Excerpt and Giveaway: The Vampire of Highgate by Asa Bailey

Friday, 17 August 2012.

The Vampire of Highgate - Asa Bailey

I'm delighted to have this excerpt and giveaway on my blog today. I read this book recently and I loved it! You can read my review here.



The Vampire of Highgate
by Asa Bailey
Published: 7th July 2012

By: Hodder Children's Books

Blurb
Kathy is an innocent, an outsider who longs to belong somewhere. Anywhere. Dreams of her half-sister Amber and of the centuries old Highgate Vampire are taking her to places she doesn't want to go. Kathy can't stop the sequence of events. If her nightmares and reality collide, the Highgate Vampire will come to take her soul...

First Chapter Excerpt
Sunday 16th June 1963
It was late when Betty and Jill left Peter’s flat. Betty had been wanting to leave for over an hour, the thought of school looming as dark as the hazy fog which had been cloaking London all that week. But Peter had ignored her and kept putting on records which they’d had to listen to.

It was clear that Peter fancied Jill, and not Betty. She wasn't surprised by that. It wasn’t that Jill was so much prettier than her, just that Jill was the more adventurous of the two. Jill was the rebel, the one who talked back to the nuns and had the red welts on her hands to show it. Jill was the one who sneaked a bottle of whiskey into the dorm one night, Jill who smoked Russian cigarettes and kissed boys outside the cinema. Jill did other things too. Around ten-thirty, Jill had given Betty a clear-off look and Betty went and sat in the tiny bathroom while Jill and Peter made noises. Betty, familiar with this situation, blocked her ears. Jill could be so noisy. She wished she were back in her little bed at the top of the convent school in Highgate Village. She wasn’t jealous of Jill, she was concerned about her. Betty had always been the sort to look after other people, and Jill certainly needed looking after. They’d run into each other on their first day at school, and each recognized something they needed from the other. Jill needed a sensible friend, Betty needed someone to outrage her. Twenty minutes later Jill popped her tousled head around the door. 

‘C’mon, you,’ she said. ‘He’s asleep.’ Jill took a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes and a half-full bottle of wine and they headed out into the thick fog. The legendary pea-soupers were a thing of the past since Clean Air Act in the Fifties, but grimy London was still capable of coughing up a lungful of fog from time to time, particularly around Highgate, where the grand houses largely ignored the restrictions on open fires. Tonight the fog looked thick enough to trap in a teacup and the gaslights offered only the vaguest guide to the way home. The girls crossed Highgate Road and turned up Swain’s Lane, up the long hill, the East Cemetery railings to their right. On the other side of the street, almost invisible, stretched a terraced row of Georgian houses, keeping watch over their dead neighbours across the way. Jill slowed as they climbed the long hill, tired now, and puffing grumpy like a toddler. A couple of dim street lights, high above the pavement offered a little light, but shadows lurked everywhere. Within the cemetery itself the only thing obscured by the fog was an inky blackness. 

Jill peered into the darkness, gripping the railing as she swigged from the bottle. Betty stopped to watch her, tired and barely able to raise a tut. ‘Come on,’ Betty said. ‘We have exams in three weeks.’ ‘Three weeks,’ Jill replied, ‘not tonight.’ She belched – a low rumble that Betty thought loud enough to raise the residents on both sides of the road. Footsteps. ‘Shh,’ Betty said, and pulled her friend along.
A tall man, black in the gloom, slowed to peer at the girls as they slunk past, even Jill shamed into hiding the bottle. He made as if to speak but Betty hurried them along. ‘He had a good old look,’ Jill snorted. ‘He was probably worried about you.’‘Me? Why would he be worried?’ Jill asked, mystified. ‘Because you’re staggering about and it’s late, come on,’ Betty repeated. ‘I’m not ready to go back,’ Jill said, pulling away from Betty. ‘Where can we go?’ Betty stared at her friend, exasperated. ‘We have to go back to school, now!’ ‘You go back,’ Jill said, not even looking at her. Instead she was gazing through the railings into the cemetery. ‘What are you looking at?’ Betty asked. Jill turned to her, a wicked look on her face. ‘Come on, Bets, let’s climb over.’‘In there?’ Betty replied, incredulous. ‘Are you mad?’ ‘A little,’ Jill said. She put the bottle down on a low wall before the railings and clambered up, showing her knickers. ‘Give us a leg up,’ she said. ‘No,’ Betty said.’ No way.’ ‘Fine, I’ll do it myself,’ Jill said. 

