Tori visits London

Extra scene from Haunted of the Turning Moon series

Tori and Blake waited until the short days of winter before travelling to London. Unable to avoid daylight through the normal modes of travel, they planned their route by ship and car, calculating time, distance and daylight with care. Despite how she had worried otherwise, she found herself enjoying the leisure of their slow journey, but realising the closer they drew to London, the less sure she was of wanting to witness how it had changed since the 1840’s.

As she had feared, London was unrecognisable when they emerged from Victoria Station into a frenetic Thursday night in the city. The disorientation of new streets, hundreds of buildings and thousands of people made her head spin. Where the streets once rang with the gentle percussion of horse hooves, it now clanged with blaring horns and revving engines while people rushed along the pavements, their expressions stern and unwelcoming. Tori was no stranger to modern city life, but having only experienced London in a previous century, this new version was harder to accept than she had imagined. Clutching their tourist map tight, Tori followed Blake as he elbowed his way into the throngs. “Let’s find our hotel first,” he suggested, replying to her apprehensive grasp with a squeeze of reassurance.

“Bloody hell.” Big Ben loomed into view when they rounded a corner. “She’s bigger than I thought,” Tori commented.

“Domine salvam fac reginam nostram victoriam primam,” Blake read out from the pocket book he’d brought. “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”

Tori smiled up at him. “How long have you been waiting to say that?”

“A while,” he grinned.

London’s clamour was blissfully muted in their hotel room. Tori sat on the edge of the wide bed and hugged a plump, tasselled cushion to her chest. Next on their schedule was a visit to Portman Square, the place where she had been born human and lived for seventeen years. Her heart may have been as undead as the rest of her vampire being, but it already ached a little for the London she had lost. And while the internet had kindly provided her with images of how Portman Square looked in this century, witnessing it in real life was going to be another thing entirely.

“How are you doing?” Blake asked, depositing the bags on the floor beside the wardrobe.

“It’s all so very different.”

“I imagine it is. So we’ll do whatever you want, whenever you want.”

An hour later, despite the proportions of their expensive hotel room, Tori was ready to climb its designer walls. A part of her wanted to hide from reality under the duvet, but a larger part wanted to return to the night-time streets. Life changes every second a little voice had been reminding her, so you should just suck it up. Blake had wondered if visiting her childhood home and Edwin’s grave on the same day might be too punishing. “Probably,” she told him, plucking her jacket off its hanger. “But I want to get it over with. It’s hovering above me like a black cloud.”

As she had known, Tori’s family home was long gone. Time had dissolved it to an inhabitable shell over fifty years ago, and in its place there now stood a stark-edged office building. A wall of windows stared blankly at her as she surveyed the structure. “It’s ugly,” she decided, narrowing her glare at the tinted glass. When she turned her back to the soaring interloper some consolation was to be found in the centre garden remaining intact. Tori grasped the railings as she peered into its obscurity, finding it impossible to match the sunny memory of her and Margaret playing dolls on the grass with the shadowy garden before her now. “It’s too different,” she decided, releasing the cold, thin rails and turning away. “It’s like we’re not even in the right place. This could be anywhere. Nothing about it feels as if it were ever home.”

“It’s a bitter night.” Blake’s first words since leaving Portman Square rose in silver puffs to the stars when they emerged from West Brompton underground station. Whether he was referring to the weather or her situation she wasn’t sure, but either way his sentiment fit. He blew into his free hand. “My fingers are turning numb.”

“My fault,” she apologised, withdrawing her icy fingers from his hold.

Blake clamped her hand in place. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned kindly.

As they walked towards the North Lodge entrance of Brompton Cemetery, Tori looked up to where a net of bright stars had been cast. London had flipped her sentimental switch, filling her chest with the unpleasant sensation that suggested she might start crying at any moment, but seeing the familiar positions of the stars brought sudden comfort. Nearly two centuries had passed since her birth, and despite how the world around her insisted on changing, the stars were content to hang in place. Just please stay that way she begged.

When the decision to travel to London had finally been agreed on in Cedar Copse during early Autumn, Genna had gone into research mode. Together, she and Tori had spent hours poring over the internet, slowly gathering information on the London Hunters and the Walker family. In early January, they finally received their first email. Andrew Walker was delighted to hear from Tori and promptly made arrangements for her to visit Bromptom Cemetery. Michael had pushed against the idea. “Just because Alexander said the Walker Hunters vowed to protect you, doesn’t mean it’s true,” he had pointed out. “I don’t like the idea of either of you walking into that cemetery at night. You’re walking into Hunter territory—a vampire and a werewolf—you may as well stick a target on your backs.”

Tori reminded him that Hunters don’t attack without provocation first. Blake commented that neither he nor Tori were just any random vampire or werewolf. And then Genna had kindly told him that his Alpha permission wasn’t required; Tori and Blake were going with or without his blessing.

Andrew’s word had held good. Brompton Cemetery closed early for the public during the winter season, but as Tori and Blake approached the handsome entrance flanked by twin pillars, a man was waiting inside the iron gates. He was wrapped up in layers against the cold, his gloved hands shoved into the deep pockets of his ankle-length coat as he stamped the chill from his feet. “Miss Walker,” he greeted, relief in his voice that they had arrived on time and not kept him waiting.

