evening, and the crispy crunchy feel of chewing on the nut bits.
Though savoring every mouthful he soon had emptied his bowl and with a look around the room to make sure no one was watching, swiftly licked it clean.
He let out a small contented burp for which he automatically apologized although no one else was present.
His feverish thinking had somewhat slowed by now and he felt more peaceful than a couple of hours ago. He also felt that the sun was slowly coming up and left the kitchen to retreat to his bedroom and the coffin that stood in it.
He closed the lid over him a minute before the sun was stretching her rose-colored fingers over the rim of the earth and fell instantly asleep.
Chapter 14: The Letter
When Count Harecula awoke early next evening, his thoughts went right back to the events of the night before. He wasn’t sure in what way his unseemly outburst in front of his butler would affect their delicate relationship and thus decided it would probably be best if he simply pretended that he didn’t bawl like a child.
When he swung himself out of his spacious coffin his gaze fell upon a cream colored slip of heavy paper lying beside it. Curious he picked it up and froze into disbelief when he read the words written in the careful cursive of Igor.
„Miss Elizabeth Rabbit
22 Rosehill Road
How could his butler have possibly found out where his Lady – eh, Lizzy – lived?
(Well, the answer to that question was as simple as it was obvious – being extremely experienced in dealing with modern technologies and computers, Igor had simply googled the lady.)
Count Harecula still goggled at the note in his hand when the door to his bedchamber opened and a housemaid came shuffling in.
Clearly embarrassed that she had come too early into his lordship´s chamber to air it and to do whatever it was housemaids did, she hurriedly tried to withdraw and do a curtsey at the same time.
This was a mistake.
The housemaid banged head-first into the door and fell over, clutching her head with both her hands.
Normally Count Harecula would have simply ignored this, but not tonight. Before he knew what he was doing, he knelt beside his housemaid and gently removed her hands from her forehead.
„Let me just see for a second, my dear… ah, you will have a bit of a headache and a nice bump for a few days but it´s nothing serious. Why don´t you go downstairs and have a little lie down? I´m sure someone else can cover for you this evening.“
The housemaid stunned into silence and mistrusting her own ears, got nevertheless as quickly as she could on her feet and sped away before his lordship would change his mind and bellow at her in his usual manner.
Looking after her, Count Harecula stood up again. With a smile on his lips and a shake of his head, he went to the adjacent bathroom. After half an hour he left the steaming room and went straight to his gigantic wardrobe where he chose his outfit for the night (this took another quarter of an hour).
Whistling a tune he had subconsciously picked up at the bar the night before, he left the castle to hunt down his breakfast. The note with Lizzie´s address was carefully tucked in the left breast pocket of his vest.
This night not a single rabbit the Count had set his hungry eyes upon, was safe from him. He chased them through the narrow and winding alleys, letting them run for their lives, their little hearts beating an irresistible rhythm that made him run faster and faster. His hunger seemed insatiable but after his third rabbit he finally decided that it was enough for tonight and returned to the castle.
There he buried himself in his huge library, where he rummaged its vast shelves for books concerning romance and poetry. When he had found a couple that seemed promising, he set them on a tiny spindle-legged table beside an enormous and luxurious armchair in which he elegantly flung himself. He grabbed one of the expensively bound leather tomes and started leafing through it. Every once in a while he let out a contented „Aha!“ or a triumphant „Heureka!“ and jotted a line or two down on a piece of paper.
After several hours of doing this, he went to his desk and started composing a letter. It took him the rest of the night but when he was finally somewhat satisfied with the result, he rang for Igor.
When Igor was entering the library, Count Harecula just finished sealing the letter with his signet ring and then blew on the wax to make it dry more quickly. Igor, who stood patiently waiting just inside the room, hands clasped behind his back, had difficulties hiding his curiosity. He and the rest of the staff had been wildly betting downstairs what his lordship might have been up to this evening.
His guess had been, that his lordship had written his first ever love letter.
