Jack and Jill were going up the hill when they found the vampire.
Actually, if Jack and Jill had gone straight up the hill as their Mum had told them, they’d never have found the vampire. But fetching pails of water was deadly boring work, and both Jack and Jill were always looking for some diversion from the drudgery.
Today this diversion had taken the shape of Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard, which the old lady had thrown out some days earlier because it was always empty and just taking up space. The cupboard, however, was very large and elaborately carved, and two bored children could easily find a few moments’ distraction in it.
Of course, Jack and Jill weren’t bad children. They wouldn’t waste too much time in the cupboard, just enough to pretend to themselves that it was a pirate ship on a stormy sea, or a spacecraft between the stars, or maybe a capsule tunnelling towards the earth’s core. They’d already played several variations of this game, but it hadn’t yet got old.
So when they saw the cupboard, still standing in the tall grass by the side of the path, they paused in their uphill trudge, and looked at each other.
“Mum said we’ve got to be back by noon,” Jill said warningly, but cast a longing glance at the old piece of furniture.
“Noon is when the sun’s directly overhead, right?” Jack replied. “Plenty of time then, the sun isn’t quite overhead yet.”
“All right,” Jill agreed readily. “Just for a moment, though.”
“Let’s be a steam engine today,” Jack said. “I’ll drive.”
“Not on your life,” Jill snapped. “We’re always some stupid vehicle, and you always drive. Today let’s be a jail, and you’re my prisoner.”
But what it would be was never resolved, because when they opened the cupboard, they found the vampire crouching there, in the far corner.
It was a very sorry looking vampire. In fact, it was a very sorry-looking newborn vampire, small and wet and still feebly clawing at the remnants of its eggshell, which were clinging to its moist fur. When it saw Jack and Jill, it opened its tiny pink mouth and hissed warningly.
The hiss didn’t have any effect, of course, because neither Jack nor Jill knew enough to be afraid. Jill reached out and patted the vampire’s tiny head.
“Poor little thing,” she said. “I wonder how it came here.”
“You let me go,” the vampire squeaked. “You let me go right now.”
“It talks!” Jack said.
“You let me go or I’ll bite you,” the vampire said. Suiting action to words, it turned its head and snapped at Jill’s fingers, but of course its fangs were still too soft to do any damage.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jill said. She picked up the vampire and peered at it closely. It shrilled in fear.
“You’re scaring it, Jill,” Jack said. “Put it down.”
Reluctantly, Jill complied. The vampire scuttled back into the far corner and crouched among the fragments of its eggshell.
“What’s your name?” Jack asked it.
“I’m not old enough to have a name yet,” the vampire said. “How could I have a name?”
“Maybe we could find it a name,” Jill suggested.
“We’d need to know if it’s a boy or a girl,” Jack replied.
They both looked at it. They couldn’t identify if it were a boy or a girl vampire.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“How should I know?” the vampire whined. “I’ve just been born. And I’m hungry.”
“How should I know?” the vampire whined. “I’ve just been born. And I’m hungry.”
Jack and Jill looked at each other. “What do baby vampires eat, you suppose?” Jack asked.
“Milk?” Jill replied doubtfully, her mind filled with vague memories of old Mrs Shoe’s many children. “Where can we get milk?”
“I want my mummy,” the vampire squalled. “I’m hungry and tired, and I want my mummy.”
“Where is its mummy, do you think?” Jack asked. “Maybe we could find her and ask her what to feed it.”
“If we could find her,” Jill said practically, “we could give it to her and let her take care of it.”
They both looked at the vampire. It had begun to cry. A sobbing baby vampire is a sight to melt the hardest heart, and Jack and Jill didn’t have hard hearts, despite the helmet Jack wore on his head to stop him from breaking it.
“Let’s find someone who knows where to find its mummy,” Jack said, reaching to pick it up.
“Don’t touch me,” the vampire wailed. It was trembling with fear and tension in his hands. He stroked it, awkwardly but tenderly, and slowly it began to relax a little. He slipped it inside his jacket.
“It’ll be warm there,” he explained.
