More Than I Bargained For (A Willow Story)
“Do I have to, Babe? You know how much I hate going there!” Dylan Band tried to worm his way into his wife’s good books by nuzzling her neck. He very much wanted to wriggle out of a trip to the shopping centre.
“No arguments! It’s late night shopping and
Willow needs new clothes. Come to think of it, so do you!” Alice Band evaded his sucking lips and examined her husband’s shirt collar. “Look, all frayed at the edges. You can’t go on stage wearing that shirt; what will your adoring fans think?” Having pandered to her musician husband’s vanity, she pulled him closer and planted a noisy kiss on his mouth. “Now be off with you!”
Alice pushed her husband out of the front door and gave his retreating cheeks a playful slap. He wagged his finger at her in mock indignation and took his eleven-year-old daughter
Willow’s hand. Father and daughter skipped down the stairs and walked to the bus stop together. It would take twenty minutes to get from their remote country cottage to the village and
Willow looked forward to the bus ride with her dad. Mr. Band didn’t take the bus very often. He preferred to be chauffeur driven by his wife, having never mastered the art of driving a car himself. Technology, as long as it related to modern day music making, was fine. Everything else was a closed book to
Willow’s 400-year-old vampire father and he usually referred to the car as their horseless coach.
The bus wound its way along country lanes, before finally reaching the picturesque
Stinkforth-upon-Avon. Compared to the rest of the villages in their county, Stinkforth was a metropolis. With nearly 5000 inhabitants, its own library, a private school for gifted children, a fleapit cinema, a guesthouse and pub, a hotel with conference facilities, an adult entertainment club down by the river and an impressive shopping centre, Stinkforth was rather popular with tourists. They provided a welcome change to the Band’s daily diet of insurance salesmen and seedy lorry drivers.
It went against vampire etiquette to pay for anything but just this once
Willow’s mother had given her some money to buy a coat and some boots.
Willow had outgrown her winter clothes. Unlike her parents, who had been turned by other vampires in a century old tradition of first biting, then sucking their victim’s blood until they were near death and then giving them a small amount of vampire blood to drink before finally killing them and thus ensuring their return into afterlife, Willow had entered the world just like a human baby.
Nobody knew how such a thing could have happened. It was certainly unheard of among the legions of vampires who had met for their annual convention at
London’s Beating Pulse club during Halloween. Even the great Dracula himself, who had joined them via telephone-conference from his winter residence in
Sydney, had never come across an incident of vampires giving birth. It was unheard of, unnatural and frankly, outrageously human!
This strange occurrence of her birth set
Willow apart from other vampires. On the one hand it made her special, as her parents kept telling her. On the other hand, it singled her out for much ridicule among vampire children. They didn’t age or grow taller. They didn’t get spots either.
Willow would have to go through the very human process of growing up.
“It sucks being special!”
Willow mumbled, as she watched other children enter into the festive spirit. Christmas was only a few weeks away and shopkeepers competed with their rivals on an unprecedented scale to outshine each other with their window displays. Children gathered in front of shops just to look at the winter wonderland with its fake snowflakes, elves and fat Santas on sleighs being pulled by reindeer charging through the air.
Willow, out shopping with your dad?” Darren greeted his school friend
Willow. He carried a couple of shopping bags and jerked his head into the direction of Smith’s Children’s Emporium. “Mum sent me out of the shop. Bless her – she still thinks I believe in Father Christmas bringing my gifts!” Darren risked a cautious look at Mr. Band. They had never met before. Mr. Band nudged
Willow with his elbow.
“Erm…Dad, this is Darren. We’re in the same year. What’s in the bags?”
Willow tried to snatch a glance at the carrier bags’ contents, but Darren pulled quickly away from her.
“Never you mind, nosey!” He grinned and his freckled face turned a very becoming pink. “The words SECRET SANTA mean nothing to you, do they?”
“Oh, I forgot! Thanks for reminding me. You never guess whose name I picked out of Miss Witherspoon’s hat: Felicity Henderson of all people!”
Willow shuddered at the very mention of her arch rival’s name. “What do you give a girl who actually enjoys Mr. Pitstop’s geography lessons, I ask you?”
“How about an atlas?
Willow, you’re not supposed to tell other people whose name you picked. SECRET SANTA, remember!” Darren pulled a face and added. “It’s bad luck picking Felicity, I sympathise. Perhaps you could squash a few slices of ripe Stilton between the pages of the atlas?”
