Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Twenty-five: Scholarship) Wuthering Nights: Inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Twenty-five
Scholarship - Present Day
    Slowly, Katarina and Hinton became friends.
    When Katarina arrived at Hareton Hall at nine in the morning to help Hinton revise his written applications for the Art prize, she felt a pool of excitement in the pit of her stomach. She could hardly wait to see him again. Hinton had confided in her that he thought his written skills were lacking and Katarina had offered to help him present, “the best possible version of himself”, as she put it. He had readily accepted and together they made a first draft.
   The Hall, once the grandest of houses, had creeping plants growing from its foundations now, as if it were slowly crumbling from the inside. Over the past few months, the wiring needed fixing, the swimming pool had grown thick with leaves, the tennis court was left untended and the stables were nearly empty. The owner had become more and more reclusive.
    Hinton didn’t want to tell her why he’d felt a desire stronger than any natural one to drink blood. It was a one in ten thousand possibility, according to Heath’s specialist, but somehow his condition matched that of his adopted parent.  A trace had been done and it seemed somehow Hinton and Heath shared the same affliction.
     Their lineage, a distant, improbable vampire link, was not all they had in common. Hinton and Heath shared a desire to feed, a fear of the sunlight and their own fading images in mirrors. Heath’s was now an outline and soon there would be nothing.  Today, Hinton’s image in the hallway mirror had dulled considerably. Instead of a medallion, Hinton wore a signet ring that Heath had given him when he was small, to protect him from the sun. Hinton resolved not to focus on the negatives of his condition.
    The winner of the scholarship was due to receive an apartment and a small stipend abroad. Prague would be darker and rainier than many places and Hinton quite liked the idea of that kind of weather, for obvious reasons. He wanted to get away. Still, only one person from the whole college would be chosen on the strength of their exhibit.
     Katarina had insisted on taking him in her new car for lunch in Hampstead High Street. Her father had bought the car for her as a bribe for choosing to study in London instead of travelling far from home. Previously, the thought of Katarina leaving him was something her loving father had found nearly impossible to bear. Katarina, having recently turned eighteen, was experiencing a freedom she had longed for after passing her driving test. The girl was yet to tell her father that she had become friendly with Heath, Linus and Hinton.  That was an “off limits” conversation.
    It was a beautiful day, rare and summery, like the ones her father had told her about when she was first born. In those days, when she was a child, she vaguely remembered her young mother taking her to Hampstead Heath for picnics. Her studious father would hold her hand, walk her across the road and teach her to ride. When she was old enough she rode park trails on her pony and later, her horse. By the time she was a teenager, she’d become an expert, riding properly in various events on Hero’s Daughter.
     When Katarina asked about her mother’s family, all her father told her was that he’d never been fond of Heath as a child. He grew up with nannies and in boarding schools as men of his class and in his generation did but repeatedly told Katarina he loved her - something his own family had never said to him. Katarina knew this was true and that he meant well. He had tried not to burden her with this now adult concept of his quiet, contained, isolated youth but one day he told his daughter something that surprised her.
    ‘I never saw my parents show any affection to one another,’ he told Katarina when they were out riding together.
    ‘Something of an overshare, Papa,’ she’d replied.
     Katarina realised how different her upbringing had been from her father’s.
      How strange and quiet the heath had become in winter, her father thought, when he first bundled this little girl up and took her for long walks to Kenwood House. As she grew older, and had her own nanny, the family would often go for picnics in the grounds of the heath. Though the gardens of their own house were magnificent, Hunt wanted Katarina to have the normal childhood that had eluded him, or as normal as it was possible for her to have, so he took her exploring. 
   Being in his daughter’s company pleased Edmund Hunt endlessly. He remembered so many dinners with his own father, separated by an expanse of dining room table.  He was never allowed to chatter during meals. He determined to raise Katarina differently. Together they played a game called… What if? From the time Katarina could talk she was encouraged to ask questions: ‘What if the world was coloured pink? What if the grass was blue? What if Mummy hadn’t left?’ This question ended the game. There were some questions Hunt wouldn’t answer.
