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The subject was "A Neighbour" and as usual, my mind went completely blank. Finally I got a very vague picture in my mind of someone moving into a house very late at night. I wonder what the significance of that is, I asked myself. So, for want of anything better to do, I started to write the story. Rather to my surprise, Shirley and Peter immediately came alive in my head. I knew who they were, I knew who all their neighbours were, I knew where they lived and I knew why they lived there. Everything came into sharp focus and the story just flowed. I kept going, enjoying the jokes and wondering how the story was going to end. Eventually I found out...

The Housewarming Party

It was 10.30pm when the new neighbour moved in. Peter and Shirley were fast asleep, but the noise of the moving truck arriving woke them up. They got out of bed and stared sleepily at the moving men who were carrying stuff into the house.

"Who moves into a house at this time of night?" asked Shirley.

"A vampire?" suggested Peter. "Sunlight is fatal to vampires."

Shirley laughed. "I used the last of the garlic in the soup we had for lunch," she said. "I’d better stock up next time I go shopping. "How are you off for crucifixes?"

"I think I’ve got a couple somewhere in the shed," said Peter. "Come on, let’s go back to bed. We’ll worry about it tomorrow."

The cul-de-sac was oblong shaped with one end open to allow access. There were three houses on each side of the oblong and two houses blocking off the far end. The vampire had moved into the middle house on the opposite side of the oblong from Peter and Shirley’s house.

The next morning, Peter saw, with no surprise, that the vampire’s house was closed and shuttered against the sun. He wandered down the path to his mailbox and peeped inside. There he saw the local newspaper and an envelope addressed to "The Homeowner". He almost threw the envelope away – an envelope addressed to the owner was a common trick used by advertisers to get their message delivered to houses that had a "No Junk Mail" sticker on the mailbox. Anything in an envelope was obviously a proper letter, went the argument, clearly not junk mail at all! But Peter was feeling benign, so he opened it. The envelope contained an invitation to a combined house-warming and meet-the-neighbours party to be held at the vampire’s house next Saturday evening, starting just after sunset. Champagne would flow like champagne, promised the invitation, and there would be exotic nibbles. RSVP to the vampire’s mailbox.

Peter and Shirley discussed the invitation over breakfast. "I think we should go," said Shirley. "Everyone in the cul-de-sac will have had the same invitation, so there’ll be safety in numbers. It would be churlish not to say hello to our new neighbour. After all, we’re going to have to live with him for goodness knows how long. And anyway, I really want to know what the exotic nibbles are!"

"OK," agreed Peter. "I’ll draft an acceptance note and drop it in his mailbox on my way to work."

On Saturday, Peter and Shirley arrived at the party fashionably late. Everyone one else from the cul-de-sac was already there. Lights blazed, and music that sounded vaguely Slavic was playing softly through concealed speakers. There was a buzz of conversation punctuated by occasional laughter. An immaculate young man in full evening dress welcomed them to the house, enquired as to their names and instructed them to follow him. Feeling a little out of place in their jeans and old t-shirts, Peter and Shirley followed him into the lounge where they were introduced to Mr Varney Karnstein, their host.

"Just call me Varney," he said, smiling hugely so that they could admire the fangs that jutted from his upper jaw. "Would you care for champagne?"

"Yes please," said Shirley and Varney gestured to a waiter who hurried over and presented a tray covered with brimming flutes. Shirley and Peter each helped themselves to a glass.

"Cheers," said Peter, and Shirley echoed him.

"Your very good health," said Varney, raising a glass half full of what Peter decided to assume was a perfectly ordinary bloody mary. They all drank. "Tell me," asked Varney, "how do you enjoy living in this rather pleasant little cul-de-sac?"

"We absolutely love it," said Shirley enthusiastically. "It’s very quiet and out of the way. Nobody seems to know that it even exists, except for the postman and the pizza delivery people, and even they sometimes have difficulty finding us. We just get on with our lives and the world leaves us alone. It’s really quite perfect."

"We still get lots of junk mail, though," said Peter. "That always seems to arrive no matter how isolated and hard to find you are."

