Friday, 12 January 2018
Vampire Farmer - Penny Farthing Mystery - Chapters Five and Six
Ben and Young Ted had been working the farm together for almost a week when Ben received a call from the surgery. His test results were back and could he come in to see his doctor straight away.
‘What is it, Doctor?’ Ben sat nervously twisting his cap in his hands.
‘Well Ben…you have something called Porphyria.’
‘Can I have that in English.’ Ben shifted in his seat.
‘Hmm, it’s a general term used to describe a variety of syndromes due to an excess of porphyrins in the blood tissues. Sometimes the symptoms present as neurological problems and other times the skin is affected, hence the purple pigmentation you have. Or, occasionally, both.’ Doctor Walton looked into Ben’s eyes and realised the lights were on, but there was no-one home. ‘You have the symptoms of Cutaneous Porphyria. The itching, blisters and swelling of the skin, and the photosensitivity—doesn’t mean you’re sensitive to photo’s though!’ Doctor Walton chuckled. ‘And, your pee had a slight purple tinge to it, another symptom. The fact that you have stomach pains is probably down to worrying about the play.’
‘Could be, I suppose.’
‘Porphyria is a genetic disease, but neither of your parents appear to have the symptoms, which is rather strange. Can you remember if any of your grandparents had similar health problems?’
Ben thought for a moment. ‘All my grandparents are dead. One grandpa did go a bit doolally mind. I only know that ‘cos he lived with us, he hasn’t been long gone,’ he scratched his head.
‘Luckily, you have no children. Have you?’
‘They could have inherited the gene, or Porphyria.’
‘Aye.’ Ben stared at the floor then looked back at Doctor Walton. ‘So, what can you do for me, Doc?’
‘Try not to go out in the sunlight.’
‘Don’t talk daft, man, I’m a farmer. I have to be outside in all weathers, including sunlight, it’s what I do!’
‘Did you know Porphyria is also known as the vampire disease? That’s where the vampire legend comes from. You’ve seen the films where a vampire’s skin burns and they can’t go outside in the daylight, have to cover their eyes?’
‘Aye, I have. So, now I’m a vampire?’ Ben’s eyes widened.
Doctor Walton slapped his thigh. ‘I’m afraid so, Ben. But, you are among the elite.’
‘And how do you make that out?’
‘King George lll and Mary Queen of Scots, among many Royals, are said to have suffered from the disease.’
‘Oh well⎯if the Royals suffered from it that makes it all right then . . . I suppose.’
‘Best keep off the alcohol too. No more Black Sheep beer.’
‘I’ll have to drink blood instead.’ Ben frowned.
‘I’m afraid so.’ Doctor Walton laughed. ‘Seriously now, we’ll keep a close eye on you in case you become anaemic. In fact, you’d be best wearing a bracelet with the details so if you take ill people will know you have porphyria.’
‘You want me to wear bloody jewellery?’ Ben stood up and headed for the door then turned and grinned, ‘Well I never.’
‘Make an appointment for two weeks time.’
Ben left the surgery armed with his medication. Nurse Dawn waited until she saw him climbing into his vehicle then tapped on Dr. Walton’s door.
‘I was eavesdropping. Do you think Ben understood what you meant about the vampire story?’ asked Dawn.
‘I’m sure he did. He’s not that stupid … is he?’
‘The jury’s still out on that one.’ She shut the door leaving the doctor updating Ben’s information on the computer.
Ben couldn’t remember how he came to be standing in the middle of the barn. The thoughts whizzing round in his head had given him the headache from hell, he knew he couldn’t avoid going indoors for much longer. He did all of the outstanding jobs he’d been putting off, yet was no further forward with any idea of how to tell his parents his awful news.
He walked across to where Silver was grazing. The old horse whinnied as Ben approached then nuzzled his pockets for treats. Feeding Silver an apple he poured his heart out. How could he tell his Ma she’d given birth to a vampire? She would blame herself, then worry herself to death. As for his Da? God knows it would give him something else to go on about.
