FICTION (May 2019)




(Master’s in English candidate, University of York)

SHE stared at her own reflection in the mirror, the crowds chanting her name providing the soundtrack as she wondered if they would notice. Her skin was definitely paler and her eyes darker. Maybe the tabloids would say she had a drug problem. She looked thinner in the face as well, which would definitely add to the story. Her bright blonde hair tumbled over her shoulders in unkempt waves, and she rummaged through her makeup bag for her lucky red lipstick.

A stage hand poked his head around the door, headset resting around his long neck, with her five minute call. His arms were wrapped tightly around a blood red clipboard as he ticked off things that needed doing. She put down the lipstick for a second, as he asked if she wanted anything to drink before going on stage. She stood and turned to face him, taking in his long slender frame and face flushed from the pre-show excitement. She was thirsty.

Five minutes later, Rhiannon appeared onstage, her blood red lips almost kissing the microphone as the band launched into the opening number. She twirled her way around the stage in her skin tight black jeans and black bandeau top which peeked out from underneath her leather jacket. The crowd went wild as she lunged towards them seductively, and reached out so they could say that they had brushed hands with the legendary pop star. Almost every one of them was wearing her overpriced T-Shirts that they were selling out front, and guys are girls alike had shown up in her trademark red lipstick.

When she took a break mid-set to have a drink and get changed, the atmosphere backstage was frantic.
‘What’s going on? Is there a problem?’ Rhiannon demanded answers as a team of helpers stripped her of her skinny jeans and pulled her into a sparkly mini dress.
‘It’s the stage hand Robbie. He’s just ditched for some reason so we’re all a bit stressed,’ one of the helpers replied, dusting a touch up of makeup on Rhiannon’s nose.
‘Huh. I saw him just before the show for my five minute call,’ Rhiannon said nonchalantly, as the girls zipped up her dress and offered her a sip of water through a straw.
‘You must have been the last one then,’ the girl responded. ‘He’s not been seen since.’
‘The last thing we need is lazy nobodies like him around here,’ Rhiannon asserted, the girls all nodding in agreement as they ushered her back on stage.

The crowd screamed as she reappeared, throwing her arms out and signalling to the band to start up the next song. She was completely at home under the spotlight, thriving on the crowd’s energy. She didn’t think about Robbie, or the fact that she’d left his body in the dumpster out back after draining him completely of his blood. She lived in the moment, taking in every single beat of every song, every fan screaming her name, every second that she got to spend performing her heart out on that stage.


Her assistant burst into her room rather rudely the next morning sounding far too chirpy.
‘Good morning sunshine!’ Hannah sang, making her way to the window to open the curtains.
‘No!’ Rhiannon exclaimed, retreating under the covers. Hannah’s hand stopped, brushing the edge of the curtain.
‘Too many celebratory drinks last night?’ she asked, making her way over to Rhiannon’s bed and perching on the edge.
‘Something like that,’ Rhiannon groaned, sitting-up, waiting to hear her itinerary for the day. She only half listened to what Hannah was saying as she thought back to the night before. Had she really killed somebody? She wondered if anybody had really noticed yet that he was missing. She wondered if they would look for him, or, even worse, if they would find him. The dumpster wasn’t the most enlightened choice of hiding place, so she swore to herself she would go back that night and retrieve him. She had no idea what she would do with the body then. Maybe she should have put these questions to the seductive vampire who had changed her two nights ago, promising that being young forever would only help her career.

She thought back to how he had been waiting by the stage door after her show, offering to give her a boost. At first she thought he meant drugs, so she made a point of ignoring him, but he caught up with her in the VIP section of her favourite club with a glass of champagne and a proposal to help rejuvenate her career. He was sketchy with the details at first, instead luring her back to his hotel room where he pinned her to the bed and made her a monster.

