I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is One Night in a Vampire’s House. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Vampire. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Vampire. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So today is yet another vampire story. I told you: I’m obsessed with vampires!
It’s set in a world called Kundun. So Kundun is a fantasy world that I created myself for a series of novels that I have started writing. I really love fantasy novels and I was always really interested in the idea of making my own world. However, I didn’t get into it through the normal way.
I think most people read Tolkein and thought, “Oh my God, I want to make a world just like this.” For me it was a little different. I actually never read Tolkein. But I’ve always been a big language nerd and when I found out about conlanging, that’s when I really got interested in conworlding.
“Conlanging” is short for “constructing languages” and “conworlding” is short for “constructing worlds”. They are two big online communities that have quite a bit of overlap. So conlangers are people who make up their own artificial languages. Some are for serious purposes, like Esperanto, which is designed for international communication, whereas others are designed for artistic purposes. So a lot of people will create their own languages to use in a fantasy world for writing, for example.
And that’s what I first really got interested in. I’m not so deep into the other aspects of constructing worlds, because doing things like making accurate geography and topography and all of that takes a long time and it takes a lot of research, and I’m really more interested in characters and how the features of the world affect the story.
So designing Kundun, my own fantasy world, there are a lot of geographical and political elements that are not super clear because, well, if they’re not relevant or necessary to know to the story I’m writing right now, they can wait.
But there is a big conceit of the world, a big concept in the world, which has a huge effect on all the characters. So the world is split into Order versus Chaos. The humans are naturally Ordered and there are lots of magical creatures, such as orcs and elves and dragons, who are naturally Chaotic.
What does it mean to be Ordered or Chaotic? Well, the Ordered humans don’t have the ability of introspection. “Introspection” is that thing you do where you are aware of your own thoughts. So you can sort of think about what you’re thinking about, if that makes sense.
And the reason I had this idea of humans who couldn’t do this is because I heard about a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Development of the Bicameral Mind1, something like that. Anyway, I’ve not read the book because it sounds very complicated, but essentially, it’s this concept that our brains went through an evolution a few thousand years ago. Before this evolution we were not able to do introspection. We felt thoughts in our heads almost like commands from a god or some kind of spirit, and then at a certain point, maybe three or four thousand years ago, we gained the ability to reflect on our own thoughts.
It sounds like a really crazy theory, but it’s very interesting. So what the author did is he looked at a lot of old literature, historical works, and looked at how religion has changed over time, and he argues that the old type of religion where there is a huge pantheon of different gods, so there’s a collection of gods rather than just one true God, and the fact that people talked more about fate and things like that, maybe suggests that they had this different form of thought.
Another factor he talks about is civilisation. So there have been plenty of ancient civilisations, like in Egypt, the Actecs, so many, and he argued that they all reached a point where they could no longer sustain the society without the power of introspection, and that is why these empires and dynasties all collapsed and fell apart.
So it’s kind of a weird theory, and I’m sure if I read the book I would disagree with a lot of it, but I thought it was a really fascinating idea to use within fiction.
So this is why I have this idea of Order versus Chaos in my world. The humans are Ordered, so they do not have introspection, and the magical creatures, such as elves, are Chaotic, so they do have introspection.
But of course, humans can “know” Chaos. They can do this in two ways. One is that they mate with a magical creature. So they have sex with a magical creature. The other method is that they become a magical creature. So some creatures, like vampires for example, a human can turn into. Of course, not all of them, but there are some that they can turn into and through this process they know Chaos.
Within the world of Kundun the four main gods are the Times. They are Morning, Midday, Evening, and Midnight. I really fell in love with this idea that the times of the day could be gods. So that’s why I’ve done that. And I actually wrote a whole mythology about the four Times and how they came into being and I’m planning on presenting this later in the podcast, but I actually need to finalise some of the worldbuilding details. So I need to make sure it all makes sense and I don’t have to change anything later, before I show it to you.
OK, I’ll just quickly explain some words before we begin. So an “itch” is an uncomfortable sensation that you feel on your body where you really, really want to scratch it. You just need to scratch the itch.
There’s a phrase in the story “do your business”. This means to go to the toilet, but in the context I didn’t want the character to say, ‘I’m going to the toiilet.’ In the UK especially, we have loads of euphemisms around using the toilet.
So a euphemism is a phrase where you’re talking about something rude, but you don’t want to actually say it, so you use a phrase that means something a bit different but people understand what it really means.
A hop is a small jump like a rabbit or a frog makes.