„Ah, Igor,“ said Count Harecula, looking up from the sealed parchment.
„I would like you to have this letter send to her ladyship.“
„Certainly, sir,“ replied Igor as he went forth to take the letter. „I will see to it myself. Anything else I might do for his lordship?“ he asked with a blank face while trying to scan the book titles for clues.
„Well, yes, actually there is,“ Count Harecula said a bit hesitantly. „Could you maybe order another bunch, eh… bouquet of flowers? I have a feeling they would go nicely with the letter, don’t you think?“
„I will order them at once, my lord,“ Igor said, suppressing a smile that was threatening to tug at the corner of his lips and already counting his winnings in his head.
„Anything else, sir?“
„No… I think that would be all for now, Igor. Except…maybe you could bring me another bowl of that ice cream I had yesterday? It was surprisingly… pleasant.“
„Of course, sir,“ Igor said, unsuccessful in withholding the smile any longer but trying to hide it with an unusual deep bow of his head.
After being dismissed, Igor went quickly to his office where he started up his computer and opened his internet browser to enquire which flower shop might run this late in the night. Of course, if he wouldn’t be able to find one, he could always send one of the stable lads to go down to the greenhouses and pick up some flowers there, but he preferred to support local shops whenever possible. After a few more clicks, he finally found one that was specialized in late night deliveries and typed in the address of the lady and the
Count´s credit card number. The flowers would be delivered an hour before dawn and Igor made sure that a messenger would time the delivery of the letter accordingly.
He struggled with himself whether or not he should carefully break the seal on the letter to glimpse at its content (a skill he had perfected over the years) but a look at the clock, and a sudden pang of bad conscience, made him decide against it.
Igor quickly turned off his computer, handed the letter to one of the lads with instructions on where to deliver it and then went to the kitchen where he filled a bowl with half the content of another ice cream box and had it brought up to his master. Never one to waste anything, and especially not his favorite ice cream, he sat down at the large kitchen table and spooned the ice cream right out of the carton while he shared his gathered information with the present staff.
After which he made sure that they all settled their bets.
Chapt. 15: The Reply
It was an hour before dawn as the door bell rang. With a sigh Lizzie put the book down she had just been reading and went to see who that bugger was.
A quick look through the spy hole showed two men standing in front of her door: One was wearing a brightly pink colored overall and cap, holding an enormous bunch of exotic flowers in his hands and the other one looked like… a stable lad. Lizzie frowned. She had never seen one before, except in period movies or tv series, but she was quite sure that this guy was the real thing and not just a silly actor.
It was obvious to her that they must have mistaken her with her neighbor who regularly received all kinds of deliveries almost everyday, most of them consisting of shoes and clothes that had been ordered online. Lizzie often wondered about her neighbors´ source of income, since she never saw her leave her house at the same time of day – or night.
Then she quickly checked if her blue silk robe was properly closed and opened the door.
„Yes?“ She asked.
The guy with the ridiculous cap pushed himself quickly before the other one.
„Good evening, Ma´am“, he replied with a professional smile on his acne-covered face.
„Are you Miss Elizabeth Rabbit?“ he asked.
„Yes, I am“, she replied, somewhat surprised.
„Then I have the great pleasure of presenting you with one of „Flowersmith´s“ finest bouquets“, he said, now beaming all over his face which somehow made his pimples even more glowy than before. With a slightly exaggerated flourish he handed over the gigantic bunch of flowers.
Somewhat bemused, Lizzie took it.
„Eh, thank you“, she said. „Who are they from?“
„You´re most welcome, m´am! As for the sender, there should be a little card attached to the bouquet“, he said, tipping with two fingers the side of his cap as if it was a cowboy hat, and with an added „Have a nice day!“ he turned on his heels and quickly returned to a van that displayed the exact magenta shade as his clothes and cap and had „Flowersmith“ painted in big green letters on its side.
Lizzie scanned the sheer overwhelming mass of flowers for said card, but couldn´t find it.