Dr. Walton had told him to drink blood now, not beer. But what about getting in a supply of blood, how would he do that? And would he need a fridge to keep it fresh? Was it like keeping milk fresh? He hadn’t given him a prescription for it.
Upset and confused Ben wished he could remember more of what the doctor had said to him. Silver pushed his head into Ben’s chest as if telling him to man up. Make a decision. So he did. He would tell the old ones after supper. Decision made, Ben gritted his teeth and headed back to the house.
After supper, which was always at seven o’clock unless there was a play rehearsal, Ben explained the best way he could to his parents about his illness. They took it better than he expected and he was grateful to his mother for her practicality.
‘Plenty of liver and broccoli for you then, my lad,’ Kitty patted the side of Ben’s face. ‘But, are you sure that nice Doctor Walton said you’re a vampire? Did he not mean it was just a legend, maybe a folklore type of thing?’
‘He did mention a legend, Ma, but he said I need to drink blood instead of alcohol.’ Ben frowned, dropping his head to his chest. ‘His very words were no more Black Sheep beer. Don’t know how I’ll cope with that.’ Ben raised his arms, ‘I’ve got some cream to rub on the sores and so many bloody pills to take I’ll rattle.’ He twisted round on his chair and pulled several boxes out of a drawer, threw them on the table, sniffed the air then changed the subject. ‘That smell’s still hanging around the house. I wouldn’t care, but I got rid of the dead rat a couple of days ago. I’ll spray some more air freshener.’ He got up from the table, grabbed an aerosol from the cupboard under the sink and sprayed around the kitchen. ‘That’s better.’
Behind Ben’s back his parents looked at each other. Don raised a questioning eyebrow; Kitty shrugged her shoulders, shook her head. ‘Act normal,’ she whispered, then spoke to Ben. ‘It’s good you’ve got some medication. You’ll be sorted out in no time at all,’ she said. ‘When’s the next play rehearsal?’
‘How’s it coming along?’
‘Not bad, considering some of the cast,’ Ben grinned sheepishly.
‘You mean the ones who are up their own arses?’ Don chipped in.
‘Aye.’ Ben chuckled, pulling on his Wellingtons. ‘I’m off to the animals.’
Glad that was over he headed outside. He needed the tranquility of the barn while he figured out how he could collect blood. Dr. Walton hadn’t offered any advice on that. He worked methodically until a brilliant idea hit him. He would take blood from his parents for now, just to keep him going. Feeling confident with his decision he found some horse tranquilliser paste in the animals’ medicine cupboard the vet had left after sedating Silver before extracting a tooth. He held the tube it in his hand, inspiration flooding his mind he headed over to Silver’s loose box. ‘I’ll bake cupcakes, Silver, tonight. Mix some of this paste in the icing and spread it on top.’ Ben swirled his finger to demonstrate. ‘Make them sleepy. They’ll never know a thing.’ He squeezed a tiny bit of paste onto his finger, licked it. ‘Bah, too strong!’ He thought for a second. ‘Fresh lemon juice in the icing will fix it.’
Problem solved, Ben picked up a catheter with a sheathed needle attached, something else the vet had left, looked at it and stretched it out. It would do. He pushed the catheter and paste into his inside coat pocket, stroked Silver’s mane, and headed into the house but left some of his resolve in the barn.
In the kitchen, his mother was cleaning the Aga. Don was nowhere to be seen. ‘I’m going to make some cakes tonight, before bedtime,’ Ben said.
‘What a lovely idea. It’s been a while since you did any baking and, it’ll take your mind off, you know…’
‘I’ll get changed first though. I’ve had these new clothes delivered for the play. I need to wear them to make sure they’re suitable for purpose.’
‘And what purpose would that be?’ Kitty looked over her shoulder at him.
‘I’ve got Wally, the vicar’s brother, playing a cross dresser in the play. I don’t want him complaining they’re uncomfortable to wear so I’m going to try them out myself first.’
Kitty laughed, ‘I wonder what your da will think of that.’
