Jack half closed his eyes and laid his head against the headrest of the car. His thoughts drifted back to the winter, eight months ago, when his relationship with Garrett, the longest he had experienced for a long time, had begun. He thought about the slow build up, over four dinner dates and one late night classic movie show in the old ABC cinema behind St. Mary’s Street. They had kissed and fondled each other in the car and even got as far as some advanced foreplay, but Jack knew that Garrett had never had a sexual relationship with a man before, even though his bosses at MI5 had originally assigned him to seduce him in the name of defending the realm.
Jack had often wondered if Garrett had been prepared to go all the way for Queen and Country, as his superiors apparently intended him to do. But by the time they actually got to the bedroom of the riverside apartment on New Year’s Eve, it had stopped being about spying and had been about mutual desire.
He remembered vividly one detail of Garrett’s bedroom that night as they kissed softly and slowly undressed each other, ready to take that irrevocable step in both their lives. There had been a photograph on the bedside table of a woman and three children – a perfect, beautiful little family - Garrett’s family that had been taken from him when his wife walked out on their marriage. Jack noticed him putting the picture in the drawer before he turned and gave himself wholly and willingly to his new lover.
Afterwards, when they lay together, warm and happy, with the sounds of the New Year celebrations outside, Jack told him to put it back. He had no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed by his past or his present. There was no conflict between the two. He would always be father to those three little girls, no matter what else he chose to be. Garrett had hesitated at first, then he put the picture back. Jack had kissed him reassuringly and hugged him tight as Garrett spoke about how much he missed his children, how much he had hated his ex-wife at first, and how he had learnt to stop hating her for what she did and to understand her reasons.
Jack had come to realise that night just what he and Garrett needed. They both needed somebody who they could rely on to be kind, to love unconditionally, without pressure, no expectations, no demands. They had offered each other just that - a no strings love affair with no promises that couldn’t be kept.
Now it was late summer and he and Garrett were still ‘together’ in the sense that they still had dinner dates and late night movies and good, mutually satisfying sex as often as their work allowed. There was no question of them becoming ‘partners’, of living together, of making any long term commitment to each other. One was a spy for MI5. the other was the director of a secret organisation that policed alien activity on Earth. One could die in the line of duty any day. The other couldn’t die at all. Both knew there was no such thing as happy ever after. They lived for each seized moment, and lived it to the full, as if each one was their last.
Even so, when Garrett had asked him to come to Ireland for the weekend and meet his children, Jack felt as if it was a momentous step in their relationship. Nearly as momentous as the night when Garrett had surrendered his body to him. He had almost said no, feeling it was too much of a step, too much like that commitment they both avoided for the best of reasons.
He still wasn’t sure why he had changed his mind and said yes, but so far he wasn’t regretting the decision. It was the first time he had really been off duty for a long time, and he was enjoying the trip, enjoying being away from Torchwood and being with Garrett.
“Nearly there,” his lover said as they passed a dual language road sign. Ballagheaskey was the English form of the place name. Bealach Uisce was the Irish form. Jack smiled when Garrett pronounced both versions perfectly.
“You sound more Irish since we got off the ferry,” he commented.
“I spent all my summers here as a child,” Garrett answered. “With my grandmother… on my dad’s side. That’s why I’m called Garrett, not Gareth. I am Welsh by birth, but I have a streak of Irish in me. It was why I was recruited by M.I. A loyal British subject with Irish connections – for spying on the ones who aren’t so loyal. But then the political landscape changed and I ended up spying on Al-Qaeda instead.”
Jack knew all of that, of course. But until he came to Ireland with him he had not really given much thought to that facet of his lover’s life.
He saw another facet when they reached the modern bungalow on the outskirts of the county Wexford village with a name that loosely translated as Watery Road. He saw him jump from the car and joyfully greet the three little girls, aged from ten, down through seven and five, as they ran to him. He lifted the two littlest ones in his arms and the eldest clung to his jacket sleeve.
“I have missed you all,” he said with tears wetting his eyes and a catch in his voice. “Molly, you’ve grown. I’m sorry I missed your tenth birthday. You know that I can’t always visit when I want to. My work stops me from doing what I want, sometimes.”
“I know, daddy,” the girl answered. “I got the doll you sent. It’s nice. And I’m glad you’re here, now.”