    As she grew older he worried for her and for himself. His daughter was sweet-natured and generous. She had gifted him further understanding of the world beyond his front door. Katarina made Hunt see life for what it was, rather than in isolation and in relation to his needs and those of his family. He knew he loved her so much he would never be able to say “no” to her and dreaded the day she would ask him for something he could not or did not wish to give her.
    Like the truth.
    The morning Katarina and Hinton decided to drive over to Hampstead High Street, the place, busy with post-Christmas bargain hunters, was busy. Together they sat in the French patisserie and ordered coffee, sandwiches and sweet cakes. Hinton barely ate in her presence and when he did, he picked the chicken off his plate and chewed that first.    
    ‘Do you know why our families don’t speak?’ Katarina asked as she stirred sugar into her latte.
    ‘Age old feud,’ Hinton said. ‘I think Linus knows the whole story. I only know my version of it. I’m sure your father would have a different account of what happened.’
    ‘He wouldn’t be happy if he knew we were all in contact, that’s for sure. But I’m so glad you and Linus and I are friends.’
     ‘Is that what we are?’ Hinton looked at her quickly, wondering for a moment if she would say something more.
       In response, Katarina looked into his eyes as Hinton took her hand. His fingers were pleasantly cool.
       ‘I want to…thank you for helping me so much.’
       Hinton slipped a tiny packet in the saucer of her tea cup. The envelope contained a delicate, gold bracelet with the initials KH carved on the inside. It must have cost Hinton at least a month of the wages he’d earned, working at the pub.
       Katarina smiled as Hinton helped her to fasten the clasp around her wrist. 
      ‘Thank you,’ she said, finishing her toast. Then she did something that surprised him. Katarina leant over and kissed him with her honey lips.
       Hinton’s face flushed red. He wasn’t really sure what to say next. He’d dated girls, lots of them, but he’d never felt for anyone the way he felt for Katarina. He shyly took her hand and kissed it. 
       They had been reading together every day. Heath still got the odd word the wrong way round, but had improved considerably. He was sure the extra study he did with the tutor he’d hired (encouraged by Katarina) had gone a long way to making words much easier for him to read. His world had opened up and he was less afraid of what the future held when she was near. He didn’t want to let go of her fingers.
     ‘Over these months …you helped me to have some confidence, not just in reading, but in…myself.’
     Katarina was speechless. She had looked forward to every moment she spent with Hinton walking through Hampstead and working together in the studio in Soho. He dreaded what he had to tell her so instead he passed her some documents.
     ‘You need to read something,’ Hinton said, ‘before you decide if you want to…be my girlfriend…’
    Katarina smiled, it was the first time he’d used that word. Then she frowned, what possible barrier stood in the way of this, her first real romance?
     Hinton passed her his medical records.
    ‘You need to be aware,’ he said, ‘that I’m not…normal.’
     Katarina looked at him quizzically, unsure of the correct response. Hinton got up and left the coffee shop as Katarina opened the cover of the first folder marked: Type A Requirements.

     Later that day, Hinton was in the college studio, quietly painting. He had a small supply of Magenta that he kept in the student common room kitchen in a flask. He quietly sucked on lunch through a straw. Since he’d turned twenty-one his desire for human blood had been overwhelming but this daily treat of Magenta kept it at bay. Vampiricism was another reason he and his uncle both liked and loathed each other.
     Heath had been the first to identify him as a fellow bloodsucker. Hinton had been so full of self-loathing he was almost glad Harrison and Franny had never lived to see him develop from hybrid to vampire. Harrison had drunk himself to death in his early thirties and his wife, Frances, had been killed in a nightclub in Paris at the age of twenty-six. That’s how Hinton wound up with Heath. It was discovered Heath and Frances (remarkably) shared a supernatural gene. Although Heath had not been biologically related to Harrison or Kate, he was a very distant cousin (two hundred years removed) to Frances and Hinton. 
    Hinton didn’t share Heath’s passion for chicken but he gnawed on a cooked chop that had been specially marinated, pan fried and wrapped in foil. He’d left Katarina with the open folder on her desk and didn’t want to think about what her reaction might be.