A coven is a group of witches. So in this world, witches are magical creatures, and they form in covens. And you can also find covens of vampires.
Possession… Well, possession you probably know in the sense of owning something. So it can mean to own something. But in a magical context it means when a ghost or a spirit takes control of a person. So they live inside the person’s body and control what they do. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle’s diary possesses Ginny Weasley, for example.
Hunchbacked… So, a hunchback is a person who has a birth problem where they have a big lump in their back. So their back sticks out. Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a hunchback. You may also know the story by the name Notre Dame de Paris.
OK, that’s everything for now.
So, listen and enjoy!
One Night in a Vampire’s House
A small candle shone in every window, snake eyes in the dark night. Pelha wrapped her arms tightly around herself. It was cold in the old house.
‘It’s not truly haunted, is it?’
‘Depends on your definition of “haunted”. By the way, I have an itch behind my right ear.’
Pelha sighed and walked over, the rug creaking beneath her shoes. She grabbed the rabbit’s ear and began to scratch around.
‘Yes, good,’ he said. ‘You know, I think a vampire once lived here.’
‘Raui, you always do this!’
‘Either a vampire lived here, or that’s a wine stain.’
He gestured with his ear at the far corner of the rug. It was stained a deep red. Pelha pulled her hand away.
‘I didn’t say for you to stop.’
‘You didn’t have to point that out,’ she said.
She fell onto the couch behind the coffee table, which creaked loudly and made her jump.
‘It was probably just put there to frighten people,’ she said.
Raui didn’t respond. Pelha got up and went to one of the bookcases.
‘Can’t be a vampire,’ she said. ‘Half the books here are about how to kill them.’
‘Perhaps it was a vampire with a very poor sense of survival.’
Pelha snorted, and opened her mouth to tell Raui just how silly she thought his little joke was, when one of the candles by the window went out.
‘Raui, did you do that?’
‘Evidently not,’ the rabbit said, looking offended. ‘Do you think if I do my business in the fireplace an imp will jump out and bite me on the nose?’
But the rabbit was already hopping over, and once he had finished the business, the second candle went out.
‘This isn’t funny,’ Pelha muttered. She picked up a small glass orb from the table and held it tight. It was strangely warm. ‘They did mention a “coven” in the village. A coven is usually witches, right?’
That was why she’d initially been eager to go into the house. She was a novice spellcaster herself.
‘I guess it could’ve been a coven of v-vampires. But do you think this place is really…?’
‘Poorly looked after? It appears to be. Suppose we go to the kitchen and try to find some food?’
He began hopping towards the door, but then there was a strong gust of wind and it slammed loudly, putting out two lights with it. Pelha screamed.
‘Oh well, I suppose a vampire’s kitchen would be empty.’
‘Raui, this isn’t funny. This is far beyond anything those idiotic villagers could’ve prepared for us. I’m starting to think that they were really intending for us to get hurt.’
‘Starting to think? And I’m the one with the apple-sized brain.’
A chill passed through the air, and the last few candles went out. Pelha felt a hand touch her shoulder.
‘Something just touched me! I can’t stand this. We’re leaving.’
She ran to the door, stepping on Raui on the way and releasing a storm of swearwords that would’ve made the Bleeder herself blush.
The doorknob slipped like butter between her hands. It would not open.
She fell to the floor.
‘Raui. Your species… can’t possess buildings, can it?’
‘ “Possess” is a rude word. We prefer people to say “inhabit”. And no, we do not inhabit buildings.’
‘Then something else is in here with us.’
‘Or at a distance, using magic. Whatever the case, I suggest we obey and follow that light.’
Pelha turned around. On the far side of the room, where she was sure there had just been wall before, a light shone from a corridor.
‘I’m staying right here—ow! What did you bite me for?’
She held her finger to her lip and tasted her own blood, then waved it away, feeling sick.
‘You’re not scared, are you?’
Raui said nothing and ruffled his nose. She cautiously moved her hand towards him and found his comforting fur.
‘It will be worse if we stay here, I promise.’ His voice had lost its usual, mocking tone.
Pelha knew he was right. He was always infuriatingly right. Truthfully, she couldn’t run or hide. Without the approval of the villagers, they wouldn’t show her where to find the sungweed, and her master needed it before the full moon. If Pelha ruined the potion of the great spellcaster Mnus… That thought alone was enough to make her get to her feet.
She walked slowly through the thick darkness, and they reached the place where the wall opened onto the corridor. Her heart stopped beating and climbed up to her throat, as if it was going to jump out of her mouth.