Jack wasn’t needed just now. He recognised that and made himself useful by carrying both of their suitcases and the small bag with gifts for the children and duty free perfume for Garrett’s ex-wife. They made for the front door. It was opened before they reached it by a pale faced woman with dark hair tied back in a pony tail.
“Annie,” Garrett said. “You look thin. Are you looking after yourself?”
“I’m fine,” she answered. “You’d better come in. And…” She looked at Jack.
“This is Jack,” Garrett said, introducing him, though Annie knew perfectly well who he was and just what his connection to Garrett was. “Jack, this is Annie, my…”
Jack wondered whether he was going to say ‘wife’ or ‘ex-wife’ and whether he would mind which he said. But Annie obviously didn’t want to know and cut him off by telling them to come in. She brought them to the drawing room with a French window looking out onto the back garden. Annie went to the adjoining kitchen and made the sort of noises associated with coffee making. Jack sat on an armchair while Garrett took over the sofa with the three children and distributed the toys he had brought for them. Molly, and her younger sisters, Gráinne and Niamh, were clearly happy that he was there. Garrett smiled warmly at them. When he caught Jack watching the family reunion he winked and gave him a rather different smile. It was lost on the younger ones, but Molly seemed more aware of the world than he had expected.
“Daddy,” she said. “Is Jack your boyfriend?”
Garrett wasn’t sure how to answer that. Or if he should. He glanced towards the kitchen door. What would Annie think if he said yes? He didn’t want a row with her. But he didn’t want to lie to his daughter and he didn’t want Jack to hear him lie to her about their relationship.
“Mummy said you have a boyfriend,” the girl continued. “And that men in Wales are allowed to have them. But you’re still my daddy.”
“Of course I am, sweetheart,” he answered, hugging her. Jack watched quietly and decided that this was a side of Garrett that he liked. A loving father to his children. It didn’t include him except as a bystander, but he could live with that.
Annie came back into the room with coffee for the adults and orange for the children and sandwiches for all. Hospitality for two people whose presence had to be awkward for her.
“Annie,” Garrett said, opening up what must have been the most tricky question of all. “You told the kids that I was coming with my.…”
“What’s the point in lying?” she answered. “I told them not to talk about it at school. But it probably wouldn’t make much difference. Single parents are still rare enough in rural Ireland. They’re the odd ones out anyway. A father who prefers men can’t make things much worse. All the same, while you’re here… I think it would be better if you didn’t… anyway the spare room only has a single bed. One of you would have to sleep on the sofa.”
“It’s a good sofa,” Jack told her. “It will do me fine.” Garrett looked at him gratefully. He had closed the subject diplomatically.
Annie turned and looked at Jack, appraising him critically.
“Are you… in the same work he is?” she asked.
“Different agency, same principle,” Jack answered. He realised later that, with his accent, she probably thought he was with the CIA. But it didn’t really matter. She was satisfied with that answer.
“That’s how you met, then? Through your work?”
“Yes,” Jack replied.
Garrett watched the apparently innocent questions being put to his lover and knew they signified much more. He gently told the girls to go out and play, promising he would join them soon.
“Annie,” he said when they were out of earshot. “Don’t push it. Jack is with me. Just as you’re with… what was his name… Donal. That’s how things are. Jack and I will do nothing to embarrass you or upset the children while we’re here. We both know how to behave.”
“I know you do,” she answered. “I wasn’t… I didn’t. I only wanted to know if Jack was… skilled… the way you are. Because… because.…”
Jack was attentive suddenly to her words. This wasn’t about the fact that her ex-husband had brought his gay lover to visit. There was something else troubling Annie. Garrett obviously thought so, too.
Something that needed their ‘skills’? Men who habitually carried guns and knew how to use them if they had to?
No, he must have misread that, Jack decided. He hoped so, anyway. Apart from anything else, neither of them had their guns with them. Both could have probably circumvented the rules for bringing weapons from one EU country to another, but why would they? They were off duty, visiting Garrett’s children. And both of them had clear ideas about keeping guns and children separate.
“It’s… just a really bad time just now. There’s something… I wish.…” Annie looked and sounded as if she was going to explain herself. But then the phone rang. She picked up the cordless receiver from its cradle and went into the kitchen to take the call. Jack and Garrett heard words like ‘Tonight?’ asked with a dismayed tone, then her reassurances to the caller that she would be there and arrangements to be picked up.