‘So, you ready?’ Hannah asked, having clearly finished reading through her agenda. Rhiannon snapped back to reality.
‘You weren’t listening were you.’ Hannah said, not actually asking.
‘Well you shouldn’t try to talk me through these things when I haven’t had my coffee yet,’ Rhiannon snapped back.
‘I’ll have your usual waiting for you in the limo. We’ll go over this on our way to your Glamour magazine interview.’
‘Fine!’ Rhiannon sighed melodramatically, climbing out of her king-sized bed and crossing the room to her walk-in wardrobe. Suddenly it occurred to her that this interview meant going outside. Outside meant LA weather. LA weather meant sun.

‘Can’t the reporter come here for the interview?’
‘What about the photoshoot?’
‘Can we do that here too?’
‘You know you can’t move an album signing to your house as well.’ Hannah raised her eyebrows at her client.

Rhiannon cursed silently, trying desperately to think of a plan. Running her hands through her wardrobe, she sighed and swallowed deeply.
‘Fine, I’ll be ready to go in an hour.’ She gave in.
‘You have thirty minutes.’ Hannah called back in response as she left Rhiannon alone in her room.


Forty-five minutes later Rhiannon emerged from her room in knee-high boots over her skinny jeans, a turtleneck top and a hooded jacket, and a Lakers baseball cap. The whole look was topped off with the biggest pair of sunglasses she owned.
‘Are you going for the over-obviously undercover look or something?’ Hannah asked, questioning the look.
‘I thought it was more secret agent undercover chic.’ Rhiannon, took a look at herself in the floor length mirror. It was definitely a choice but she could see no other option.

She made it to the Limo intact, hands buried deep in her pockets. She relaxed a little on the drive to Glamour’s office, feeling like her plan might actually work. She would stay inside as much as possible, and just cover up when she needed to go outside. It was fool-proof.

The interview went by without a hitch, with Rhiannon answering questions on her career so far, and the possibility of new music, before the reporter moved on to asking about her fashion and beauty tips.
‘You’re almost thirty but you don’t look a day over twenty-two. What’s your secret?’
‘It’s all in the skincare routine,’ Rhiannon replied confidently, not giving away the real reason that she was going to stay young forever. ‘Moisturizer is my favourite accessory.’ She laughed, Hannah chuckling along with her. The reporter let out the fakest laugh ever in approval, and wrapped up the interview.

After that Rhiannon was taken through to hair and makeup to prepare for the photoshoot. The stylists barely spoke to her as they brushed out her hair, and attempted to cover up her paleness with a ridiculous amount of bronzer. She hummed to herself absent-mindedly, not really paying attention to their mindless gossip until a name stood out in their conversation.

‘Are you talking about Robbie the stage-hand guy?’ she asked, trying to seem cool about it.
‘Yeah, his body was found in a dumpster this morning.’ The makeup artist replied.
‘It’s horrible,’ the hair stylist added.
‘That’s awful,’ Rhiannon responded, trying to stop her voice from shaking. ‘He was working at my show last night.’
‘Oh yeah!’ the hair stylist exclaimed. ‘It was the dumpster out the back of the venue that he was found in. He went missing just before the show.’

Rhiannon nodded, playing along with the story. ‘He did leave early. I assumed he was ill or something.’
‘Looks like he never really left. Police are saying he was completely drained of blood, must have been a pretty nasty stabbing,’ the makeup artist continued, not seeming sad about it at all.
‘He wasn’t stabbed though,’ the hair stylist interjected. ‘I heard from Laura that there was no stab wound.’
‘How does Laura know that?’ the makeup artist asked
‘Her boyfriend works at LAPD.’
‘Oh yeah – Lars, right?’
‘No, she broke up with Lars. She’s dating his supervisor Vince now.’
‘Good for her, I never liked Lars.’
‘You were so jealous, I bet you’re glad he’s single again!’

The conversation had descended into petty gossip again. Rhiannon tried to control her breathing so she wouldn’t give anything away. She would probably be called in as a witness since she had been the last one to see him, but she was sure the police wouldn’t actually suspect her of murder. They’d probably come to the conclusion that he was killed by some heroin addict or something. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She went through the outfits that Glamour has selected for her and picket out a dark red jumpsuit. She quite liked the vintage, industrial vibe of it.