‘We’ll sharp find out.’
A while later Ben came back downstairs. His parents were sitting at the table reading. Only Kitty looked up when he entered the kitchen. ‘That’s a nice dress, dear. Matches the blonde wig,’ she stifled a laugh.
‘What the hell?’ Don scowled over the top of his spectacles. ‘It’s not normal.’
‘Don’t say that to the lad, Don. You’ll hurt his feelings.’
‘I don’t know.’ Don shook his head. ‘You’ve mothered him too much.’
‘It’s got nothing to do with that,’ Kitty kept of the charade. ‘It’s his hormones.’
‘Hormones be buggered,’ Don shook his head. ‘That’s a new one. And now he’s a bloody vampire as well. What next, werewolf on a full moon?’
‘Take no notice of him.’ Kitty handed a bright pink apron to Ben then picked up her knitting magazine.
Ben stood at the head of the table and stared at his father experiencing something akin to hate. I’m going to drink your blood and it would serve you right if I bled you dry, you nasty old bugger, he thought.
‘What you looking at, lad?’ Don squinted his eyes, looked Ben up and down.
‘I can see a vein in your neck throbbing like hell. Funny, I’ve never notice it before.’
‘Told you, Kitty⎯he’s not normal. See a vein throbbing. Well, I’ve heard everything now,’ Don bounced his spectacle case on the table. ‘Now, he’s a bloody vampire who doesn’t know if he wants to be Arthur or Martha. My God!’
‘Shut up, Don.’ Kitty slammed her magazine down onto the table.
‘He needs bloody therapy, if you ask me.’
‘Nobody’s asking you,’ Kitty traced a finger across her lips. ‘Zip it.’
Ben said nothing. He knew when to keep his mouth shut.
Kitty stood. She picked up some dirty crockery from the table and carried it to the sink. ‘I’ve made some space for you to bake, son,’ her voice was soft. ‘You’ll need this,’ she handed Ben the electric mixer.
‘Thanks, Ma. Now you go and sit yourself down and watch a bit of telly. I can manage here.’
‘If you want anything just give me a shout. Wear the pink marigolds when you wash up mind. Look after your hands. Don’t let them get wet.’
‘I will,’ Ben smiled. ‘Now hurry up or you’ll miss your programme.’ He ushered her out of the kitchen.
Don picked up his newspaper, put it under his arm and, without a word to Ben, followed his wife through to the living room as the Emmerdale theme tune carried through to the kitchen.
Left on his own Ben started to hum No Regrets, he loved Edith Piaf. He checked the new wig in the mirror. Blonde, curly and very girly: he loved it. What you have to do for your craft, he thought. He smoothed his hands over the polka dot tea dress, spun on the kitten heels and started to assemble ingredients. As he clattered across the kitchen floor he realised he sounded like Mary Monroe. How bizarre was that?
A double batch of cup cakes was soon ready for baking. As Ben slid them onto the oven shelf his humming stopped, his face became serious. Time to make the icing.
His heart was beating hard in his chest threatening to jump out. Carefully he squeezed a small amount paste into the bowl, mixed it thoroughly, adding an extra dash of fresh lemon juice. A strong lemon flavour was essential to mask the taste of the paste. His thoughts turned to his father. He scowled. We’ll see who’s hormonal now, you old sod.
Ben started to sing a song he’d made up, as he stirred the icing. ‘I was working in the kitchen late one night when my father got a terrible fright. I am a vampire, I will leave you pale. I’ll drink your blood, instead of Black Sheep Ale.’
Forty minutes later the cupcakes were ready. He set them on a tray to cool for a while before topping them with thick swirls of luscious lemon icing. Then shouted through to his parents, ‘Anyone for a cupcake?’
‘Yes, please,’ Kitty answered.
‘Not for me,’ Don growled.
