By Katy Haye
If you haven’t read the first three episodes of this story, use the blog history on the right to get up to date or scroll back through using the arrow above.
The doors slammed and we set off. I was supposed to be fielding the satnav, but my mind was too full for directions. I was now in a delivery van packed full of charitable Christmas gifts alongside a driver who claimed to be a vampire. Half a vampire. This was – probably – my official, weirdest Christmas ever.
I glanced at Stefan sidelong. He was concentrating on the road. He looked just like normal. Tall, dark and entirely gorgeous. The idea of him being an undead creature of the night was ridiculous. His Jedi mind-trick with the police had been … some sort of hypnotism. Except, if he was Derren Brown’s Slavic cousin, why was he working for minimum wage at ParcelsRUs?
As though he felt my look, he turned and smiled. My insides flipped over. “Is more peaceful now, yes?” he asked.
Since we’d ditched Candy it certainly was that. I met his smile with one of my own. Give me a hoard of vampires over her, any day. “Yes. Much.” I focused on the satnav, afraid if I stared at Stefan too long I’d start drooling, or something equally mortifying. “Er, I’ll find some music.” I jabbed at the radio, hoping for Slade or even Maria Carey to break the silence, but nothing happened.
“Is broken. You could sing?”
I glanced aside in time to catch that wicked smile. “Oh, no, you really don’t want me to do that.”
“Don’t I?” That smile again. I didn’t have the breath to sing now, even if I wanted to. Maybe his smile was a strigoi trick, too. But I hoped not.
“You could sing,” I managed.
“Hmm.” I thought he’d refuse – you do, don’t you? – but he paused a moment, then started. I didn’t recognise the tune, and the words were all in some foreign language, Romanian, I assumed, but a shiver ran up my spine at the sound. His voice was a rich baritone and it filled the van with warmth.
The final note hung in the air long after he’d closed his mouth. I didn’t want to break the spell, but I had to say it. “That was amazing.”
Stefan shrugged. “Is nothing special. Any child at school in my country could sing that.”
But not like that, I’d bet. “Do you miss being with your family at Christmas?”
“I have no family.”
My heart plunged. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
It was almost fully dark now, but I saw the gleam of his eyes as he turned to me. “No need. I ate my parents.” Had I heard that right? He nodded slowly. “Is strigoi ritual; could not be helped.”
I stared at the side of his face, all angles and shadows in the gloom, my heart bouncing against my ribs. I was wondering whether it would be wiser to ask if he was winding me up, or to simply throw myself out of the moving van, when another gleam showed his teeth as he laughed. “I teasing you. Ah, Grania, your face!”
My face had to be bright red. I was glad it was dark. I slapped his arm. “That’s not fair.”
“No. But fun.”
I slapped him again, glad of the excuse.
“Come, another song. You join in this time.”
Before I could object Stefan started singing. I didn’t think I’d be able to join in, but maybe every country has its own version of Silent Night. I kept my eyes on the road and the satnav and sang along with Stefan’s glorious baritone, our two languages mingling harmoniously.
Peace settled around me. I wasn’t sure what Stefan was, but I knew who he was – the one who’d come to my help when I needed it, at Christmas. Right now, that was enough.
The final notes rang out as the finishing flag appeared on the satnav. “Left here, then it’s on the right,” I told Stefan. He changed gear and turned.
We swung into the carpark in front of the building that housed the refugee shelter. It was dark but for the lights spilling out of the windows. And spilling from the main door, where it flowed around a single, silhouetted figure. Jason Pirrie, head of ParcelsRUs.
“Er, I think you might need that strigoi mind trick again,” I said as Stefan killed the engine. We were late, what with the locked van and the police and everything. Maybe that was why the big boss didn’t look pleased to see us. From this angle, his expression suggested someone had picked him up and wrung him out until every last drop of Christmas cheer had squeezed out of him.
Check back with us tomorrow for the final episode.
For a chance to win a copy of Katy Haye’s novel The Last Gatekeeper and some yummy Christmas chocs, leave a comment below. The winner will be announced before Christmas.