Inspired by 'The Sussex Vampire' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
On Halloween night, I went over to Shelly’s house for a scary movie marathon. All four of our parents were at a costume party across town so we’d have the house to ourselves. The plan was to sit on the couch, watch bad horror movies and eat the candy we were supposed to be giving to trick-or-treaters.
But, as is usually the case with these stories, that’s not exactly how it turned out.
About halfway into our first movie there was a knock on the door. We had the porchlight out so we weren’t expecting trick-or-treaters. With a groan, Shelly hit pause, picked up the bowl of candy and carried it to the door. I heard her talking to whoever it was:
“Really? Tonight? I can’t have one night alone with my boyfriend?”
“Er, what?” It was clearly not trick-or-treaters.
“Fine, come in.”
Shelly came back into the living room with a kid about our age who was not wearing a Halloween costume and who looked very bewildered.
“Shelly, what’s going on?” I asked.
“We have a client, Warren,” said Shelly.
“We do? How do you…?”
“One, he isn’t a trick-or-treater, because, a, he isn’t wearing a costume and, b, he’s too old. Two, he’s not a friend because I only have one friend and he’s sitting on this sofa next to me. Three, he’s our age, he probably goes to our school which means he’s probably heard of me. Four, it’s Halloween night and he’s not at home, like us, or at a party, like normal teenagers. Balance of probability: He’s a client.”
“Right, got it.”
“Well, that answers my first question,” said the client.
“Is this where Shelly Hobbes lives?”
“And that leads us to my first question,” said Shelly.
“Who is she?”
“Who is who?”
“The girl you’ve come to see me about.”
“How did you know?”
“When a guy comes to me for help, it almost always has something to do with a girl. Men are very simple that way.”
“Well, wait a minute,” I said. “That's not true.”
“No! Men think about other things besides girls.”
“You spend ninety percent of your time with a girl, following her around and doing whatever she says even if you don't know why.”
“Well, I...it's just...yeah, okay.”
“Good. Now we’ve settled that,” she said, turning to our guest, “who is she?”
“My sister, Mabel. My name is Clark, in case anyone’s interested.”
“Sorry, I got carried away. What’s going on with Mabel?”
Clark seemed hesitant to say. His eyes kept darting back and forth between us, as if he was trying to make up his mind about us. Then he took a big breath and said, “She’s a vampire.”
“Good night, Clark,” said Shelly getting up and going to the front door. “Have a happy Halloween.”
“Aren’t you even going to listen to me?”
“Not if you’re going to waste my time with nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense!”
“There’s no such thing as vampires!”
“I know that!” said Clark, testily. “I didn’t say that my sister is a walking corpse that can only be kept in her coffin by a stake through her heart. But she is a vampire. She’s been drinking blood!”
The room filled with an uncomfortable silence. I was sure I had misunderstood Clark. How could this be true? Shelly seemed less concerned and more intrigued. She sat back down on the sofa with me and bid Clark tell her everything.
“It started a few weeks ago,” he said. “She’s not the same. She used to be really upbeat and happy all the time. Now she’s sort of…I don’t know, gloomy. She used to sit outside on the back porch, reading or just lying in the sun. Now she hates to go outside. And even when she’s inside she prefers to be in the dark. She’s actually started wearing sunglasses all the time. Then, just today…” He was clearly having a hard time telling us. “I don’t even know how to…”
“Just tell me exactly what happened as you saw it happen,” said Shelly, sternly.
“Right. Well, she was…she was drinking our dog’s blood!”
I looked over at Shelly and she didn’t seem to have been affected at all by this bizarre statement. She simply said, clearly and firmly, “Exactly what happened. Exactly as you saw it happen.”
Clark sighed. “I got home from school and I was looking for Mabel. I had gotten an A on my history test and I wanted to tell her. She knew I had been worrying about that and…well, I couldn’t find her anywhere in the house. I was surprised to see her in the backyard. But when I saw what she was doing…”
“What was she doing?” I asked.
“She was kneeling on the grass, bent over. I couldn’t see what she was doing at first. Then I went outside and called to her. She turned around. She had blood on her mouth and hands. And I saw she was kneeling over our dog, Fergus. He was whimpering, in a lot of pain, and I saw he had blood in his fur. I ran over, pushed Mabel out of the way and saw a big cut in Fergus’s neck. I didn’t want to believe it, but there it was, right before my eyes. My sister was drinking my dog’s blood.”