Then she said ‘Goodbye, Donal.’ Jack and Garrett exchanged glances. Unless there was more than one Donal in the village, that was the one Annie was ‘with’ now. But it didn’t sound like they were arranging a date. Nobody was that reluctant about dinner with a lover.
“Annie….” Garrett looked at her as she came back into the room. As troubled as she looked before, now she looked devastated. “Are you sure you’re all right? Are you well? Is it money? You know I’ll always help out. I don’t want you or the kids to be short. It’s not…, It isn’t Donal, is it? Is he…,”
“It’s nothing,” she assured him with an obviously false smile. “I’m just a bit pre-occupied. I’m glad you’re here, though. There’s a meeting I have to go to tonight. At the village hall. I don’t want to take the children. They’ll be safe here. With you.”
“Well, of course they will,” Garrett said to her. “But, Annie… please. You really don’t look well to me. What’s this meeting about? Why is it so important? If you’re ill, surely they can manage without you? Why don’t you get some sleep and I’ll take care of the kids.”
“I have to go,” she insisted. “If I don’t….”
Again she clammed up. Garrett sighed.
“I don’t mind looking after the girls for you,” he told her. “I came here to see them. But I did want to see a little of you, too. Tomorrow… how about we have a whole day together? All of us. The lake… that fantastic little restaurant down there.”
“That would be lovely,” she answered, trying to sound enthusiastic. “But just keep the children safe for me tonight.”
“Of course we will,” Garrett promised. Then he got up from the sofa and went out through the French window to the girls in the garden. He played with them joyfully in the late afternoon sunshine, pushing Molly on her swing and helping Gráinne and Niamh to master the slide. Annie picked up the plates and cups and went to the kitchen. Jack offered to help but she said she could manage. He stood and watched his lover with his children and ran back the recent conversation in his head, trying to find some clues. Yes, of course, this was an awkward domestic time. But apart from being firm about where they slept tonight, Annie wasn’t giving them any of the trouble about their relationship he had expected. It seemed to be something else entirely.
Maybe she was ill, seriously ill in a way that she hadn’t admitted to anyone. Could this meeting actually be a medical appointment? Jack dismissed that immediately. Nine o’clock on a Friday evening wasn’t a consultation time for anyone. But she definitely didn’t sound like she was going on a fun filled evening, either.
“Keep them safe?” He was turning that phrase over when she returned to the drawing room. She stood at the window, too, watching Garrett with the children.
“He loves them,” Jack commented.
“Yes, he does,” she replied. “They love him, too. I wish his work wasn’t so… I wish he could take them for a while… they’d be safe with him.”
Again that word, ‘safe’. Why weren’t they safe here in rural Ireland?
“Annie…” Jack decided to bite the bullet and ask her directly. “What’s the matter? What’s scaring you? Is it something to do with Garrett’s work? Do you feel threatened? If so… you should tell the local authorities. The police, the Irish secret service. They can protect you and the kids. Or.…” A more obvious and immediate problem came to mind. “It’s not Donal? He’s not… Annie, if it’s that.…”
He looked at her carefully. She did look tired. But there were no obvious signs of domestic violence. And the children were bright and happy. There was no sign that anyone was hurting them, either.
“It’s nothing like that,” she answered. “It’s.…” Again she looked close to telling him, then something pulled her back from a full disclosure. “I can’t tell you. I can’t tell either of you. Just keep my children safe. That’s all I ask of you both.”
“Annie,” Jack replied solemnly. “I would die before I’d let any harm come to those kids. So would Garrett. You can count on us.”
That seemed to satisfy her, but her disturbed and distracted mood lasted right through the early evening as she made a meal for everyone and got the children ready for bed. When she got ready to go out, it definitely wasn’t on a date. She wore an ordinary skirt and blouse and no make up. She brushed her hair and put it back into the same pony tail. Garrett tried several ways to get her to explain what the meeting was about and why it was important, but she wouldn’t be drawn.
As she waited in the hall, by the door, for Donal to pick her up, Garrett put his arms around her and hugged her. He lifted her pale face and kissed her once.
“Whatever it is… I’ll make it right,” he promised her.
“I wish you could,” she answered. “But I don’t think you can. Just keep the children safe.”
That same request. Not that he intended to do anything else. But it was strange the way she said it. A car drew up on the road, and the horn sounded. She broke away from his embrace and rushed out. Garrett glimpsed Donal in the driver’s seat. He hardly gave Annie time to fasten her seatbelt before he drove off.