And with the uncanny ability of the drunk rebel, she pulled herself up and picked her way carefully over the blunt spikes at the top. She grunted as she dropped down into the grass on the other side. Already half concealed by darkness and fog, Jill’s grinning face appeared at the railings, a thin white hand slid through and grabbed hold of the bottle, then she retreated and disappeared. Betty sighed. She didn’t want to go over the railings, but she knew that over the railings was where she would be going. That was her role. She took much longer over the ascent, being sober and careful. Even so, she managed to graze a knee and tear her tights, her only good pair. ‘Damn you, Jill!’ she hissed quietly, not wanting to wake the dead. ‘Where are you?’But there was no answer. Betty walked slowly in through the graves, visible as great white blobs. 

The clouded gaslights on the street outside did not penetrate more than a few feet in, but once her eyes had adjusted somewhat, she could pick out pale smears of broken gravestones and the black grass between them. At least Jill hadn't climbed into the West Cemetery, with its dank forest of oaks and cracked stone. ‘Jill! It’s getting cold. Come on.’ Betty shivered and stepped slowly through the grass. If she squinted she could just make out hulking stone tombs
on either side. Terraces of the dead. Creepers clutched at the graves as if trying to stop them moving. ‘Jill?’ She stopped and listened but there was no response. Betty carried on along a leaf-strewn half-path, with each step her constant low-level worry gradually increasing even as the air grew colder. 

Rounding a corner in the lane of tombs she froze and clapped a hand across her mouth to hold in the scream.
A dull yellow glow, seemingly without source, lit a terrifying tableau. Jill knelt on a low slab between the terraces, open-mouthed tombs gaping dumbly at her and at the dark, cowled figure which towered above
her, face obscured. As the terrified Betty watched, the figure signalled to Jill to stand, which she did slowly,
still clutching the bottle of wine. Jill stared up into the dark maw of the creature’s hood, apparently transfixed.
She tilted her head slightly, exposing her pale throat. Warm breath misted the narrow gap between her and the tall figure.

Suddenly the temperature dropped even further as the figure shifted and bent towards the girl. Betty began to
shiver uncontrollably, partly through the intense cold but also through the flooding fear. Perhaps sensing her
presence, the figure stopped and slowly turned its head towards her. ‘No . . . no . . .’ Betty heard herself whisper as she finally saw into the hood. Two piercing eyes of bright yellow glared back at her. They stayed, staring at one another for what seemed like minutes, Betty willed herself to turn and run but could no
more have done so than could the occupants of the surrounding tombs.

Then the figure plunged its head and tore Jill’s throat out. The bottle dropped to the slab and smashed, dark wine staining the stone. Released, Betty shrank back and ducked around the corner. Legs like rubber, she slumped down against the cold, cold tomb and sobbed in fear. The noise was hideous, a crunching, slavering frenzy that echoed around the tombs. Underneath, almost lost, was a soft gurgling from Jill as her lifeblood was drained. Betty blocked her ears again.

Kathy woke with a start and twisted to grab the notepad by her bed, knocking over the half-full water glass on the night stand. Ignoring the spill, she scribbled furiously on the pad for a half minute before coming to a frowning stop. Again the dream, so vivid in the last few moments before she woke had drained out of her memory and seeped away like the water now soaking its way into the rug. Only one thing remained: the image of a tall man in a dark suit with wide lapels stepping towards her, leering horribly and carrying a cane. She struggled to escape but found herself bound as the man’s twisted features came ever closer. But just under the surface, she was aware there was so much more to this dream.

She looked at the scribbling, half of it was illegible, the rest may have been words but made little sense. London Church. Swaingate. Bishop. Amber. She stared so hard her eyes lost focus, there was nothing to grip on to here. She’d hoped a couple of phrases, locked into the paper, might provide a key to a fuller memory of the dream. Another dumb idea of yours, Kathy.