Again, I was more than a little concerned when Shelly seemed to register no emotional response to this horrifying pronouncement. I mean, yeah, we’d been through a lot together, but I thought for sure this would be too much for her. But, no. She was still in Sherlock-mode. Sitting, hands tented, thinking hard.
“What did she say?” I asked when I realized Shelly wasn’t going to ask.
“Nothing. I asked her what she was doing and she refused to tell me. I told her to go inside and clean up while I took Fergus inside and got him cleaned up. The cut wasn’t deep, and it was actually pretty easy to take care of it myself. Of course, I thought about taking him to the vet at first. But then I’d have to tell them what happened. Then our parents would find out and…”
“You didn’t tell your parents?”
“They’re out of town on business. But even if they weren’t, I don’t think I would have. That’s why I came to you. I thought you could give me some advice. What am I supposed to do about this?”
For a while nobody said anything. Shelly was still deep in thought, I was shocked and Clark was just anxious for Shelly’s answer. Finally, it came.
“Today’s incident notwithstanding,” she said at last, “have your sister and the dog gotten along?”
“Yes. Of course. She loves that dog. That’s why this whole thing is so—”
“Clark, I need you to calm down.”
“Calm down? How can I be calm? My sister is—”
“Probably going through something difficult and the last thing she needs is her brother jumping to conclusions.” As she said this she took out a chocolate bar from the bowl, unwrapped it and handed it to Clark. He took it in his hand and was about to bite into it, but Shelly said, “No, just hold it for a minute.”
“Just indulge me, please.”
“You don’t think she was drinking the dog’s blood?” I asked.
“I don’t want to shock you completely, Warren, but, no, I do not believe that a suburban teenager has suddenly decided to indulge in rituatlistic bloodletting with a beloved family pet.” Here she snatched the chocolate out of Clark’s confused hand and said, “You have something on your face. Right here.” She touched her upper lip with her finger. Clark rubbed his own lip. “That’s good,” said Shelly.
“Sorry, what was all that about?” asked Clark. I admit I was a little confused too.
“Did you enjoy the chocolate?” she asked.
“I didn’t eat any chocolate.”
“Are you sure? Cuz there’s some on your lip right now.”
Clark again rubbed his lip and realized that not only was there chocolate on his face, but also on the fingers of both his hands. “It melted while you were holding it,” Shelly explained, “and you transferred it to your mouth when you rubbed your lip.”
“I still don’t get it,” said Clark.
But I did. “What she means is that just because there was blood on your sister’s mouth, that doesn’t mean that she was drinking it. You’ve got chocolate on your mouth but you haven’t eaten any…actually, would you like some? For real, this time. We’ve got plenty, you might as well…”
“Never mind, Warren,” said Shelly. “The point is that I need you to tell me what you saw and let me draw conclusions. You provide the evidence, I provide the solution. Fair?”
“Okay, fine,” said Clark, wiping his mouth with the tissue I handed him. “I get it. But if she wasn’t drinking his blood, what was she doing?”
“Probably trying to help the poor animal. Blood gets on her hands, she absent-mindedly touches her mouth, and the next thing she knows her brother is calling for Van Helsing.”
“Never mind. Your sister’s not a vampire, that’s the point I can’t believe I’ve had to put so much effort into making.”
“But what about her behavior? Staying inside? The dark glasses?”
“At the risk of sounding like a guidance counselor, changes in habits and behaviors are fairly common symptoms of turning fourteen! It’s got nothing to do with the dog.”
“But, wait,” I said. “Something still doesn’t add up.”
“You’re right,” said Clark. “If she was just trying to help Fergus, why didn’t she tell me?”
“That is a little peculiar. I have a theory, but I’ll need to confirm it. Now, obviously, I can’t leave because I promised my parents I wouldn’t. But don’t worry, Clark. I’m putting my best man onto it.”
There was a long silence. Clark kept looking around the room as though he were looking for Shelly’s best man.
“She means me!” I said at last.
“Right. Warren, I need you to go with Clark back to his place.”
“You want me to interview Mabel?” I asked.
“I want you to try. She wouldn’t speak to her brother, she probably won’t open up to a stranger about it. Still, you’re cute and charming, she might tell you something useful.”
“You just said I was…never mind.”
“But I actually need you to do something more than ask questions. I need you to take Fergus to your father.”
“I need him to examine the wound on Fergus’s neck. How did it happen? If it had been just an innocent accident, why didn’t Mabel just tell Clark about it? No, we need to know exactly what happened. Don’t worry,” she added when she saw Clark’s expression, “your parents don’t need to find out.”