“Thanks for the tip!”
Willow grinned. Her father tugged at her hand.
Willow shrugged her shoulders apologetically. “Must go. Shops to haunt, money to spend, shopkeepers’ patience to be tried!”
Mr. Band nodded a farewell at Darren and more dragged than led his daughter towards the fashion outlet at the far end of the shopping centre.
Willow wondered whom Darren had picked and why he had been so shy about telling her what was in his bags. A pleasant thought suddenly struck her. What if he had picked her name out of Miss Witherspoon’s hat?
Willow tried to imagine what kind of present Darren would get her.
“Does your little boy friend know about us?” Mr. Band frowned at his daughter.
“Of course not! What do you take me for, Dad? And he’s NOT my boyfriend!”
Willow frowned back at her dad, who suddenly chuckled.
“If you say so, Princess!” Mr. Band ruffled his daughter’s brown hair and mumbled: “We’d better buy you a coat fit for a young lady. No cute little bats and definitely no wolf cub design.”
They entered The Sandalwood Experience and looked through the rows of clothes.
“That red embroidered one is nice, Princess. How about this green velvet number?” Mr. Band’s taste was more hippy than hip-hop. After rejecting fifteen coats,
Willow finally chose a burgundy red, long velvet coat with a fake fur collar and cuffs. She decided on a pair of comfortable black leather boots and found she still had money left over to get a Secret Santa present. Perhaps Darren would get her that new book by bestselling children’s author Maria Thermann?
“I don’t think that colour suits you, Dad.” Willow said disgustedly, when her father came out of the changing rooms wearing a purple t-shirt with the words I’ll be your darling tonight emblazoned in silver lettering on the front. Perhaps Darren would buy her a CD by her favourite indie-band The Cardiff Bloodsuckers?
“How about this one, Princess?” Mr. Band re-emerged from the cubicle with another fashion disaster. He spun around and revealed the inscription Sexy Beast on the back of a blood red shirt. “Do you think Mum would like it?”
Willow pictured her mother’s eyebrows rising all the way up into her black fringe at the mere thought of her husband wearing this shirt to his next gig. She doubted the garment would do much to cement her parent’s recent reconciliation. “Perhaps something more…sophisticated, Dad?”
They finally left the shop with
Willow’s new coat and boots plus two frilly silk shirts for Mr. Band. They dropped into Shake’s Milk Bar for refreshments. After a heated discussion regarding vampires’ participation in Secret Santa activities and the role of Christmas in modern vampire society,
Willow left her dad to rummage in a second hand record shop.
She went into Smith’s Children’s Emporium to get a Secret Santa present.
Willow was about to pick up a board game called Quizzes for the Brainless (learn how to cheat in 100 easy steps), when a familiar voice said next to her:
“You’ll need that for Monday’s general knowledge test with Miss Witherspoon, won’t you?” Felicity
Henderson smiled sweetly.
“Actually, I was thinking of getting it for your father, as a thank you present for my lift home the other day!”
Willow made a gurgling, drowning sort of noise in the back of her throat. Felicity went bright red and left hastily to join her mother at the till.
Willow chuckled, as she recalled an incident, when Felicity’s dad, their school’s headmaster, had picked a fight with a former member of staff and they had both fallen into the river.
Willow had fished out the combatants, whilst Felicity had stood by screaming her head off in a wild panic.
Willow chose a bag Felicity could use for her ballet shoes. It was made from pink satin with a draw-string top.
Willow particularly liked the hippo design on the front. Try moving a bit more like a gazelle, Madame Tolstoy had reminded Felicity at their last rehearsal, when Felicity had come down with a loud thump after one of their dance routines.
There was no price tag.
Willow carried the bag to the till, where a kindly shop assistant informed her that the bag’s price was ₤5.60 due to a special pre-Christmas offer.
“35% off everything on that shelf? What a bargain for a hippo!”
Willow handed over the money with a grin. She had enough money left over to get Felicity an atlas spiked with cheese!