She got up and stumbled through into her bathroom. A slim, pale brunette stared back at her from the mirror,
long hair tangled from a restless sleep. She stuck out her tongue. Grey and lumpy. She’d read a magazine article the other day which told you what sort of person you were according to your tongue type. Grey and lumpy hadn’t featured. Stop reading stupid magazines, Kathy. Downstairs her mom had made toast and coffee. They grunted at each other, neither were morning people. Kathy’s father was different, before he had gone into hospital he’d wake early every morning, make porridge and fruit shakes and talk non-stop as Kathy and her mom shuffled around, ignoring him. He had never got the hint. But neither had he ever seemed annoyed that he was talking to himself. They’d loved him for it. And now he was in hospital and with the prognosis changing for the worse every other day, they missed his irritating chatter more than anything.

Kathy forgot her earlier resolution and began leafing through one of her mom’s magazines. Clothes she had
neither the courage to wear, nor the money to buy. Perfumes that made her allergies flare, celebrities she
found vacuous. She flicked the pages quickly, yawning, her cereal forgotten. ‘Bad night again?’ her mom, Susan, asked, sitting down opposite with a black coffee. Kathy nodded. ‘The dream? The same one?’
Kathy nodded again. ‘You could talk to Doctor Gelion about it.’ Kathy sighed. ‘I don’t know, Mom, I’ve been thinking about this and I’m not sure I should carry on with the sessions.’ ‘Really?’ her mom said. ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’

Kathy looked down at her magazine, to escape her mom’s searching gaze. A full page picture of a red London bus looked back at her. Come to London, the caption read. Kathy studied the picture more closely, something catching her eye. A young girl, maybe six or seven, sat on the top deck of the bus, staring towards the camera, towards Kathy. She looked familiar, like . . .
‘Kathy?’ Susan said. ‘Sorry,’ she replied, looking up. ‘Look, I haven’t had a panic attack for months now.’
‘No, but these dreams . . . And I can tell you’re not happy.’ ‘Neither of us are happy, Mom. How can we be, with Dad in hospital?’ ‘It’s more than that, It’s that college, are you being bullied?’ ‘No,’ Kathy said. It was sort of the truth. Being ignored by the entire student body wasn’t technically bullying. ‘Go and see him today,’ her mom said. ‘If you don’t feel he has anything useful to say about the dreams, then sure, stop. But give it one more try, okay?’ Kathy nodded. ‘Oh, and a package came for you today, I left it by the door.’
Ten minutes later Kathy slammed the door behind her and scanned up the street for signs of the bus she
needed. Then suddenly remembering, she rummaged through her handbag and pulled out her keys. Opening
the door again she reached through and grabbed the parcel. The bus was coming – she slammed the door a
second time and ran to the stop. The bus was around half full; she found a double seat and slid in next to the window as the driver hit the gas and they pulled away from the stop. Kathy yawned again as she inspected the parcel. It was maybe A4 sized and felt like a book or a picture frame. Wrapped in brown paper and stamped with half a dozen portraits of the Queen of England. It was postmarked Highgate, UK.
London again, Kathy thought. She began to unwrap the package but stopped as she became conscious of
someone sitting behind her and to her left. Turning her head slightly, she saw a long-haired man, craggy-faced, maybe in his mid-fifties, maybe older. He was watching her intently. Kathy sighed to herself, how had she become such a weirdo-magnet? She stuffed the unopened parcel into her bag and stared out the window, trying to shrink into herself.