I was less confident that my dad wouldn’t feel obligated to tell Clark’s parents, but for the time being, I was happy to pretend that I was to keep Clark from freaking out. He drove me to his house on the south side of town. It was almost midnight before I made it back to Shelly’s.
“Where the heck were you?” she asked. I’d never seen her so concerned.
“It took me longer to get back because I had to wait for the bus.”
“The bus? Didn’t Clark drive you back?”
“No, he had a lot to talk about with his sister.”
“Huh? Why are you smiling? What’s going on?”
I was enjoying myself. It’s not often that I got to do this to Shelly.
“The case is solved,” I said, simply.
“It is? What happened?”
I told her.
As we were walking up to the front door, Clark told me, “Mabel’s been locked in her room since it happened,” he told me. “The two of us have just been watching TV downstairs. Then I got the idea to talk to Shelly and…”
“Wait, wait,” I said. “Two of us? Is there someone else here besides you and Mabel?”
“Yeah. Jack. Friend of mine. He comes around all the time. What?”
I was scowling at him. “This is information you should have given to Shelly.”
“Why? Jack had nothing to do with this…wait, do you think he did?”
“I don’t know, do I? This is the first I’m hearing about him.”
I met Jack as soon as we got inside. He was a year older than Clark, which meant he was out of school. No college, no job, he just sort of…hung around. He had clearly made himself very much at home in Clark’s house and I shuddered to think what his parents would think when they got home. But what really put me off was the pocket knife he kept playing with. Flicking it open, closing it, opening, closing, over and over again. And, maybe it was my imagination (which, admittedly, was sort of in high gear, this being Halloween and me being at the home of an alleged vampire), but I was pretty sure I saw a dark stain on the blade. Like blood.
Before we took Fergus to see my dad, I thought I should at least try to talk to Mabel. Clark brought me to her bedroom door and knocked.
“Mabel? Someone here to see you.”
“Who is it?”
“Er…” Clark looked at me. He didn’t exactly know how to introduce me and, frankly, I wasn’t sure either. “His name is Warren. He wants to ask you about Fergus.”
“I know this sounds weird,” I said. “But I’m friends with Shelly Hobbes. She’s a detective and she wants to help.”
It wasn’t easy to convince her to open her door, but, in the end, she did. I don’t know how good a judge I am of this kind of thing, but I got the distinct impression that she did find me cute and charming like Shelly had said…and now, fifteen years later I’m wondering if the only reason she did say that was so that I would have confidence enough to get her to open up to me. I must remember to ask her about that later. The point is that she agreed to talk to me, but only me. Clark went back downstairs with Jack.
“I don’t think you hurt Fergus,” I said.
“I didn’t! I would never hurt Fergus. I love him. He’s the sweetest dog in the world.”
“But you have to admit how strange all this must look.”
“I know. But I can’t tell Clark about it because…”
I had a hunch. That’s all it was, a hunch. But I played it and it paid off. “Mabel, did Jack hurt your dog?” She looked up at me, the look on her face part surprise and part relief, which is all I needed to know to be sure I was right. “That’s why you didn’t tell Clark, right? You know he likes Jack so you didn’t want to upset him.” Mabel nodded, but didn’t speak. I think she was trying not to cry. “Your brother is very worried about you,” I said. “That’s why he came to see my friend tonight. He’s not mad, he’s just scared. You should tell him what happened. If not for his sake…for Fergus’s. Who knows what Jack might do next?”
“So,” I was telling Shelly some time later, “I didn’t need to take Fergus to see my dad after all. After Mabel told Clark that she had seen Jack cut its throat with his trusty knife, it all came out. I figured they wouldn’t want me around, so I slipped out and waited on the corner for the bus. By the way, remind me never to take public transportation on Halloween ever again for the rest of my life…what?”
Shelly was positively beaming at me. “Warren…you’re amazing!”
“What? No, I was just doing what you said.”
“I never knew about Jack. You saw the knife, you made the connection. You solved this one, sweetie.” Before I could protest that she would have come to the same conclusion if she had been there instead of me, she threw her arms around me and kissed me and I suddenly stopped caring because now we were sitting on the couch, kissing passionately…
And that was the exact moment her parents came home.
Shelly Hobbes: Master Detective and Shelly Hobbes Returns are available for purchase HERE in print or ebook format. Also available through Amazon and other online retailers.