The Red

Drawing: Stylised vampire fangs with drops of blood. Caption reads: “The card showed vampire fangs with drops of blood.”

The Red short story by Iris Carden

Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.

It was Agent Harry Smythe’s night off.  Night off, because just as he could no longer work days, he could no longer do anything during the day.

He’d not known what to do with a night off.  In fact he’d actually asked the Countess Anastasia Arafami, what to do with a night off. 

The Countess, who owned the house where he and many other vampires lived, looked at him strangely.  “Harry,” she said. “You know my rules, and your boss’ rules.  Don’t feed on a human. Apart from that you are free to do whatever you like.  What did you do on nights off when you were human?”

Harry thought about it. He used to go out clubbing.  He could still do that.  He could enjoy music. He might even find someone who wanted to dance with him, or more.  Was he ready for a possible relationship? Not when he was living in the Countess’ house, afraid of what he might do.

As a precaution, he drank a pack of  0+, supplied by the blood bank, so that he would not get hungry while out. 

The club was exactly as he remembered it, except, with heightened senses, the music was louder, sweaty humans were smellier, the beer he could no longer drink smelled more of hops and malt, and people talked louder to be heard over the general wall of sound. Disappointingly, human heartbeats did not keep time with the music.

Harry decided the club was overwhelming.  He’d just go for a walk, or perhaps a fly.

As he was leaving, someone bumped into him. The man stepped back and Harry realised simultaneously that he was a vampire, and that he’d pressed something the size of a business card into his hand.

Outside, Harry looked at the card.  It was black, with a stylised picture of vampire fangs dripping blood.  There were no words on the card.

Harry re-entered the club, but could not find the vampire.

He returned to the Countess’ house, showed her the card and asked if she knew what it meant.

She looked at the card, went paler than her usual milk-white, and said. “They’re here.  I’ve run all across the world and they’re here.”  To Harry, she said, “This is the card of an organisation called The Red.  They are vampires who believe we are a superior race, and that feeding on humans is our right.  In my own home country I had established a community like this one here, where vampires could live in peace with humans, by only consuming blood harvested by blood banks, which they could not use because it was old or contained diseases that won’t harm us.  The Red saw me as a undermining everything they stood for.”

“I should tell Jo about this,” Harry said.  “This is something the HDU should definitely be aware of.”

“No! No, we will deal with it.  We vampires can police our own, just as I dealt with the vampire who turned you, we will deal with them. Jo Burns would wait to for them to commit a crime. She’s still a police officer at heart and wants evidence. We can act without hinderance.”

“But we don’t know how many of them there are, or if they’ve killed or will kill.  Jo needs to know this before it becomes a problem.”

“This is hard for you, Harry, but you must understand.  You have kept your human job, but you are not human.  Your loyalty must lie with your kind.”

“A part of me still is human, and I signed on for my job to protect humans. I’m going to tell Jo.”

Before the Countess could argue further, Harry changed into bat form and flew away, leaving his clothes to fall to the floor of the Countess’ office.

Senior Agent Jo Burns woke to a scratching on her bedroom window.  A bat was outside.

“Harry?” She asked, still half asleep.

The bat nodded, which was not a thing she’d ever seen a bat do before.

She opened the window, and Harry flew in.

Jo grabbed a dressing gown, and threw it on the bed, then went to the lounge room, while Harry returned to his human form.

Jo, in her pink fluffy winter pyjamas reflected that she’d never anticipated a junior agent being in her home, wearing her cat patterned dressing gown.

Harry told her the story.  Jo gave him a notebook and he drew the logo of The Red.

“Do you have clothes at the office?” Jo asked.  He nodded.

Jo went back to her room and changed, and drove to the HDU office, with Harry in the passenger seat.

Jo called Agent Marissa Tyler, and Trainee Agent Kate Murdoch, and asked them to come in as well.  Harry, now dressed in clothes he kept in his locker, told the story again.

“And the Countess really didn’t want you to report this?” Jo clarified.

“No.  It was like some kind of loyalty test.  I had to keep it quiet and help her hunt them down, instead of telling you.”

“Did you tell her where you saw this fang?”