He returned to the drawing room. An Irish soap opera was on the TV, but the sound was muted. Jack was sitting on the sofa. He reached out to him with a soft smile. Garrett gratefully sat down next to his lover, comforted by his arm around his shoulder and his kiss on his cheek.
“I still care about her,” he said, in explanation of what Jack must have seen in the hallway. “Even if I don’t love her. We had some good years. We have three children we both adore. I don’t just switch that off. I care about her. And I’m worried.”
“I don’t want you to stop caring about her,” Jack replied. “You should care. I still care about Ianto, even though he went off and married Alun.”
“I know that. I’ve seen the gleam in your eye. I’m surprised Alun doesn’t get jealous. I must admit, I do, sometimes. When I think that he made love to you before I did.”
“We’re good friends,” Jack assured him. “Just like you and Annie are. But… seriously, Garrett… what’s wrong with her? This surely isn’t the way she usually behaves?”
“No, it isn’t,” he admitted. “I’m worried. I want to help her. But she won’t tell me anything.”
“Or me,” Jack added. He sighed and tightened his hold around Garrett’s shoulders. Garrett turned and leaned closer, wanting a kiss from him. But then Jack drew back suddenly. Garrett swivelled around and saw his eldest child, Molly, standing in the doorway. Jack moved a discreet few inches away as Garrett reached out his arms and the child ran to sit in his lap.
“What’s up, sweetheart?” he asked. “Can’t you sleep?”
“Don’t want to,” she answered. “I hate it when mummy goes to the hall. When she comes back, she’s always sick.”
“Sick?” Garrett looked at his daughter then at Jack who was as puzzled as he was. “Do you mean… do they have a lot to drink at the meeting?”
“No,” the girl shook her head emphatically. “No, not that sort of sick. She’s really sick. Not like… not like mummy at all.”
She was ten years old. That was the best explanation she could give. Neither of the adults knew what to say or do in response.
There was a soft sound and the other two children, in nightgowns and fluffy slippers stood at the doorway. Jack abandoned the sofa altogether and let Garrett cuddle them all. Their mother going to the hall was obviously something that happened a lot, and it disturbed them, but none of them knew how to explain their unease to their father.
Jack went to the kitchen. Coffee for him and Garrett, cocoa for the children, was his plan. As he waited for the kettle to boil he looked outside. It was a moonlit night in a place with very little light pollution. He reached and switched off the kitchen light to enjoy it fully. He had lived for more than a century in Cardiff, a place that had gas lights even in the early part of his citizenship. Before then he had travelled further than anyone could imagine. But further back, he remembered Boeshane. At night, on the dunes, away from the habitat, there was nothing but the dome of the night above him, the stars all bright and clear like they were here. He liked to look at night skies like that. Even though he had visited enough of the planets around those stars to have few romantic illusions about them, he still liked to look.
Something crossed the moon. Jack blinked and stared. It didn’t look like a bird, or a bat. It definitely wasn’t an aeroplane. He watched again as another strange shape was silhouetted against the silver light. And another. This one bigger and closer.
His heart thudded as he remembered seeing such shapes before. He ignored the click of the kettle as it finished boiling and ran back through the drawing room. He grabbed the children’s coats from the pegs in the hall.
“We have to get out of here,” he said. “We need to get Annie and get out of here. All of us. This place isn’t safe.”
“Jack… what….” Garrett began.
“Please, trust me now,” Jack responded. “This is something I know about. Believe me. Trust me.”
“I’ve always done both,” Garrett replied as he lifted Molly from his knee and took the coats from Jack’s hands. “But can’t you tell me why?”
“Not…” The children were looking at him, and listening.
“Nach ar agaidh na pháistí,” Jack told him. Garrett was startled to be told ‘Not in front of the children’ in perfectly pronounced Irish, but he decided that questions about Jack’s language skills could wait. He put the coats on the girls and Jack found their shoes, putting them on without socks. They grabbed their own coats and brought the children out to the car. Not Garrett’s convertible Jaguar - it was only a four seater. Besides, Jack cryptically said that a soft top would be too dangerous. Instead, Garrett put the children into the back of Annie’s C4 Piccasso which had three sets of child sized seatbelts on the wide middle seat and spare seats behind. He took the driver’s seat. Jack got in beside him. The children were excited about a night-time adventure with their father and his friend. The coats over their nightdresses and no socks added an extra frissance to it all. But they weren’t scared. Jack turned to look at them as Garrett turned the car onto the road and headed towards the village.