That´s when the stable lad cleared his throat and took a tentative step forward.
„A letter for you, madam, from his lordship, the Count Harecula“, he said holding out the letter placed on top of both his upturned hands and bowing deeply from his waist.
Lizzie who had trouble holding the flowers with just one hand, took the letter rather unceremoniously from him.
„Thank you“, she said again, this time with decidedly more warmth to her voice and smiling an unseen smile at him, because he still remained bowing.
Slightly embarrassed at this odd behavior she tried to remember what all these lords and ladies in the TV usually said when wanting to be presented with something else than the back of the head of their servant.
„Please rise?“, she said and hoped it was the right thing to say in this situation.
When he popped up from his bow, she let out a small sigh of relief.
She was already in the process of trying to maneuver the enormous bouquet through her tiny front door without beheading the delicate flowers as she heard him clearing his throat for a second time.
„Yes? Is there anything else?“ she asked.
„I have been ordered to remain on these premises until such a time as her ladyship has seen fit to sending a reply to his lordship“, he stated.
„Oh! Eh… well, I… I see“, Lizzie said, slightly irritated. „Do you want to come in then and wait inside?“ she asked. „I could make you a coffee, if you like“, she added, remembering her manners.
„Oh, no! Thank you, madam. I´m content to wait outside“, he said, quite a bit shocked by her offer.
„All right, fair enough“, she said. „I will just get some water for these flowers and will read the letter then. I´ll come back as soon as I can“, she said, and finally closed the front door.
She headed for the kitchen where she put both her unexpected deliveries on the counter and went to the cupboard to fetch a crystal vase that seemed big enough to hold the large bouquet. She filled it with water from the tap, put the flowers in it and tried to rearrange them a bit and also search for the promised card. When she finally found it deeply embedded within the flowers, she saw her speculations about who the sender might be confirmed.
From the Count Harecula
Miss Elizabeth Rabbit
was all the card provided on information.
Smiling to herself, she now picked up the letter.
The envelope was sealed at the back with a big drop of blood red wax. Lizzie opened one of the kitchen drawers and took out a knife with which she carefully separated the sealed top of the envelope from the rest of it.
She reached inside it and extracted one sheet of heavy parchment, carefully folded in the middle.
She unfolded it.
She read it.
Then she smiled again.
The letter the Count had sent her, read as follows:
Still smiling, Lizzie took a pen out of another drawer and ticked off the first box.
Then she folded the letter, put it back in its envelope and brought it out to the stable lad, who hurriedly crushed a half-smoked cigarette underneath his boot as she opened the door.
With a last bow, he took the letter from her and then vanished into the pearl colored dawn of a new day.
Chapter 16: A Breach of Etiquette
Count Harecula felt his eyelids growing heavier as dawn approached but he resolutely tried to stay awake. He was feverishly hoping for Lizzie´s reply to arrive before his comatose sleep would overwhelm him the instant the first ray of sunshine hit the earth.
He paced up and down his bedchamber, for once not caring if he would ruin the handmade and expensive Tibetan rug that he had acquired on one of his many travelings through the Himalaya.
When it finally knocked on the door and a breathless Igor walked in without even waiting to be beckoned inside, Count Harecula had to restrain himself from seizing his butler´s shoulders and shake him in order to hurry him up.
Instead he turned deliberately slowly and simply raised a questioning eye brow.
Igor, simply ignoring the blasé attitude of his master, hurried over to him, holding in his hand the much awaited reply. He knew that with every second closer to sunrise his master risked to simply keel over on the spot, and that it would be up to him to carry his lordship to his coffin and deposit him there – a procedure that lacked not only any sense of dignity but was also surprisingly exhausting due to the sudden inflexibility of the Count´s limbs. Both, Count Harecula and Igor, always gave their best evading this scenario and usually succeeded, apart from a mere handful of occasions in the past.