“I just told her it was a club.  But it was the same club where I was bitten, where she rescued me, so she will probably guess.”

“Well, let’s see if we can beat her to finding him.” Jo said.  “Because I want information.  I want to know how many of them there are and just what a danger they are to the humans in this city.”

They went to the club. Harry showed them where the vampire bumped into him. 

Jo looked at Kate, hopefully.  

“You’re kidding? With this many scents?” Kate asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know how the world smells to you.  If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.  We’ll just spread out and look.”

“Wait.  I can smell two vampires.  One’s Harry, one went off this way.” Kate led the way into the club, across the dance floor, and out another door into a back alley.  She continued walking, finally stopping at a hotel.  “He’s gone in, and not come out.” 

They entered the hotel, and Kate led them to a lift.  

“How do we deal with this?” Harry asked?

“We stop on every floor,” Jo answered.

On the ninth floor, Kate picked up the scent again, and led them to a room.

Jo knocked.

A man answered.

“That’s him,” Harry said.

“You didn’t need to bring all your friends,” the vampire said. “But do come in, all of you.”

They entered the room.

“What’s your name?” Jo asked.

“Call me Alexander.  And you are the head of the Human Defence Unit, Senior Agent Burns, if I’m not mistaken.”

“You’re well informed,” Jo said.

“I’ve been following your young friend.  I needed to contact you, but I thought you might react badly to a strange vampire simply approaching you.”

“You thought right.  I’ve been informed you’re part of an organisation that believes vampires should be free to hunt.  That makes you a threat to my city.”

“Your city?” He laughed.  “You’ve been misinformed. I am here to warn you about a vampire who is turning your citizens under your nose, as she turned me, and hundreds of others.  If she is not stopped you will hardly have any humans to defend.”

“Who is she?” Harry asked.

“You should know.  She turned you.”

“No, the fang who turned me is dead.  Countess Anastasia Arafami killed her.”

“You remember that, do you?”

“I don’t remember it,” Harry was now hesitant. “The Countess told me.”

“Of course the Countess told you.  She told me something similar.  She told my friends similar things as well.  Then we caught her in the act of turning another person we knew.  We tried to kill her, but she is old and strong. Only three of us survived.  We followed her around the world.  We called ourselves The Red, a reminder of the blood we’re forced to drink.  We have always avoided human blood, feeding from livestock instead.  We caught up with her in Paris a year ago, I was the only one of my group to survive.”

“I know the Countess. She is the one I negotiated a deal with, that vampires in this city wouldn’t feed on humans, and we would leave them alone.”

“Vampires in this city.  Tell me, were there vampires here before she arrived? Has the community in her house been growing?”

“Well, yes, we’re getting more vampires all the time,” Harry began, “but… oh…”

“Oh, indeed,” Jo said. “Now we have a problem of who to believe. We need evidence. In the meantime, I think I would feel better if you were in custody.”

Alexander didn’t argue or fight, and was soon locked in a cell.  As the agents were leaving him, he called Harry back.

“Harry,” he said.  “There is so much folklore about people like us. Stories such as sunlight will kill us, but I’m sure you’ve found out that it just causes an intense sunburn very quickly.  So I wonder, what do you think of the story that if the vampire who turned you is killed, you can become human again?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said.  “I don’t think anything of it.”

“Maybe you should. I think about it all the time.”

At the Countess’ house, they found signs she had packed and left quickly.  The other resident vampires appeared to have gone with her.  There was blood poured all around the house.

“What can you smell?” Jo asked Kate.

“Blood, just blood,” Kate answered. “It’s everywhere.”

The blood fridge in the kitchen had been emptied and the contents of numerous pouches spread around the whole house. 

“Sorry, I told her Kate was a wolf.  I thought I could trust her,” Harry said.

“We will put an alert out for police to be on the look out for her, and alert Border Force as well.” Jo said.  “And I guess we release Alexander. There’s no point in holding him.”

“You trusted her, too, didn’t you?” Harry asked quietly.

“I always knew she’d follow her own interests.  I just made the mistake of thinking I knew what those interests were.”

Human Defence Unit Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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