“We’re going to get your mom, now,” he promised them. “Then we’re all going to go find a nice hotel to spend the night. You’re all going to be ok.”
Pont y Gell, he thought. It was mentioned in a booklet in the tourist office that Beth could give out to anyone who asked. It told how in 1903, the village just outside Merthyr had succumbed to a virulent outbreak of smallpox. Every man, woman and child had died. It became known as the ghost village. Nobody ever occupied the houses again. Now, it was a ruin, roofs gone, walls crumbling, streets choked with grass and weeds. There were ideas about reconstructing it as a heritage site – lost rural Wales or something. Torchwood had blocked the planning permission three times, so far.
Just in case.
It wasn’t smallpox that had taken Pont y Gell. It was a race of alien blood-suckers called Karakazzi. Four of them had made their nest in the town. They had been subtle at first, taking a little blood from each of their victims. They had preyed upon the villagers for over a year. A diary found in the churchwarden’s house told of the mysterious illness affecting local people, men, women and children alike. It also noted the deaths of some of the elderly and of two small children, all apparently suffering from anaemia. It might have gone on for years and years, except that one night the Karakazzi decided to feast. The next day, when Torchwood arrived, they found every soul in the village drained of blood.
Jack shuddered as he remembered finding the Karakazzi nest, the creatures bloated with Human blood, but still ready for a fight.
He shuddered again as he contemplated history repeating itself here, now, in Ballagheaskey, county Wexford.
There were a lot of cars parked outside the village hall, and more arriving. Garrett slowed, intending to join them, mingling with the locals, but Jack tapped his arm and told him to drive on. He pointed to the uniformed men at the front entrance to the hall, and two more patrolling the side and back.
“They’re Gardai,” Garrett said. “The Irish police.”
“They’re all carrying handguns.”
“The Irish police do,” Garrett answered.
“For a parish meeting? And it looks like they’ve got the register of electors. They’re checking people in. We won’t get in that way, and if I’m right, we don’t want to do it that way, anyway. We need an element of surprise, and for preference, a couple of those handguns. Drive on and park somewhere sheltered, where the car won’t be seen from the air.”
Garrett had already told Jack he trusted him. He asked no more questions now as he drove past the car park and turned a corner. They came to the old village church, a ruin now, replaced by a modern one that they passed on the way in. Trees had grown up around the side. Garrett parked under them. Jack turned and looked at the children.
“Molly, you come and sit where I am when me and your dad get out. Your sisters can lie down on the back seat and go to sleep. You sit nice and quietly and don’t open the door to anyone but us.”
Molly did as he said. Garrett gave them sweets to pacify them before he walked away. He looked back nervously. Jack did, too. This wasn’t the best thing either of them had ever done, but they certainly couldn’t bring the children with them.
“Ok, we’re talking about a covert insertion here,” Garrett said as they watched the hall from a safe distance. It was a measure of how serious Jack was that ‘covert insertion’ didn’t get any kind of joking response.
“We’re going to have to take out at least one of the guards first,” Jack told him.
“Before a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service commits common assault on officers of the Irish police force, can you please tell me what’s going on?” Garrett asked, not unreasonably.
Jack told him. In the darkness, his face paled in shock.
“Annie! That’s why she’s… You mean a fucking vampire has had her blood.…”
“Not a vampire. Not like in the books. They’re an alien race.”
“I don’t fucking care if it’s the Irish blood donor service,” Garrett answered. “They’re hurting Annie… I’m going to fucking kill them.”
“Me, too,” Jack promised. “But you can’t rush in. If the Karakazzi are in there, then they’ll kill you and everyone else in revenge. Come on. Let’s get in there, first. Are you ready to assault an officer of the law of a sovereign territory, now?”
They moved quietly, in the shadows. Both men knew how to do that, how to be invisible if anyone looked their way, to move without making a noise. The Garda officer patrolling at the back of the hall didn’t see them until it was too late. He didn’t have time to utter a sound. Garrett checked the handgun the man dropped and concealed it in his trouser pocket then he looked at the locked fire door.
Jack examined the door quickly and then pulled the alien lock-opening device from his pocket. It was mere coincidence the thing was there. He had used it yesterday afternoon when Torchwood had busted an alien drug ring operating from a council house in Splott. He had forgotten to check it back into the inventory. A slip on his part, and on Ianto’s, since it was his job to make sure everything was put back. But since it now gave him the right tool for the job, he wouldn’t berate Ianto VERY much when he got back.