Willow decided she would use the money to get a present for Darren instead. She looked around the shop for inspiration. At the very end of the Emporium the management had provided a Santa’s grotto for their youngest customers. During the day there would have been a throng of small children lining up to see Santa, but it was after 8pm and parents had taken their toddlers home. To her surprise
Willow spotted Darren entering the Santa tent. She had assumed Santa had gone home to a well-deserved dinner and she wondered why Darren should want to go into an empty grotto. She decided to follow him, perhaps he was about to reveal his Secret Santa recipient to somebody? The thought was irresistible and
Willow pushed back the plush red curtains and entered the tent.
Unusually, there was no cheerful fat Santa and no sleigh laden with gifts inside. Instead, a man in Santa pants and a false beard lay unconscious on the denuded sleigh. The man had a deep cut across his forehead and
Willow found a bloodied ice-skater’s boot next to a discarded elves’ costume. Somebody had hit Santa over the head with the heavy boot!
Willow discovered the tent had been built in front of a corridor, leading to another part of the building. She pulled back the curtain and listened. Somewhere in the gloom ahead she could hear voices. A door stood ajar at the end of the corridor and
Willow overheard a man and a younger voice arguing. She crept silently along the corridor and remained just outside the door. She noticed the door had been forced open and the lock was broken.
Willow shifted her position slightly so she could see better into the room. She caught a glimpse of Darren and another boy facing each other. At that moment the other boy spoke again, but he spoke with a man’s voice.
“I’m not telling you again, brat. Hand over the loot or I’m going to blow your head off!”
Darren stood with his back against a window overlooking the car park. He was holding a sack full of presents in one hand and a gift box in the other. Darren was very pale and clearly frightened. The sleeve of his jacket was torn and his lip was bleeding. The floor was littered with crumpled wrapping paper and children’s Christmas presents were strewn all over the floor. An open safe stood in one corner of the office. What
Willow had taken to be a boy, turned out to be a very short man pointing a gun at Darren.
“No, I’m not going to let you take it! This money belongs to the people who work here! It’s their wages and their bonus for working all the Sunday’s before Christmas, you lousy thief!” Darren aimed another gift box at the man. The man ducked and the festive missile failed to reach its target.
Willow used her chance whilst the thief was distracted. She tip-toed into the room and was about to jump the man, when he turned around abruptly and faced her.
“Oh look, it’s your girl-friend! How sweet. Have you come to rescue your little man?” The thief gestured with his gun. “Over there, cutie, against the wall where I can keep an eye on you.”
She cursed herself for having neglected her stalking practice in recent months. If she had followed her mother’s advice,
Willow could have knocked out the man. She and Darren would be laughing about it now over a hot chocolate at Shake’s. She studied the man who pointed the gun at them.
He would be a lot scarier
Willow thought if he weren’t still wearing his elves’ ears. He was no match for vampire strength but in order to protect Darren, she played along with the man’s demands and joined Darren at the other end of the room.
“Thanks for trying,” Darren whispered.
Willow squeezed his arm briefly and then addressed the man.
“If we give you the Santa sack, will you let us go?”
“Sure, cutie. If you give me the loot, I’m going to let you go…straight to hell! You’ve seen my face, little Miss. Nothing personal, but I can’t risk you giving the police a photo-fit description of me!” The man grinned and displayed a row of yellow teeth in his wrinkly face. He was the least likely elf
Willow had ever seen.
“I don’t think you are going to kill anyone today,”
Willow said. She had made up her mind.
She had hurled herself at the thief before the man could have uttered the words Santa’s Little Helper. She threw him to the floor. They fought. The gun went off. A bullet ricocheted from wall to wall and was immediately followed by another shot. This one found its target.
Willow knocked out the man with a punch to the chin. She got up and smiled triumphantly.
“Bad elf!” She ripped off the man’s fake ears and threw them away. “Come on Darren, let’s get out of here. We’ll give the Santa sack with the money to the nice shop assistant at the till.”
Willow turned to her friend.
Darren lay crumpled up among the wrapping paper. He was writhing with pain. Blood was soaking his jeans. Blood was spurting out from his arm.
Willow crouched down next to him.
“This is my fault! Oh please, Darren, open your eyes and tell me what I should do!”
Darren opened his eyes and stared at her. Tears ran down
Willow’s cheeks. “Your face…what’s the matter with your face?” He lifted his good arm and touched
Willow’s mouth. “Fangs?”
The thief woke up before
Willow had a chance to explain. He pounced on a bloodstained parcel lying close to Darren.
Willow pulled herself together. Her face changed instantly back to human.
“Wait, you can’t leave us. Darren’s hurt! You shot him. What do I do? Please help him!”