Introducing himself as Stewart, he unlocked the outer gate and ushered them inside before locking it again. “I wouldn’t dally,” he commented, leading them under the archway and out into the dark surrounds of his charge. “That cold would skin a bishop.” Long shadows trickled across the landscape throwing ghoulish shapes over headstones and tombs. Clusters of mausoleums dotted the walkways, some more elaborate than others. Tori guessed her family’s would be high on the lavish scale. Simple and unassuming had never been the Walker style.

There was no further conversation from Stewart until he stopped at a large, granite structure. “Here you are, Miss,” he said and fished out a key from his pocket. “This’ll open the lock. I’ll wait for you by the entrance.”

The Walker mausoleum was a grand monument. Built from creamy sandstone and surrounded in totality by a tall, black iron fence, it held an air of superiority. Inside the perimeter, the grass was short and neat. Evergreen box hedging was trimmed to perfection and four tall yews guarded each corner of the plot. Blake met her look of awe when she turned to him.

“Impressive,” he whispered.

“Morbid,” she corrected. Seeing her surname carved into the thick block of granite above the entrance was discomforting. It seemed very final to see the word set in stone for eternity and her hand faltered in mid-air before the lock on the gate. When the padlock was free and the gate pushed, it swung freely and silently on its hinges.

“Someone takes good care of this place,” Blake commented.

“The Hunters,” she guessed, grasping the thick cylinder bolting the outer door. It slid with little effort and she turned the chunky handle, easing the door open.

The mausoleum had been built in the late eighteen hundreds. Above ground, Walkers had been laid to rest in the vaults spaced along the deep walls. The plaques on the floor before them announced the names of those who followed to fill the ground below. To her right, urns lined a wide shelf, safe behind a thick shield of glass.

“So many,” she murmured, turning on the spot as she tried to absorb the volume of her descendants. One by one, they read the names. The first occupants were her father’s parents. Her own parents then followed. Years later, her sisters took their turn, then their children, their children’s children and so on until the names became too many and overwhelming. Her sisters names appeared on repeat, having being passed down through generations. And alongside the Margarets, Louisas and Elizabeths, there were Edwins, Edwards and Alfreds, but amongst them all, not a single Victoria. She silently wondered was it out of respect or shame.

“They’re running out of space,” she finally said, standing before the glass, her fingertips resting on the cool surface as she peered in at the urns.

Blake was standing behind her, and resting his hands on her shoulders he kissed the top of her head. There was one plaque missing. Edwin, her twin brother, had not been buried in the mausoleum. In truth, his was the only grave she had wished to visit. If accessing the mausoleum at this late hour had been refused, she wouldn’t have fussed. With a final glance at the space she turned to Blake. “I’m ready now.”

They left the mausoleum’s interior, glad to be rid of the silence and cold of its cloying atmosphere. It clung to her skin even as she stepped back out into the chilly evening air and she rubbed her arms against the sensation. Blake slid the bolt back in place, and locking the padlock once the gate was shut, Tori walked to the rear of the monument.

Edwin’s single plot was butted against the back sandstone wall of the mausoleum. It too was kept with pride. Box hedging marked its perimeter and the grass was trim. Tori’s throat closed against her wish to speak a hello the moment she saw Edwin’s name etched into the stone. It was infinitely harder than she had imagined and the timeworn letters blurred as tears swelled.

When Genna had found the records detailing her family’s burials, not a single one had referred to Edwin. The deeper they searched, the emptier their hands remained. It was only when Andrew made contact and Tori explained what she was looking for when the answer came. Her beloved brother had been buried apart from his family because his dying wish was to have whatever remained of his twin sister buried with him upon her death. For a Hunter to request the remains of a vampire be placed in the ground alongside them was unheard of. Tradition wouldn’t—couldn’t allow it to happen, Andrew had written, so a compromise was reached.

For over one hundred years Edwin’s remains continued to wait for his sister’s passing, and the loneliness of his plight struck Tori with such sorrow her knees buckled. Blake grabbed her arm as she dropped, a sob bursting into the still night. Was her brother not at peace? Was he waiting, alone, forever suspended in a void without her?

“He knows you’re here now,” Blake soothed as she pressed her face into his chest. “He’ll know it, wherever he is.”

“But is it enough?” she cried.

“I don’t know,” he admitted after a short while. “I hope it is.”

They huddled together for a long time before Tori could speak without sobs breaking her words. “He lived to be seventy-five,” she said, reaching out to rest trembling fingers against the date of his death.

“For someone born in the eighteen hundreds, that was a ripe age,” Blake agreed.
“The Hunter gene, apparently.”

“He must have had the medical profession flummoxed.”

She thought she’d cried her tears dry on the night Alexander had presented her with the stolen photo album, but now the pain had welled deep and fresh again. “Edwin saw me once, in nineteen twelve, in Florence.”
“He did?”