Now with only minutes left, there really was no time for protocol. Igor simply thrust the letter in the Count´s outstretched hand, hurried over to the large windows that faced the grounds and parks surrounding the castle and began drawing the heavy brocade curtains. Normally one of the housemaids would see to this task but foreseeing that things were going to be tight this evening, Igor decided to take care of it himself tonight.
And for once, he didn’t even complain silently to himself about the fact that the Count had chosen a room with a view to rest during the day, although it held the threat to let his lordship burst into flames should the curtains or the coffin not be properly closed.
Igor simply couldn’t understand why the Count didn’t just pitch his camp in the vast cellars beneath the castle, this way it would mean less trouble for all, especially for him.
Igor vividly remembered the Count´s reaction when he had hinted at this point right at the beginning of his service for the Count.
Let´s just say, it wasn’t a pleasant memory, and Igor had refrained from asking the Count ever again.
Now as Igor was busy closing the curtains, he heard the rustling of paper as the Count took out the letter from its envelope. Igor had been slightly baffled to see the exact same letter he had seen to being delivered just a mere hour ago, but didn’t comment on it.
The next thing he heard was simply incredible and quite a bit shocking too, so that he jumped a little in surprise. Igor turned around and saw the Count hooting with laughter, prancing and bouncing about like a five-year-old.
Igor had never seen the likes of it. He also never saw the Count so wonderfully and beautifully happy. A man who was notoriously famous for being grumpy and sullen, bad-tempered and even nasty at times.
To his own astonishment Igor began to smile rather than to frown at this breach of etiquette. Of course, the behavior of the master always reflected upon his servants, and if anybody else would have happened to see this – and live to tell about it – Igor would downright deny to have seen his lordship presenting anything else than his regal and composed self.
But here, in this chamber and at this moment, Igor had to admit at least to himself, that it was the best thing he had ever been a witness to in his life.
It was at precisely this moment, that the Count keeled over and landed face first and with an impressive thump on the Tibetan rug.
Chapter 17: The Rendezvous
Saturday, 10 p.m. – Café de la Lune
As it was an early summer evening, the sun had just dipped down half an hour ago and the streets of the City were still warm from the heat of the day.
Count Harecula, who was always impeccably dressed, had barely made it in time for his date as he had chosen his outfit for the evening with even greater care than usual. Actually he preferred to call it a rendezvous because the French term sounded so much more sophisticated than the English.
His velvety new vest shone in the deepest emerald green, the expensive material reflecting countless candles and fairy-lights that had been lit all around the inner yard of the Café de la Lune. He had chosen this particular venue for no other reason than that he had passed it many times during his nightly hunting trips in the City and had always marveled at how busy and popular the place seemed to be no matter the hour.
Also he rather liked its name.
He was sitting at a beautifully crafted wrought-iron table, his fingers playing nervously with one of the menu cards while he was repeating over and over again in his head the little speech he had prepared for this occasion.
When one of the pretty waitresses came over to ask him if he would like anything to drink, he had to stop himself from biting her head off (which in his case can easily be understood literally). Due to her well-working surviving instincts kicking in, the waitress turned quickly on her heels and made sure to ask one of her colleagues to swap tables with her – in exchange for a favor she probably wouldn’t be called upon given the circumstances, she thought rather smugly.
Meanwhile Lizzie had appeared and stood looking for the Count in the doorway that led from the café to the yard.
When Count Harecula caught her sight, he stood up abruptly, thus creating an extremely unpleasant sound as the wrought-iron chair scraped noisily over the intricate mosaic depicting some sort of mythical scene starring a ridiculously good-looking naked man who was holding an apple in his hand and standing in front of three more or less clad women who seemed to eye the apple rather eagerly.