Lockers slammed up and down the hall, each firing a tiny bolt of panic through Kathy’s jangled nerves. She left her bag, containing the unopened parcel, in the locker, taking just a notepad and her foxed copy of Vanity Fair, the book they were studying in Eng Lit class. She closed her locker quietly and slipped off down the corridor, keeping to one side as the louder, more popular students thronged past, laughing and chatting.
‘Hey, Kath,’ someone said. ‘Hi Scarlet,’ Kathy said, spinning to see one of the few girls who knew her name, even if she did get it a little wrong. ‘How you doing?’ Scarlet asked. A few weeks earlier, Scarlet had been one of the unfortunate girls who’d found Kathy curled up in the girl’s bathroom, heaving with fearful sobs after a panic attack. As a way to begin a friendship, it wasn’t exactly ideal, but Kathy appreciated the kindness. ‘I’m good,’ Kathy said, smiling shyly. ‘I feel a lot stronger lately.’ ‘Good to hear,’ Scarlet said. ‘You going to Marshall’s party on Saturday?’ Kathy forced herself to look up into Scarlet’s eyes, the way Dr Gelion had told her to do in a role play. ‘They’re people just like you,’ the doctor had said. ‘There’s
nothing to be frightened of.’ ‘I haven’t been invited,’ Kathy said. Scarlet snorted. ‘You don’t need an invite to Marshall’s party, everyone’s going.’ Kathy’s skin crawled at the thought of a heaving room of unknown people who’d just brush past her. She’d stand by the wall for a couple of hours, nursing one drink, chat
awkwardly with the three people who knew her name and then slip away, unnoticed. But she knew she should try, and she was glad to be asked. Dr Gelion would tell her she must go, so would her mother. She nodded. ‘Great,’ Scarlet said. ‘I’ll text you, okay?’ Kathy watched her go, almost smiling, then leaped a
mile as a locker slammed behind her.

‘And how’s college?’ Doctor Gelion asked gently, the way he did everything. He opened doors gently, he typed on his laptop gently, he picked up his pen gently, he put it down again just as gently. Kathy yearned for him, just once, to lose it and slam a filing cabinet door shut and scream ‘Fucking prick!’ ‘College sucks,’ Kathy replied. There was no point coming to a shrink and downplaying things. You had to give him something to work with. ‘Everyone ignores me. I get Cs for all my grades, however hard I try. As an experiment I stopped studying one term, guess what I got?’ ‘C?’ ‘Bingo.’ ‘Have you made any new friends?’ Kathy hesitated for a moment. ‘I’ve been invited to a party.’ ‘That’s excellent news,’ Dr Gelion replied. ‘Are you going?’ ‘Yes,’ Kathy said. ‘I don’t have to stay long, right?’ ‘That’s up to you. But it’s terrific that you decided to attend. What do I always say to you?’ Kathy rolled her eyes, then grinned. ‘One step at a time.’ ‘That’s right, one step at a time. Now what about your sleeping?’ ‘Still bad,’ she said, suddenly cold in the air conditioning. ‘I have terrible dreams, but I can never remember them, except for one part . . . I’ve been trying to write it all down as soon as I wake up, but the memories of the dream just sort of disappear as I pick up the pen.’ ‘You say there’s one part you remember?’ Kathy told him about the man with the cane and being bound. ‘Feeling trapped in your dream is a common motif and you shouldn’t take it literally,’ Dr Gelion said. ‘What about suits with wide lapels and Gothic dandies carrying canes? Are they common motifs?’ Dr Gelion laughed gently. ‘Not so much.’ ‘Dr Gelion?’ ‘Yes, Kathy?’ ‘Can you hypnotize me? So I can remember the dream?’
Dr Gelion was silent for a while. Kathy expected him to tell her, gently, that he didn’t believe in  hypnotherapy.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘We can give it a try.’ Usually Kathy sat in a high-backed leather chair facing Gelion, but he asked her to lie down for the hypnosis. ‘Do you swing a watch?’ Kathy asked, laughing nervously.
‘No watch necessary,’ Gelion asked, his voice descending to an even greater level of gentleness, like down pillows wrapped in cotton wool. He sat at the foot of the couch. ‘Close your eyes.’ Kathy did as he asked.
‘I want you to relax, Kathy,’ Gelion cooed. ‘Just for a while, forget everything and listen to my voice. I’m going to count backwards from five, then you’ll be in a state of extreme relaxation. Five, four, three, two and one. Kathy, how do you feel?’
Kathy took a while to answer. ‘Fine. I feel fine,’ she said.
‘Tell me about the man with the cane,’ Gelion said. Kathy was in a burlesque nightclub. She could feel the pounding of music but could hear nothing. She was surrounded by dancers, skins shining in the thudding lights. They heaved and thrashed in time with the beat. 