Tori lifted her fingers from where moss worried at the carved numbers and sat back on her knees again. “Alexander told me. We were at a gallery and Edwin was there. Alexander said he looked happy, that when he saw me he smiled. He died the following year,” she said softly, her questioning eyes meeting his.

“He wanted proof you were happy,” he answered. “And he got it.”

“Do you think he held on all that time just to see me?”

“It drove him to fight and to survive,” Blake replied, “so it must have galvanized his desire to live too.”

Tori’s teary gaze drifted beyond Blake’s shoulder. “What must have it been like for him—seeing his nineteen-year-old twin sister when he was seventy-four?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“Alexander will never comprehend the depth of pain he has caused,” she sighed. “I wish he could. I wish some of his humanity remained.”

“It wouldn’t change anything.” Blake cupped her forlorn face in one hand. “Do you want to sit here with Edwin for a while? I can wander about. Although,” he decided, glancing around the vast cemetery as if suddenly agreeing with Michael’s cautions, “I won’t go too far.”

Before Tori could reply, a crunch of gravel under nearing foot drew their attention to the main path at the front of the mausoleum. A lone figure approached, respectfully tipping one finger to his forehead in salute to the monument.

Tori got to her feet and when he saw how they’d been lingering at Edwin’s grave he pulled off his hat and twisted it between his hands. “I’m sorry, Miss Walker,” he said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Hello, Andrew.”

He waited for them to step back onto the path before offering his hand. “Andrew Walker, pleased to meet you, in person.”

Tori matched his firm and welcoming grasp as he studied her with open curiosity, a hint of excitement lighting his pale eyes. Andrew Walker was of average height and slim build, but his head of healthy red hair marked him as a Walker.

“You can call me Tori,” she told him, “and this is Blake Creedon.”

“Pleasure to meet you both,” he smiled, although his handshake with Blake was quick enough for her to guess he hadn’t met many of Blake’s kind. Andrew was young, no more than in his early twenties perhaps, and clearly thrilled to be standing in Brompton Cemetery at night with a vampire and a werewolf.

“So,” he smiled at Tori, “Edwin was my great, great, great, great grandfather.”

“Um, no,” she corrected gently. “My brother never married.”

“Indeed he didn’t,” Andrew grinned. “He had his son Thomas out of wedlock.”

“A son? No, that hasn’t been documented,” she frowned, glancing up at Blake for confirmation. “We read nothing of a son.”

“You won’t. A record for Thomas does exist, but in as much obscurity as the reasoning for why your brother is not interred in there.” Andrew’s thumb threw a disdainful aim at the mausoleum. “The record keepers for us lot weren’t the most sympathetic back then. Thomas’s existence is recorded, but only in one document.”

“Who was his mother?”

“Joanna Whitford,” Andrew replied. “A nurse from Kent. She and Edwin had a relationship for a year, but when he left here for France, they ended things. Edwin had no idea of his son’s existence until Joanna died in 1870. Thomas was three by then. Edwin couldn’t take him of course, not by himself, but he made sure the child was cared for.”

“By whom? My parents?”

“No, another family. There’s nothing to confirm your parents knew about Thomas,” Andrew admitted before blowing into his gloved hands and rubbing them together. “Thomas’s sons were all born in wedlock however, and the following Walker boys over the decades were too, but the records were tweaked to suggest Thomas came from your father’s brother’s line.”

“That’s kind of messed up,” Blake said.

“How do you know all of this?” Tori wondered. “We researched my family for weeks online, and there was nothing about . . .” Hearing how ridiculous she sounded, Tori trailed off. “1870,” she cringed. “And records that were never intended for the public’s eyes.”

Andrew smiled in agreement. “I graduated from Oxford last year with a distinction in Modern and Ancient History. Even I wouldn’t have found out only I’m a persistently annoying Hunter who wants to learn about his ancestry. Digging through your family’s records was like scuba diving in porridge. Nothing was easy to find.”

Blake chuckled at his comment.

“So because no-one ever gets to say this, I have to announce it,” Andrew told her, spreading out his hands at where she stood before him. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my great, great, great, great, grand-aunt.”

“Less of the great, great there, Andrew,” she joked. “You make it sound like I’m nearly two hundred years old.”

“One hundred and—,” he made to clarify.

Tori held up a warning finger. “Zip it professor. My boyfriend here thinks I’m nineteen.”

Andrew’s warm laugh floated into the icy air. “Well, we’re here to welcome you to London, so welcome,” he said, swooping out a bow.

“We?” Tori enquired.

“Me, my dad and my grandfather. Three generations of Walkers to receive you with esteem.”

“I see. And for whose benefit might this be?”

“Yours, ours and those who watch with interest,” he answered with a knowing wink, tugging his hat back on.

Blake threw a surreptitious glance over his shoulder. “Watching now?”

“On a Baltic night like this?” Andrew laughed. “Not on your life, mate.”

“And do they want to meet us tonight?”

“It’s up to you.” Andrew gave a shrug. “Tonight, tomorrow—whenever suits.”

“Are they waiting somewhere warm?” Blake wondered.

“Yes. With tea. And food if you’re hungry.”

Blake turned two imploring eyes on Tori.

“Tonight it is,” she laughed. “Lead the way, Andrew.”