(This was of course the story of Paris, the son of the Trojan king Priamos, who was ordered by Zeus to choose which of the three goddesses – Hera, Athena or Aphrodite – was the most beautiful by giving her a golden apple (Zeus being far too clever to make this choice himself and thus risking being thrown out of the marital bed by Hera – although it was a place he scarcely visited anyway.) This was quite a challenge for the young man who had been raised a shepherd, and found himself unable to choose whereupon the goddesses conveniently stripped down naked for him – actually this didn’t help much either. What did help was bribery though – each of the goddesses promised the young man something in return for appointing her. Aphrodite hit the jackpot by offering him the most beautiful woman on earth – quite inappropriately forgetting that said woman – Helena – was already married to the greek king Menelaos which didn´t stop either Paris or Helena to fall madly in love with each other, fleeing to Troy and thus giving everybody a good reason to begin a war. It is unclear why the proprietress of the café had chosen this particular scene as decoration but her name – Aphrodite – might be a bit of a give-away.)
„Ah! My dear Miss Lizzie! How lovely to see you!“ Count Harecula exclaimed. „Will you have a seat?“ he asked and hurried around the table to proffer her the other chair just like Igor always did for him.
„Well, thank you, Harecula. And please, just call me Lizzie“, she said smiling as she sat down.
„Of course! Of course! How very forgetful of me!“ a flustered Count Harecula admitted.
„Not at all“, Lizzie said reassuringly. „Just as long you don´t call me Miss Rabbit“, here Lizzie winked at him. Count Harecula noticed that he began to get used to this voluntary facial twitch.
„And thank you so much for your lovely invitation and those gorgeous flowers you sent me, they were such a wonderful surprise“, Lizzie added.
„Oh, it was nothing“, he said, waving his hand like he wanted to get rid off a particularly annoying insect. Noticing her raised eye-brow he hurried to add, „The bouquet, I mean! Not the invitation… although, it´s not nothing, obviously, it´s a bouquet, isn´t it? That can´t be nothing. What I mean is… that it was no trouble… no, that doesn’t sound right either… eh…“ he stammered helplessly.
„I mean, I am very glad you liked the flowers“, he added, carefully pronouncing every single world and trying to get his head around what it was that he actually wanted to say – and failing.
Lizzie, who had a very hard time suppressing an unladylike giggling fit, coughed slightly into a silken handkerchief she´d quickly taken out of her handbag.
„Oh, do you want something to drink?“, Count Harecula quite happily interrupted himself.
„Yes, a coffee would be nice“, Lizzie answered, still smiling behind her handkerchief and adding a little extra cough for good measure.
„You!“ Count Harecula shouted at one of the waitresses whose misfortune it was to stand near their table.
„Bring us two coffees.“ And after a small second. „Please.“
Normally the waitress would have ask their preferences – with or without milk/soy milk/almond milk/coconut milk, vanilla, caramel or coconut blossom sugar (just to name a few of the many varieties that were served at this establishment) – but she decided that in this case it would be alright to just bring them their coffee and a little jug with creamer and some sugar cubes, quite old-fashioned really, and not at all how she would drink her coffee but there you have it.
To fill the awkward silence that ensued while they were waiting for their coffee, Count Harecula complimented Lizzie on her dress.
„Oh! You like it?“ she said. „Actually I made it myself.“
„You made it yourself?!“ Count Harecula blurted out in obvious disbelieve. He was quite happy then that the coffee hadn´t arrived just yet, or he would surely have swallowed it the wrong way and sprayed it all over Lizzie´s gorgeous purple dress.
„Yes, I did,“ Lizzie admitted with a tiny proud smile. „I´ve developed a knack for it a couple of years ago, when I had more time at my hands than I wanted and it has developed into something of a passion for me.“
Not only was she the most beautiful, lovely and intelligent being he had ever met, no, she even knew how to create wonderful clothes, Count Harecula thought. What if…
„And do you make them only for yourself,“ he asked, „or also for other people?“
„So far, only for myself, I´m afraid,“ here she gave a little nervous laugh, „I´m not quite sure how I would sell them, you see. Given that anyone would be interested to buy them in the first place.“
„Oh! I´m sure there are many people who would only be too delighted to purchase something you´ve created. There must be something we can do about it. I will ask Igor, he will think of something,“ the Count said, quite pleased with the solution – and secretly hoping for a couple of new vests.