“Not my concern, Missy. I’m a bad elf, remember!” The man aimed a punch at
Willow’s face and she fell backwards, hitting her head on the wall. The room went black and all she could think of was Darren’s blood on her hands.
Willow opened her eyes again, three things happened almost simultaneously. The thief flew past her through the window behind her and dropped four floors down. A split second later a car alarm went off in the car park below. It was the last time the thief had hit anyone or anything. He rested spread-eagled and very dead across Mrs. Henderson’s shattered windscreen.
The third thing that happened as soon as
Willow had opened her eyes was her dad putting his arms around her and holding her very tightly.
“Darren is hurt, Dad. What can we do?”
“You’re not making much sense, Princess. He’s bleeding to death. We’re going to take him home and eat him, of course.” Mr. Band frowned and kissed his daughter’s throbbing forehead. “You must have hit your head pretty hard, if you’ve forgotten you’re a vampire!”
“Dad! Darren’s my friend. We can’t eat him; I want to help him survive!”
Willow looked at her father so imploringly that he relented, albeit reluctantly.
“About time you learned never to look a gift horse in the mouth! If you had to work as hard as your mother, trying to bring food to the table every day, you wouldn’t turn down a free meal like this.” Mr. Band grumbled, but he took off his belt and slung it around Darren’s arm to stop the bleeding. He showed
Willow what to do and then he rushed back to the shop floor to call for an ambulance.
“Ouch…my arm.” Darren regained consciousness and watched
Willow trying her hand at human first aid. “Lucky for me you came into the shop.”
“You call this lucky? If I hadn’t blundered and had taken care of that rotten elf properly, you wouldn’t have been hurt!”
“Why did you…come into the shop?” Darren looked at her intently. “I mean, you don’t celebrate Christmas, do you?”
“I had money left over and…with all the discounts on offer I could afford Felicity’s Secret Santa present and getting something for you, too.”
“Thanks. I reckon with my present you gave away a bit more than you had bargained for?” He touched her face again, his fingers delicately tracing the outline of her fangs protruding under her upper lip. Outside sirens howled, ambulance and police vehicles arrived, people shouted. Inside the office time stood still.
“I’m glad you know.”
Willow finally said. “Just don’t let on to my parents, they’d go mad!”
They watched Darren being taken away in an ambulance. He’ll be fine, the paramedic had said. Mr. Band explained they had simply found the boy when he had cried out. Apparently, the thief had tried to escape through the window, but had missed his footing and had fallen. His accomplice the fake Santa was taken to hospital wearing handcuffs.
They had missed the last bus but the nice shop assistant offered them a lift home. She asked them to wait whilst she locked up the Emporium for the night.
Willow suddenly remembered that she had money burning a hole in her pocket. She had seen something on a shelf by the entrance. She offered to pay for the item, but the shop assistant refused to take her money because
Willow and her dad had saved the Emporium’s Christmas payroll.
“Never again. I hate that place, Babe!” Mr. Band made the most out of the situation. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: shopping is bad for your health!”
Alice Band massaged her husband’s shoulders and listened to his highly individual account of the robbery.
Willow was rather quiet.
“Are you alright, Princess?” Mr. Band pulled his daughter close and tickled her tummy. “No lasting side effects from that bump on the head? I mean, apart from an alarming tendency to be a Good Samaritan?”
“Just because we are vampires, doesn’t mean we can’t have friends, Dad. You’ve got human friends, Rob in your band for example.”
“Good musicians are hard to come by, Princess. I found out the hard way. Never should have eaten Tom. First class drummer – took me ages to replace him.”
“Here, I got this for you, Dad.” Willow handed her father a small package. “Try it on later, if you like. I’m going to bed.”
She kissed her mother goodnight, smiled at her dad and went upstairs. She fell into her bed and closed her eyes, suddenly feeling very tired. Still wondering why Darren had entered the Santa tent in the first place, she absentmindedly traced the outline of her fangs protruding under her upper lip.
Downstairs, Mr. Band spun round and round on the spot showing off his new t-shirt to his wife. He asked her to repeat out loud what it said on the back. His mauve chest proudly displayed the words MY DAD. His wife shook her head in disbelief and mouthed the words MY HERO which sparkled in gold letters on the back.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Maria Thermann.
Published on e-Stories.org on 05.12.2009.