The club looked to have a Gothic theme, vampires and Goths, virgins and grotesques. A young man of exquisite beauty passed her, brushing against her shoulder, staring deep inside her as though looking for her soul. Kathy looked down and realized she was wearing a simple black dress, tight so that the tops of her breasts threatened to escape. She felt excited and aroused, a fluttering, warming sensation deep within. On the stage, a beautiful young woman danced, alone,
performing a show. She seemed familiar. Kathy moved towards her but was distracted by someone tugging her dress. Turning, Kathy saw a young girl, perhaps seven. ‘Who are you?’ Kathy asked. ‘I’m Amber,’ the girl replied, smiling.
Then Kathy was in a different room, strapped to a wall and the man with the cane was there; she noticed his shoes for the first time, pointed and shiny. Under the black jacket he wore a cream shirt, with ruffles and long cuffs. He twirled the cane and grinned at her madly. ‘She needs you, Kathy,’ he hissed. ‘Amber needs you.’ 

‘Wake up, Kathy.’ And then Kathy sat up, her heart pounding.
Gelion looked at her, concerned. ‘You were becoming agitated,’ he said. ‘So I brought you out.’ Kathy nodded, trying to remember, wishing he’d stop talking. Something fluttered briefly within her and then was gone. ‘Do you remember?’ he asked. She shook her head. ‘Just the same as before, the man
with the cane.’ ‘Who’s Amber?’ Kathy looked up at him, surprised. ‘I had – have – a sister called Amber. I haven’t seen her since we were tiny.’ ‘You mentioned her a couple of times,’ Gelion said. 

He tapped his notebook gently and looked down at his own
scrawled shorthand. ‘Like you thought she was in trouble?’
Kathy frowned, the memories still not there. ‘Where is she now?’ Gelion asked. Kathy shrugged. ‘I don’t know, it’s complicated. In London maybe?’ Gelion stood and walked to the window, staring out down into the swarming city.
‘I think maybe you need to find her,’ he said. 

Kathy stepped out of the office. Yellow cabs rolled by and
the familiar smell of Manhattan swamped her senses. She set off towards the subway but on a whim decided to take the bus instead. She felt good and wanted to hold on to the  feeling – staying overground would help, she liked resting her head against the window of the bus and watching the suburbs crawl by. As she spun on her heels, she saw a familiar man walking towards her. Is that the creepy bus guy? Kathy couldn't help but stare as he passed, his long greasy hair flopping in time with his jerky gait. Is he following me? Kathy wondered with a shudder. She quickened her step and hurried down to the bus stop, turning to look, but the man was nowhere to be seen. If it had been him and he had been following, he’d now disappeared.
Kathy found herself scanning the street as the bus crawled up Second Avenue, heading towards the bridge. Great, she told herself. Now you've got something else to get worked up about. Remembering the bus journey earlier, she looked
around. There was no one close by. She pulled out the parcel and ripped open the thick brown paper. Inside lay a leather-bound book, a little bigger than A4, with ridges on the spine. At first she thought it was fake leather. A fancy ‘olde-fashioned’ notebook like they sold in Bloomingdales to wannabe writers who had more money than words. But the smell alone told her this book was genuinely old, and well-used. The leather was red, cracked and the spine creaked with age as she opened the cover. The recto page was filled with words in a language she didn’t even recognize. The letters didn't look like anything she’d seen before. More like squiggles. Was this shorthand? On the verso, what was really the lining of the book, was a scrawled message.


Dear Kathy,
Bring this to Oliver Samson – British Museum. Trust
him but no one else.
Stay safe.
With all my love
Amber


Kathy looked up and out the window as the black pylons
of Brooklyn Bridge flickered past, clouding her view of
the dull grey Hudson.


So, what do you think? Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know.

Enter the giveaway for a paperback copy of this amazing book. And it's international, yay!


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3 Comments:

Heidi@Rainy Day Ramblings said...

Have a great vacation! This excerpt was a tantalizing taste! I am looking forward to reading your review! Awesome giveaway.
thanks!

Book Passion for Life said...

Have a great holiday Suzanne and thanks for the chance xxox

when said...

Yay! Soooo want!!!

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