‘It’s a flight of stairs,’ she said numbly.
The stairs curled into the depths of the house like intestines. The light was coming from a torch hung on the wall, which crackled quietly.
Raui rubbed against her leg and hopped ahead, before looking back at her. His eyes shone ruby red.
She wanted to wait there all night, wait for the morning to come. It felt like time had stood still, and until she went down those stairs she would be trapped forever in her own fears.
She looked behind her, to the windows. She could break one open with a book. They were too high up to jump out, but she could shout for help…
And then be laughed at and sent empty-handed out of the village. Her face flushed red just thinking about it. No, she wasn’t going to back down. She stepped forward.
The wood did not creak as she expected. It was covered in a thick layer of spiders’ webs that muffled all sounds. It felt like the webs were being spun inside her own ears. Everything—her heartbeat, the crackle of the torch, Raui’s squeaks—sounded muffled and distant.
Raui jumped a few steps ahead of her and disappeared into the blanket of webs.
They turned the corner, and the staircase descended into darkness below. Her feet moved one-two, one-two, down the steps.
Snow crunched beneath her feet. It was snow, wasn’t it? So why wasn’t she cold? As if in response to her thought, a chill wind blew towards her. She wrapped her cloak tighter around herself.
The hunchbacked man limped ahead of her. His cloak brushed the powdery snow. How she hated him. His neck wasn’t even worthy of being strangled, though she longed to.
Her companion turned briefly to face her, revealing that walnut of a face. It stood naked before her, disgusting and shameless. Why had she agreed to come here with this dirty Kivvel, who was so worryingly capable of speech? And it was so hot in this place. She longed to take off her clothes like the creature, but she had far too much dignity for that.
One more step and her feet met sand. She fell forward and slammed into a thick oak door. Around her was near complete darkness, though there was a suggestion of light behind her, high in the air, like a dying moon. It was neither hot nor cold.
She could hardly remember who she was. Memories of lives she’d never lived mixed in with her own, blurring her mind.
Raui did not respond. She was alone.
She stood for a while, leaning against the door. Behind her, there was nothing but sand, piled up, reaching higher than she could see.
Then the sounds began.
First, a low noise from above. She had to strain her ears to hear it. It was as if someone were lying on the ground, muttering to themselves in a deep voice. But the words were not human, nor from any creature that she knew. Then, there was a slow, steady drumbeat. It came from the other side of the door, shook through her body, her bones vibrating in time with it.
Her hands moved towards the door handle. When she touched it, a high-pitched scream sounded, cutting through her. She tried to let go of the door handle, but she couldn’t. It stuck to her hand. The scream continued, and unable to stop herself, she started to turn the handle.
The door opened onto darkness, broken by a white figure standing inches away from her. It was a skeleton, shining in the weak light. The scream came from inside it, and it started to move towards her.
‘No, no! Get away!’
The whispering from behind her grew louder, in time with the drumbeat: ‘Drink, drink, drink, drink…’
She tried to move back, but her legs were stuck in the sand. The skeleton reached out and touched her cheek. It was as hot as melted steel.
Pelha woke up with a jump. She was soaked in sweat, and above her, faint light reflected off the ceiling. She sat up. She was lying on the rug in the drawing room of the house, the dark red stain by her head. The torchlit corridor was gone, and the wall was back in its usual place. Raui hopped over to her side and rubbed up against her neck.
‘What happened?’ she asked, her voice hoarse.
‘Even if I told you I do not think you would understand.’
There was something comforting in that thought, and terrifying at the same time.
Through the wide windows of the house, Morning was making herself known. She pulled away the screen of witchcraft to reveal the real world of dust and decay. The images of the staircase kept flashing in Pelha’s mind, but after she fell against the door, she remembered nothing.
‘I feel like all the bones in her body have been taken out, moved around, and put back in,’ Pelha mumbled, as they walked out of the house.
‘Well, I have to say I’m very disappointed,’ said Raui. He hopped onto the icy garden path and shivered.
‘What do you mean?’
‘We’re still both alive, aren’t we? I thought it was going to be truly haunted.’
‘Raui, how can you say that? After—’
‘Believe me, things could’ve been far, far worse. You’ll get over the shock soon enough.’
Pelha wasn’t sure that she would. She felt very different inside. She knew she should be happy, because she had survived the night without harm. Mnus would be proud of her, or at least not disappointed.
But something still ate away inside of her. A strong hunger, for something that she couldn’t decide…
The sun stared down at them through the mist, like a one-eyed monster.
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