“I could use one of those,” Garrett said. “Opening locked doors is a big part of my work, too.”
“Play your cards right and I’ll see if Tosh can retro-engineer a copy for you,” Jack told him. Then neither spoke as they slipped inside.
The fire door brought them into a small kitchen area where the knitting club, OAP bingo, drama club, parish council et al made tea and coffee for themselves. But refreshments weren’t being served at this meeting. The kitchen was in darkness. They moved quickly through it and opened the door into the brightly lit main hall. The kitchen door was partially concealed by the side of a small stage, and they were not seen.
“Are those the…” Garrett looked up at the vaulted ceiling of the hall and couldn’t help a shudder as he saw the creatures sitting on the hammer beams. There were eight of them, vaguely humanoid, in that they had a head, arms, legs. But their skin was a sort of black leather and their eyes, even from this distance, were red, glowing pinpricks.
They had wings. Actual wings, like bats, folded across their backs. Vampire wasn’t a bad description for them. Jack only made the distinction because he knew that the ‘classical’ vampire beloved of horror movie makers was real and part of the darker side of planet Earth, while these were an alien species that found Human blood a rare delicacy.
“There’s Annie,” Garrett said, pointing to the third row of seats from the front of the crowded hall. She looked tired and worried. So did everyone else. There was little conversation among the people. They just sat there looking cowed and beaten and apprehensive. There were children among the crowds. Some were nearly as young as Molly.
Garrett watched his ex-wife anxiously. His muscles were tensed as if he was about to spring forward and pluck her from her seat. Jack put a restraining arm on him and told him to wait. She was in no danger yet. They needed to choose their moment.
Donal wasn’t with her, which puzzled them both until they turned their attention to the stage beside them and saw him sitting at a table with two other men and a woman who had a ‘Parish Council’ look about them.
Donal was the spokesman. He stood up and the villagers all became attentive in the way prisoners of war became attentive when the camp commandant stood before them. These people weren’t in any camp, but they were prisoners of something that held them more surely than fences and guards.
“Thank you all for coming, tonight,” Donal said. “I know you’re all frightened. This is not a pleasant experience for any of you. But we must be united. If even one of you reneges on the bargain, then.…” He glanced up at the ceiling. “Well… all deals will be off and it would be fatal for us all. We must pay the tithe. It is better this way. A little blood from each of those called…. Better than our children killed in their beds or our elderly drained of life….”
There was a collective shudder among the crowds and a rustling sound above. Garrett looked up and saw those leathery wings unfolding.
“Those whose names are called,” Donal continued. “Come forward quickly. Do not delay. Our masters are not patient.”
The woman next to him set what looked like a tombola drum on the table. She turned it and Donal reached in and took a slip of paper. He called a name out. A man came forward from the back, shaking and crying, but not even trying to disobey. He stepped up onto the stage and knelt down. Above him, one of the creatures dropped from the hammer beam and swooped down. The victim closed his eyes as the creature pushed his head to one side and bit down on his shoulder, drinking his blood.
The creature didn’t take much. It didn’t have to. As the man stumbled down from the stage a woman was called at random. Then another man. The Karakazzi took their turns to feed, too, flying down one at a time, and standing at the back of the stage when they had slaked their appetite, waiting for the next victim to be called.
“They’re being milked, like cattle, by lottery,” Garrett whispered. “Jack, we have to stop them. We must….” His hand reached for the gun in his pocket. “I could take two at least before they knew what hit them.”
“No.” Jack put his hand over his. “No. There are too many of them. More than I expected. And too many innocents who might be hurt in retaliation.”
Then something happened that shocked them both, and caused consternation among the crowds. A name was called and a teenage girl shrieked and cried. The mother of the girl stood up. It was the woman whose name had been the second pulled from the tombola drum. She already looked pale from giving up her blood.
“Don’t take my girl,” she begged. “Don’t. She’s scared. Don’t put her through this.”
“Máire,” Donal answered. “You know the rules. If you want to take her place….”
“Yes,” she answered. “Yes, I’ll do that.” She stepped forward, stumbling as she climbed up. Donal held her upright as one of the creatures fed from her a second time. She fainted before it was over. Donal and one of the other men passed her down to the floor. As the macabre lottery continued, two women stepped forward to give her water and pills which Jack assumed could only be some vitamin or iron supplement.