“Who can we ask where to find its mummy, do you think?” Jill looked around the hillside. Except for Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard and a few of Bo Peep’s sheep wandering around, it was empty. Even Bo Peep wasn’t to be seen. “Should we take it back home and ask mum?”
“Are you crazy?” Jack snapped. “She’ll scold us for looking in the cupboard in the first place, and make us bring the vampire back here. If she doesn’t tell us just to throw it out over the back wall to starve. You know how she is about vampires.”
Jill shuddered. She knew how their mum was about vampires.
“There’s the old wizard’s house,” she said doubtfully. “We could always try it.”
The old wizard lived in a house dug under the earth, on the other side of the hill. All day and night purple and green smoke came out of hidden chimneys, and at odd hours strange howls and squeaks came out of it. Nobody ever went that way, not even the grown-ups.
“Do we have to go there?” Jack asked reluctantly.
“Who else can we ask?” Jill replied reasonably enough. “Do you know anyone else who might know anything about vampires?”
Jack had to agree. He did not know anyone else who might know anything about vampires.
So they left the cupboard behind and began trudging across the line of the slope. It was hard going.
“How’s the baby?” Jill asked after a while.
“I think it’s gone to sleep,” Jack said. “I can feel it snoring.”
“That’s good.” They had just come in sight of the wizard’s underground house. A yellow and red cloud was hanging over it and emitting puce-coloured lightning at regular intervals.
“How do we go in?” Jack asked doubtfully. “I don’t like the looks of that lightning.”
“We...” Jill hesitated. “Should we go and knock on the door, do you think?”
“No,” a bush nearby said. “For one thing, the lightning is too dangerous. For another thing, there is no door.”
When Jack and Jill had stopped gasping with shock, they discovered that the bush was, of course, not a bush at all. In fact, it was the wizard, who was sitting on the hillside and whose green clothes and long hair and beard had made him look a little like a bush, if that is you didn’t peer too close.
“The lightning is too dangerous even for me to get too close,” he explained. “I’m afraid the experiment hasn’t worked out quite as I intended. However, it should burn itself out soon enough. It’s just a matter of a year or so.”
Jack remembered his manners. “Greetings, O Great Wizard,” he said, taking off his helmet. “We come seeking your sublime help, Enlightened One.”
“We found this baby vampire,” Jill explained more succinctly. “We’re looking for its mummy so we can return it to her.”
“A vampire, you say.” What little of the old wizard’s face could be seen beneath the hair and beard wrinkled thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen one of that breed around in these parts in a long time. Where did you find it?”
They told him.
“Ummm, hmmm,” the wizard said. “Let me see the creature.”
They showed it to him. It had hooked its claws into Jack’s jacket and wrapped its tail round its head, as baby vampires will when they sleep, you know, so they had a little difficulty taking it out. The wizard ummed and hmmmed a little more, peering at it from all angles.
“I think I can help you,” he said at last. “From the markings on its fur, I can recognise the vampire clan.”
“You can send it back to its mummy?” Jill gasped with delight. “That would be great.”
“No, no,” the wizard explained hastily. “I can just tell you where the mother is. You take it back to her yourself.”
“Where is she, then?” Jack asked.
“The mother will be at the clan’s nesting grounds.” The wizard scratched at his beard. “You could, I suppose, travel to them, but they’re a little far away.”
“From here,” the wizard began, “you’d first have to go down to the shore of the Sunless Sea, and then find a boat to take you across. On the far side, you’ll have to climb the Impossible Mountains, and then pass through the Forbidden Valley, until you come to the Desert of Thirst. Right in the very heart of that dread Desert, there is a plateau which has no name, but whose sides as sheer as a wall and as smooth as glass. If you can climb to the top, you will find before you the nesting grounds of this vampire’s clan.” He paused. “With luck, the journey will take you, at the most, about seven years.”
Neither Jack nor Jill said anything. There was nothing to say.
“Or else,” the wizard added, “you could just take a left turn through reality, and be there in a jiffy.”
“How do we take a left turn through reality?” Jack asked, baffled.
“I’ll show you,” the wizard said, and clicked some of his fingers. Instantly, the hillside shivered and vanished. Jack, Jill and the baby vampire took a left turn through reality and disappeared.