    Hinton painted freely. He was sure with brush strokes in a way that he had never been with words. He disliked any form of authority but was aware of his need to improve his basic reading skills. He was embarrassed to be this age, to be this bright (he had no trouble comprehending the world and had a photographic memory for numbers and people’s names…), yet to still be such a terrible reader was confronting. He’d long ago accepted his daily need for blood but he was ashamed of his lack of education. He’d stuttered as a child and somehow he’d overcome this affliction in his teens. If Katarina believed in him, he felt sure, with her help, he could overcome his wicked desires.
    He liked the solitude of the studio, deep in the quiet hub of the empty Art College.
    Nobody was here late in the afternoon and there was not a soul to suggest changes to what he was creating. He thought of Katarina and checked the messages on his mobile; nothing.  He wondered what she was thinking but didn’t want to press her until she had fully digested what the words in that folder meant.
     They’d been working on abstract expressionism in class, but for the first time in weeks Hinton’s brush seemed to have a mind of its own as he removed the drying artwork from his desk and set to work on a blank canvas attached to a wooden easel. 
     He sketched the outline from a photograph taken on his mobile but then he relied on the memory of her perfect face. As if writing a first draft, he sketched with abandon, adding the base with great ease and little emphasis on detail. But then, as the hours wore on, and afternoon became evening, he built the intricate shades of colour that became skin on his subject’s neck. The textures made him uneasy. Still, with no answer from the girl, his first layer of the image was becoming more complex, like a photograph of Katarina’s face. Hinton leaned in and painted two perfect red dots on the paper frail skin above her collar bone. Then he bowed his head in his hands and sighed.
    That afternoon, Katarina re-read Hinton’s file.
     It was less shocking than she’d suspected.
     The word ‘blood’ stood out in all its satin, red stained essence.
     The description of Hinton’s “type” was unusual but not conclusive. For years now, there had been talk in the press about a rogue species; human-vampires. Born with a weak strain of vampiricism, they developed fully over a period of time and into adulthood. It was different for males and females. The females could linger for up to twenty years in hibernation and it was impossible to tell the difference between hybrids and human beings. Katarina had not taken as much notice as she should have but she remembered these details from a recent article on the web.
     She wanted to discover as many facts as she could; she wanted to find out what this strain meant for them and how she could help. Regardless of words on paper, Hinton was still Hinton. Katarina realized this as she read the doctor’s dramatic introduction: he may not sleep at night, he may not wish to eat…it may be possible he lives far beyond the years of normal humans… The words “immortality”, “bloodsucker”, “vanished”, “feeding”, “type A”, “hunger”, “forever”, jumped out at her on the page. Katarina resolved to do some more research that evening.
      Upon waking, after Katarina had had a few hours’ sleep and the enormity of Hinton’s condition had set in, Hinton would be greeted with the message - it’s okay. I love you and that doesn’t change. I want to help in any way possible. Meet you tomorrow afternoon @ Hareton Hall.
      Katarina was determined to finish her Art folio the next day (of a series of photographs of Hareton Hall) using different levels of light. The girl also intended to start reading the files and finish the journals. She knew there was a secret that went beyond Hinton. The hush ran through the family. There had been whispers of a human-hybrid species for years in the media, but no one she ever knew had met an actual vampire; whole or hybrid. They kept to themselves, or maybe they just hid in the shadows. 
     Hinton, in retrospect, had displayed all the symptoms she’d researched on the web upon waking. His specialist had scrawled in the files… ‘The young man has cravings for protein, then citrus, then…animal blood…which may develop upon adulthood as a craving for humans…’ Katarina looked away.  Further details were in the files that she forced herself to read.
   The boy displayed a nocturnal instinct as a child. He’d tried to bite his own mother (at birth) and she had declared him ‘impossible’ to raise.
    It was true. Hinton had gravitated towards Heath as a child. His sister, Frances, had stayed at the Hall briefly until she fled to Paris. Harrison had been discovered trying to beat Hinton with a stick, before he drank himself into oblivion. That part was true; it was like history repeating itself.
      Katarina was surprised as she read the social worker’s reports sitting in the car. Her desire to help and protect Hinton grew stronger with every sentence.