Garrett’s hand still hovered over that gun, when a name was called that chilled him to the bone.
“Molly Dunne,” Donal called. Annie screamed.
“No!” she cried out. “Donal, no. You said she wouldn’t be included. You promised me.”
“I said I would try,” he answered. “But the rule is clear. Everyone over ten and under seventy. Molly was ten three weeks ago.”
“No,” Annie answered. “No, you won’t harm my baby. You won’t have any of them. Donal, stop this. Stop it. You can’t keep doing it. We can’t keep sacrificing ourselves to these…these fiends.”
“I’m sorry, Annie,” Donal said again and nodded to the two men at his side. They went down and pulled Annie from the crowd, forcing her up onto the stage. “Annie, you’ve broken the rules. Molly should have been here tonight. You didn’t bring her. You have to be punished.”
Three of the creatures moved forward with a rustle of wings. Annie cried and struggled. Donal himself pushed her down onto her knees.
“No!” Jack knew he had no chance of restraining Garrett now. He sprang forward, onto the stage. “No. Leave her alone. If you want blood, take mine instead. Just leave her….”
“No need,” Donal answered. He looked towards the back of the hall. Garrett turned and looked the same way as two of the Garda came into the hall dragging Molly and carrying the two little girls, screaming in terror. They were brought to the stage. Annie grabbed them and held them tightly, but she couldn’t get away.
“Annie,” Donal said to her. “You’ve forfeited any protection they might have had. Now they’ll die. And so will you. And… him.”
Garrett raised his gun. He got one shot off before he was restrained. It went through Donal’s shoulder and lodged in the leathery wing of the creature standing behind him. Then he was restrained by two of the villagers and disarmed. He struggled. He kicked. He was trained in unarmed combat. But the villagers were desperate not to be victims of the angered Karakazzi. Rather a stranger who meant nothing to them. Rather his family who only moved here a few years ago.
“Over my dead body!” Jack’s voice rang out over the hubbub as he launched himself onto the stage. “Everyone, back off. Especially you!” Donal was hugging his wound, but that didn’t stop Jack punching him hard in the face. He went flying backwards into the Karakazzi behind him, who fixed on his already bleeding shoulder despite his screams that he was excused the lottery because he was a councillor.
“Let him go,” Jack ordered. “Let them all go. They’re just ordinary humans. Look at me. I’ve got something different.” The Karakazzi looked at him. He had their attention. Garrett pushed his captors aside and ran to Annie and the children, holding all four of them in his arms and covering them with his own body. He had a vague idea that Jack was going to do something, but in case it failed he was ready to defend his wife and children with his own life.
“Hisss lifeforccce,” hissed one of the creatures sibilantly. “It issss greater than any of thesse puny humansss… we can all feed on him….”
“Yeah,” that’s right,” Jack told them. “I’m your all you can eat buffet… and when you want some more… I’ll be fresh and ready for another go. So come on… I’m offering you my blood… my special blood… for theirs. For everyone in this room. Even him!” He looked disparagingly at Donal, who was still sprawled on the floor, whimpering.
“It issss a bargain,” the creature agreed. Jack knew it was nothing of the sort. Their plan would be to have him as a main course, and then feast on the villagers for dessert.
Jack had a trick card to play. But it was one that was going to hurt a lot. It did the last time, too. When the four creatures at Pont y Gell had set upon him. It was one of a thousand memories he preferred not to dwell on before he slept at night.
But it was the only way to save the people of Ballagheaskey. It was the only way to save Garrett and his family. For them, Jack let himself be dragged down onto the stage, his shirt ripped from him and his arms pulled painfully akimbo as four of the creatures drank from him at once. One was at his jugular, two others bit down on his wrists. A fourth sucked at his side, above his kidneys. He felt the blood draining from him. He was immortal, of course. When he died of blood loss, he would be restored in a few minutes, maybe a bit longer – a half an hour or so. But if all eight didn’t feed on him before then it wouldn’t work. The survivors would know. They could rip his head off in revenge and then still attack Garrett and his kids.
But the urge to feast, not just take a little at a time, made the creatures careless. He felt more of them biting at him. More of his blood draining. He managed a triumphant laugh as he heard the first of them scream that the blood burned. Then his mind shut down and he felt no more pain.