“Let’s see,” the wizard mumbled, “I think I forgot to tell them how to come back again. Oh well.” And he went back to watching his experiment, where the cloud had now become pink and brown, and the lightning was purple. In five minutes he had forgotten all about Jack, Jill, and the vampire.
Long before that, the three of them had arrived at the clan’s nesting grounds.
It was night there, of course, and the vampires were just waking. They hung from spires of rock like fruit, turning their heads and yawning away the last vestiges of sleep as they wished each other good evening. Jack and Jill stood looking up at them, petrified. They literally had no idea what to do.
By then the vampires had noticed them. One by one, they leaped and bounded down from the rock spires and gathered round.
“Humans,” one said. “We’ve got humans here.”
“How horrible,” an elegant lady vampire said, making a gesture filled with such disgust that even Jack and Jill noticed it. “A human infestation.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” a third vampire licked his lips. “Humans are tasty.”
“I had human once,” a fourth said. “I didn’t like it at all.”
“What was the matter with it?” another vampire asked curiously.
“It was bland,” the fourth vampire explained.”And bits were too salty.”
“Don’t eat it then,” the lip-licking vampire snapped. “All the more for me.”
The vampires edged closer. Their claws began reaching out towards Jack and Jill.
It was the baby vampire which saved the situation. Waking up suddenly, it opened its little pink mouth in a howl. “Mummy? I want my mummy!”
To say the vampires were astonished would be a considerable understatement. They jumped back so hurriedly a couple of them fell over. “A baby,” they said. “These humans have a baby with them!”
Jack finally found his voice. “Yes, we found this baby, um, and we came here to return it to its mum.” He held the baby up. “See?”
“We didn’t mean any harm,” Jill added hurriedly. “We just wanted to give it back.”
“Luna,” one of the vampires called. “Where is Luna?”
“Luna,” the others took up the call. “Luna!”
“Coming!” A moment later a young vampire came bounding through the rock spires. “What happened?”
Then she saw the baby.
“It’s just that we found it,” Jack explained again, after Luna had snatched the child from them. “We wanted to find its mummy.”
“I told you I’d laid an egg and it vanished.” Luna glared around at the vampires, cradling the child to her breast. “I told you all that the egg must have disappeared down a transdimensional wormhole, and you wouldn’t believe me.”
“It must have been the wizard’s experiment,” Jill offered. “It must have opened the what you said and made the egg vanish, somehow.”
Luna wasn’t listening. “All of you were calling me crazy,” she said, “calling me that silly young Luna, who can’t even make up tales anyone can believe. Do you believe me now?”
“Yes, Luna,” one or two of the vampires muttered. “We’re sorry.”
“And it’s all due to these humans,” another, cheerful-looking, vampire said. “What do we do with them anyway?”
“We can’t eat them now,” the lip-licking vampire admitted reluctantly. “I suppose we have to let them go home.”
“How do we go home?” Jack asked, stricken. “We don’t know the way!”
Luna looked at them at last. “I’ll take you home,” she said. “It’s the least I can do. Where do you live?”
They told her. “And when you come to the hill,” Jack said, “on which there’s the well, then –“
“The well!” Jill gasped. “Jack, we forgot the water! Mum will kill us!”
“Don’t worry,” Luna said. “Hold on to my tail.” As soon as they did, she jumped up on the spires and took a right turn through reality. A few moments later they were on the hill, next to the well.
The sun had just reached directly overhead in the sky.
“Thanks so much,” Jack and Jill told Luna. “Thanks so, so much. We’ll fill the pail and rush home.”
“Thank you,” said the vampire. “And when the baby grows up a bit I’ll bring it to see you. Bye for now.” Taking a left turn through reality, she vanished.
“Quick,” Jack gasped, “let’s fill the pail and run.”
They filled the pail and ran. Perhaps they ran a little too fast.
The helmet, which Jack hadn’t put on securely after meeting the wizard, fell off. He reached for it, stumbled and pitched headlong. Jill was pulled off balance and rolled down behind him.
“Jack,” she cried, when she’d finished rolling. “Are you all right?”
Jack said nothing. He was sitting next to the overturned pail, rubbing his head, which was bleeding.
He’d broken his crown, of course. Again.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014