Varney laughed. "Just the way I like it," he said. "I think I’m going to get a lot of enjoyment out of waking this sleepy little place up." Peter and Shirley exchanged a worried look when he said that, but Varney didn’t seem to notice. He took a huge swig from his drink, almost emptying the glass. He looked around, frowning and then gestured to another waiter, who quickly hurried over. The waiter carried a tray festooned with bottles of vodka, and gin. He also had a spigot poking out of his neck. Varney poured a generous measure of vodka into his glass, then he held the glass beneath the waiter’s spigot and turned the tap, topping up his glass with the thick, red liquid that oozed from the spout. Peter decided that Varney wasn’t drinking an ordinary bloody mary after all. Varney sipped his drink thoughtfully, added a little more vodka for luck, and then stirred it vigorously with a swizzle stick. A delicate, pink foam formed on top of the liquid. Varney sent the waiter on his way with an imperious gesture.

"Nibbles," suggested Varney. "You must have something to eat." A waiter materialised carrying a tray upon which lay small, dark, congealing disks speckled with white flecks of fat. "Black pudding," said Varney enthusiastically. "Home made, you know. It’s a speciality of the house." The waiter offered the tray to Peter who was wondering just where Varney’s chef had obtained the blood that is the basic ingredient of all black pudding. Peter and Shirley both declined the offer and the waiter departed to be replaced by another waiter offering more conventional fare. "Cheese," suggested Varney. "Pâté, perhaps some caviare?"

Peter put his champagne flute down on a convenient table and heaped caviare on to a biscuit. He chewed and swallowed. "Very nice," he said appreciatively.

"It’s only salmon roe," apologised Varney. "It’s not real caviare. It’s almost impossible to get real caviare these days. I don’t know why."

"I know why," said Peter.

Shirley began to edge away from him. "No, Peter," she begged. "Please don’t..."

Peter paid no attention to her. He struck a dramatic pose and began to recite:

"Caviare comes from the virgin sturgeon.

Virgin sturgeon very fine fish.

Virgin sturgeon needs no urgin’

That’s why caviare’s a very rare dish!"

Varney stared blankly at Peter for a moment then he roared with laughter. "I like you, Peter," he said. "You and I are going to have a lot of fun together bringing some excitement into this quiet little corner of the world!" Peter and Shirley exchanged worried glances again. "And now," said Varney, "I must circulate and talk to my guests. You do the same. Help yourself to any drinks and nibbles that take your fancy."

Shirley and Peter took the opportunity to have a good snoop around Varney’s house. Apart from the lounge, where the party was being held, the rooms were all full of boxes, and furniture covered with dust sheets. Clearly there was a lot of unpacking still to do. Peter wondered how long it would take Varney to get everything properly sorted out. He and Shirley still had boxes of stuff in their garage that had been there since they first moved into their house, more than twenty years ago. Occasionally either Peter or Shirley would get an urge to unpack one of the boxes, but since neither of them could remember what any of the boxes contained, it seemed a rather pointless exercise, so when the urge came over them they just sat down until it went away again. Somehow Peter didn’t thank that Varney had a procrastinating personality. He was sure the boxes would all be unpacked within a week!

They returned to the lounge where they sipped champagne and gossiped with everyone else from the cul-de-sac. Every so often they would catch a glimpse of Varney refilling his glass from a waiter’s neck spigot or nibbling on a black pudding, but every time they noticed it they turned their backs on the revolting sight and pretended that it wasn’t happening.

Eventually it was time to leave. Both Shirley and Peter were tired, though Varney himself seemed to have gained his second wind, or possibly his third, and he was showing no signs of flagging. Peter and Shirley walked arm in arm across the road to their house. "I don’t think I like Mr Varney Karnstein very much," said Shirley thoughtfully. "He’s far too ostentatious. A larger than life show off like that is bound to attract too much unwelcome attention, and we don’t need that kind of thing in our nice, quiet cul-de-sac."

"I agree," said Peter. "It’s bound to lead to trouble. I’ll discuss it with the others, of course. But I’m sure they’ll all feel the same way we do. None of us can afford to have outside people getting interested in what’s going on here. It’s far too dangerous. We need to stay under the radar for the safety of all of us."

Shirley sighed. "We’ll just have to take care of it ourselves," she said. "The others really don’t have the strength to deal with someone like Varney Karnstein."

"That’s OK," said Peter. "I’m sure we’ll manage. There’s a full moon the day after tomorrow."

"I thought it must be due sometime soon," said Shirley. "My armpits have been getting unbelievably shaggy for the last couple of days."

"We’ll go hunting immediately after we change over," said Peter, grimly.

Shirley licked her lips and nodded agreement. "I’m told that freshly killed vampires are very tasty," she said.

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