Garrett risked a look around as he heard the creatures scream. All eight of them seemed to be coming apart at the seams. The same red glow that was in their eyes now poured out of steaming cracks in their leathery bodies. They screamed that they were burning inside. One of them had enough presence of mind to realise that it was Jack who had done it and a claw reached out towards his still body. Garrett grabbed at the nearest thing he could find for a weapon, one of Annie’s shoes with a good, strong, stiletto heel on it. He turned and hit the creature in the middle of the face. The shoe sank right into flesh that was cooking from the inside. The creature shattered into burning ash and fell to the floor where it scorched and burnt the wooden stage.
“Everyone get out,” Garrett yelled, as he realised that the dying creatures were setting the stage alight. The fire alarm tripped as the smoke reached the sensors. “Annie, take the kids. Run, sweetheart. Get them out.” He turned to the two men who had restrained him. They looked as if they were coming out of a trance, only now realising what was happening. “You, help her.” He looked around at Donal, still whimpering and nursing his wounds. “And you… get that shit outside, too. I’d happily let him burn, but Annie used to like him.” He himself turned and lifted Jack. He felt strangely light as he slung him over his shoulder and carried him towards the fire exit they had come in through.
Outside, the Gardai also seemed to have come to their senses. Garrett wondered if it was some kind of hypnosis that made so many people the mere ‘cattle’ of these creatures. But now they started to organise a headcount, making sure everyone was out of the building as the fire spread. He heard somebody say that they were all accounted for as he stumbled towards a grassy bank where Annie was sitting, hugging the girls and crying with combined fear and relief. He laid Jack down beside them and caressed his pale face.
“He’s dead?” Annie asked. “They all…. They drained him.”
“Jack’s hard to kill,” Garrett answered. “He’ll be all right in a little while. But what about you? What about… Molly, Niamh, Gráinne… my babies, are you all right” He hugged all of the children. They were shocked beyond all imagining. They had seen a horror that even the adults standing around watching their village hall burn were hardly coping with. But his loving embrace was a start on the way to recovery. He held Annie, too, and kissed her out of relief that the nightmare was over.
Jack woke, feeling the cool grass beneath his back, hearing the sound of a fire engine and people making a commotion all around him. He opened his eyes and saw the stars over his head, the burning building, and Garrett kissing his wife. He felt a deep, painful stab of jealousy. He always knew that it would end one day. He and Garrett were never going to be forever. But he wished it could have ended some other way.
Then Annie gave a soft cry and pointed. Garrett turned and saw him watching, his blue eyes wide open in the glow from the fire. Moments later, he was being kissed frantically while Garrett’s tears of relief wet his face.
When Jack felt strong enough to stand up, they all walked away from the scene. They found the car where they had parked it. Annie sat in the back with the three children. Jack sat beside Garrett as they drove away. Garrett programmed the satnav for a good hotel at least ten miles away from Ballagheaskey. Jack phoned ahead and booked rooms for them all. Tomorrow, they would go back to the bungalow. Like everyone else in the village there was some starting over to do. But for tonight they wanted to be a long way from there.
“Make one of them a double,” Garrett said. “I don’t want you on the sofa after all of that. God almighty, Jack, that was a risk, even for you. How did you know they would….”
“Like I told them,” he answered. “My blood is different from ordinary humans.”
“You mean you’re not Human?” Annie asked. She glanced at the children, but the two youngest were asleep and Molly wasn’t far off. The answer to that question wasn’t going to upset them.
“I am Human,” Jack assured her. “That’s the one thing I know I am. But… I had an encounter with an alien and his alien technology a while ago. My body was infused with something called Artron energy. It changed me in several scary ways. One of the side effects is that my blood is poisonous to space vampires. They found that out at Pont y Gell, too.”
“You mean that happened to you before… and you went and let it happen a second time.” Annie worked it out before Garrett. “You let them… in order to save us.”
“It’s my job,” Jack told her. Garrett kept his eyes on the road ahead. Driving in the dark with his children in the back was something he took seriously. But one hand reached and found Jack’s for a few brief moments.
“It’s more than that,” he contradicted him. “Annie… when you find a man who can give you everything I never could, hold onto him. You have my blessing on that. I wish you every happiness. But Jack is mine.”
Jack sighed happily, glad to be claimed as ‘mine’ by a man whose arms he would sleep in soon in the hotel bed he had just booked.