„Who´s Igor?“ Lizzie asked.
„He´s my butler.“
„You have a butler?“
„Well, yes, of course. I am a Count, as you know, and it is protocol to have one.“
„I see. And you live in castle, I assume“, Lizzie said, obviously wanting to make a bit of fun of him.
„How do you know?“ Count Harecula asked suspiciously. It was more than important to him, that nobody knew his whereabouts as he had made many enemies over the centuries and among them one or two vampire slayers who had sworn to kill him should they ever find him.
„I didn’t, I was just joking,“ Lizzie quickly reassured him.
„Oh. Right. So, you don´t know where I´m living?“ he asked, just to make sure.
„No, I don´t.“
At this moment the unlucky waitress returned, placing a silver tray laden with their coffee on their table.
„Please let me know, if you want something else,“ she said, trying for a smile and not quite managing it.
Lizzie thanked her and began putting creamer and sugar into her coffee. Count Harecula took his and wondered if he should apologize for something though he wasn’t quite sure for what.
„Do you want some sugar in yours too?“ Lizzie asked him. „It just seemed that you aren´t very used to coffee. It even looked liked you´ve never had any before the meeting the other night, and it does take the sting out of it.“
„Well, it was indeed my first cup of the stuff. I normally prefer… other liquids,“ he added quite lamely.
„I know,“ Lizzie replied very quietly, „and I just wish you wouldn’t.“
„Well,“ Count Harecula cleared his throat and then continued, „It seems that´s the whole point of those bloody meetings,“ Count Harecula replied testily. „Trying to learn how to abstain from drinking…,“ he had a bit of a trouble saying the word, after all they were in public, „blood.“
Lizzie gave a humorless laugh. „Very well spotted, Harecula. I must say, you always surprise.“
Count Harecula was slightly put off by this tone. He wasn’t used to being mocked, least of all by someone who seemed to be so nice and lovely overall. He wasn’t quite sure how to react. Lizzie saved him from the trouble to find a witty remark by simply marching on.
„I´m sorry, that wasn´t very nice of me,“ she said, and Count Harecula wholeheartedly, but silently, agreed with that.
„And you´re right, that´s the whole point of our get-togethers and… well, I couldn´t help noticing that you didn´t really seem to be too keen on the whole idea.“
Coupt Harecula cleared his throat. „Well, I have to admit that it doesn´t make much sense to me to even consider giving up something that´s only natural,“ he said.
„Yes, I suspected as much.“ Lizzie sighed. „It´s just… well, that I like you,“ Lizzie said.
Count Harecula struggled to keep a calm expression – and failed yet again.
„I said, I like you.“
„Yyy…yyou like me?“
Lizzie gave a tiny smile. „Yes, I do.“ And after quite a long pause, „Do you want to say something in return?“
„Yes. Yes! Of course! I mean, I… er… I … like… you… too?“ he asked.
„Oh,“ she said, „So you´re not sure?“
„What? No! I mean, yes! I am sure! I am sure of that!“
„Well, that´s good to know.“
„Yes, I think it is. You see,“ she continued, and a frown appeared on her forehead, „the thing is… I think it´s best if I don´t see you anymore until—“
„But you just said that you like me!“ Count Harecula interrupted her.
„Yes, I know I did. Would you please let me finish my sentence?“
Count Harecula could have sunken through the ground. „Sorry,“ he mumbled. „Please go on.“
„Right. So… I don´t think it´s a good idea if we meet in the future until you´ve changed your mind about trying to become abstinent,“ (here Count Harecula gave an involuntary wince) „because I am very serious about it. And I think it would make everything even more difficult as it already is, if I were dating someone who isn´t, you see?“ she said, her eyebrows raised questioningly high.
„You mean, you also drink blood?“ Count Harecula asked incredulously. „It´s just that the sign had the „Blood“ in brackets, you know, and I thought it might be something else,“ (To be honest, this was a far stretch from the truth since Count Harecula hadn´t really thought about anything at all during or after the meeting apart from how lovely His Lady was).