‘I’ll bring you one anyway, Da. You’ll want one when you see them.’ Ben made a brew, set out a pretty tray, picked it up to carry it through.That’s when he noticed the kitten, sound asleep on the floor by the Aga. Bugger, he thought, what was I thinking about letting her lick the icing spoon before I put the lemon in? He set the tray back on the table and bent down to check she was still breathing. Please God let her be okay.
Ben held his breath, stroked the soft black fur then let out a massive sigh of relief. Fluffy was sound asleep, but otherwise fine.
‘These cakes look delicious.’ Kitty took one, bit into it.
‘Da?’ Ben turned to his father.
Don looked at the cakes. ‘Go on then, I’ll try one.’ He picked a cake and took a bite.
Ben sat in an armchair ostensibly watching television, his knees together and legs neatly crossed at the ankle. He waited, and waited. Go to sleep you old bugger, he thought his father was never going to drop off. Maybe he’d got the amount wrong, but his Ma was already snoring. Then Don’s eyes closed and his head fell to one side. Ben sighed with relief and blew out a breath. Not sure now if he was brave enough to see his plan through, this was his father after all.
He stood up, paced the floor. His nose twitched, his stomach churned. The clock sounded the hour startling him. If he was going to do this, now was the time. Rubbing his sweaty palms on his apron he fumbled for the catheter hidden in the apron pocket, and inserted the needle into his father’s left arm.
‘Got to make sure I don’t leave a mark,’ he whispered. ‘That’s it, just a little prick, Da.’
Don’s blood was reluctant to come through the tube, it needed suction. Without hesitation Ben put the end of the tube into his mouth, sucked until the blood started to flow into a mug. When the mug was a quarter full Ben stemmed the flow, slid out the needle and pressed a piece of cotton wool to the minute hole.
‘There you go, Da, can’t even see the hole.’
Don started to stir as Ben hurried from the living room wobbling on his heels carrying everything on the tray while trying not to make a noise as the crockery threatened to crash together in his shaking hands.
In the kitchen he heard his father’s voice, loud. ‘Wake up woman, we’ve missed the end of Emmerdale. Never mind watching it on plus one, what we need is a plus bloody two.’
And her reply, ‘Must have dropped off. It’ll be all the fresh air I’ve had today.’
‘Hey, lad, fetch me another one of them cakes you made. Rather tasty, they were,’ Don shouted.
Ben set the tray on the workbench, grabbed the mug of blood and stretched up to put it on the top shelf of the cupboard where no-one else could see or reach except him. He shot back to the sitting room. ‘I’ve put them in the freezer, Da. Keep them for later.’
‘One cake. A gnat would eat more,’ Don complained.
‘Don’t you be greedy, Don. He’s only thinking of your waistline.’ Kitty eased herself out of the chair. ‘Whoops!’
‘What’s up with you woman?’ Don demanded.
‘Feel a bit dizzy. Must have been more tired than I thought. Best have an early night.’
‘Aye. Get yourself off to bed. I’ll settle fire, and follow you up.’ Don stood. ‘By hell, what did you put in them cakes, lad?’ He grabbed the mantle above the fire to steady himself.
‘You’re overcome with the heat off that fire, Da,’ Ben said. ‘You go up to bed. I’ll settle the fire.’
In the kitchen Ben listened to their footsteps going upstairs and along the landing. He heard the bed creak. Right, now for my medicine. He peered in the mug. I’ll pretend its cranberry juice, he thought. Lifting the mug to his lips he took a sip of the liquid. Bloody hell! Maybe I should take a gulp. He closed his eyes, swallowed a mouthful. Argh, disgusting! His whole body rebelled. He gagged, ran to the sink and threw up. They say if it tastes bad it’s good for you, he told himself. His hands and face were clammy. He had to do this, he had no choice, so he pinched his nose, closed his eyes and drank the rest in one go. Mamma Mia I’d rather have a pint of beer.
Falling out of his shoes he clattered round the kitchen table to the fridge, whipped out a full bottle of milk and drank it straight off. Didn’t help. He couldn’t get rid of the taste. And, it felt sinfully wrong. Devastated, he sat down at the table, head in hands, and wept.
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