„Which means,“ his voice considerably gained volume und certainity,“ that it would make perfect sense, if we would be seeing each other!“
„No, Harecula, no. It wouldn´t. Don´t you see, I really don´t want to be that person anymore. I honestly don´t want to. It´s been enough that I have been forced to live like that in the first place and …“, Lizzie quickly put her hand over her mouth.
„What? What do you mean, you´ve been …forced to?“
Lizzie gave a deep sigh. „I… well, I was turned against my will… quite some time ago. I…, well, I was in love with someone who was… like you. He drank blood, I mean, and… well, he always said, that he had it under control, so I let him… drink a bit from me,“ Lizzie blushed a little as she said that. „And it was fine, really, until he… until he couldn’t stop himself and… drank too much.“
Although Count Harecula so far had only ever tasted the blood of little bunnies and didn´t therefore quite grasp the complexities that were mingled in Lizzie´s account, he definitely knew how it felt like to loose control. He didn´t like to admit it, least of all to himself, but he had always felt quite bad for taking the life of his victims. Well, not enough to stop doing it, obviously, but it was a weight on his conscience anyway.
„He… he killed you?“ he asked.
Lizzie averted her eyes from him. „Almost… I wouldn´t have survived it, if he hadn´t turned me.“
The silence that settled between them was made even heavier by the low murmur and occasional laughter that surrounded them from the occupants of the other tables. Count Harecula didn´t know what to say. He began pouring a bag of sugar into his coffee, and then another, and then another, stirring it with a spoon, for once not caring, if he made the china clink in the process.
After a while that felt for both of them like an eternity, he said, „I would never do that to you, you know. I would – I could – never harm you,“ keeping his gaze fixed on his spoon that still stirred round and round in his coffee.
„I know you wouldn´t want to, Harecula, I really do. And it wouldn´t make a difference even if you failed because it already happened and I am now who I am.“ Lizzie took a sip from her coffee that had become cold by then.
„But that´s not quite what I was getting at. You know, that man who turned me… he couldn´t forgive himself for what he had done to me, and…“ now tears were welling up in her eyes, „ he… he killed himself a few months later.“
Count Harecula was shocked. And … a bit curious.
„What did he do?“ he whispered.
Lizzie sniffled into her handkerchief. „He… he went into the sun.“
„And that´s why I want to help Edmund, you see,“ she rushed on, trying to push her own grief beside, „he´s so in love with his beautiful Stella and he fears he might not have himself under control and could do the same thing to her that happened to me. He´s desperate and I am determined to give him any help I can. That´s why I volunteered to be his sponsor. I saw you didn´t like it, but really, what difference would it have made if I´d decided against it? You don´t really want to be freed of your addiction, and it would have been just a farce and a pretext in order to be together, and we both know it.“
Count Harecula opened his mouth – and closed it. After a while, he tried again.
„So… you don´t want to see me anymore because you want to be together with … Edmund?“
„Nooo!“ Lizzie almost howled with desperation. „I want to see you, but I just can´t. Not until you´re serious about not sucking any blood anymore. I… I´m afraid I would relapse if I were to spent more time with you, and that´s just not the way I want to live my life. Why does this all have to be so complicated?“ the last bit she said more to herself than to him, and she buried her head in her hands.
Count Harecula wasn´t sure that he had understood everything she´d just told him, but he was worried that he would make it worse when he would ask her to explain more clearly.
So he drank his coffee in one gulp – which had become so cold it tasted foul in his mouth – and made actions to stand up.
„Well… then, Miss Lizzie, I think it would be best, if I were to leave you now. I have clearly upset you, and that is something I didn´t intend to. I will respect your request not to see me anymore and I wish you all the best for your future life.“ He couldn´t quite look her in the eyes as he said that. „I..ahem, I bid you Good Night.“
With that he took a deep bow before her and left the Café to disappear into the night.
To Be Continued…