The shoot lasted until lunchtime, going through several outfit changes and touch ups, and nobody mentioned Robbie again. Rhiannon breathed a sigh of relief as she made it back to the limo unscathed, having survived the morning. The whole vampire deal was turning out to be a lot more complicated than she had thought it would be, but she was pretty determined to make it work. She had to make it work for her career. There was no way that the legendary Rhiannon was ever becoming a has-been.


The CD signing was a lot more complicated. The record store was bright and airy and she had to throw a minor diva tantrum in order to have the signing table moved into a dark shadowy corner of the store. As she set herself up, allowing herself to remove the glasses and hat, and brushing her long curly blonde hair out, she could hear Hannah apologising profusely to the organisers.
‘She’s just feeling a little hungover today, I’m so sorry. She’s not usually like this.’ Hannah babbled, following the clearly upset event manager to the door to let in the long queue of waiting fans. She wasn’t in the mood to be bubbly and friendly, but she soldiered through the signing with the fakest smile ever plastered on her face. Having been famous since she was a teenager, she was quite good at making it through these events, even if she really wasn’t in the mood.

‘Please tell me I’m done now.’ Rhiannon begged Hannah, as they packed up to leave after three hours of non-stop signing.
‘Not quite,’ Hannah sighed apologetically. ‘I’m afraid we’ve had a last-minute addition to the schedule.’
‘Oh?’ Rhiannon knew what Hannah was going to say.
‘We need to make a discreet visit to LAPD. I assume you’ve heard about Robert Graham’s unfortunate murder by now?’
‘I’d heard something. Why do they need to see me?’ Rhiannon feigned ignorance.
‘They think you might have been the last person to see him,’ Hannah replied ‘They don’t suspect you of course, but they do want a statement.’
‘Of course.’ Rhiannon mumbled, climbing into the car.


Luckily, due to LA traffic, it was dark by the time they made it to the Police Department, so Rhiannon left her sunglasses and hat in the car. She and Hannah were led into separate interview rooms to give their respective statements. It was a female officer, by the name of Steinbeck, who sat in the seat opposite Rhiannon with ever-so-slightly star-struck eyes. Rhiannon told the story that Robbie had been feeling unwell when she saw him for her five minute call, and she had suggested he get some air. When she found out he had left early she assumed he had gone home ill. She hadn’t seen anything else because she had been on stage. She tried to sound as confident as possible as Sergeant Steinbeck asked her questions about her version of events, finishing by asking if she could have an autograph ‘for her daughter’. Rhiannon obliged, before being led back out to the limo and thanked for her cooperation.

Once the car had dropped her off at home, and she was alone, she breathed a sigh of relief. The house was big and empty, but being alone didn’t scare her. What scared her was that she wasn’t alone. She could see his figure standing on the landing watching her in the darkness as she made her way up the grand staircase to come face to face with her creator.
‘You’ve been reckless,’ he purred, walking towards her.
‘I was thirsty,’ she confessed, her voice shaking in his presence.
‘Are you thirsty now?’ he asked, running his finger down her cheek. She stood inhumanly still, only nodding very slightly. A twisted smile spread across his face as he took Rhiannon’s hand and led her outside where a Harley was waiting to carry them across town. He knew where he was going, and he quickly found two victims walking around the dodgier end of town. They were prostitutes, and Rhiannon guessed they were common targets for a vampire. Strangers, who were probably very alone in the world. They were common targets for serial killers too. She gulped realising that was what she had to become. Was eternal youth, fame, and success worth it? She wasn’t sure.

Drinking helped clear her mind. She felt immediately stronger and more focused for it. She let herself breathe and relax a little as she remounted her creator’s Harley and they moved onto their next stop. A butcher’s.
‘It’s not as good as human blood, but it can keep you going in-between feeding,’ he explained, as they packed a rucksack full of packets of blood. ‘I don’t need you being a liability now.’ He turned to her, his face uncomfortably close. She didn’t resist him when he kissed her, but she didn’t reciprocate either. He was powerful and scary, and she wasn’t going to do anything to make him angry. He laughed, knowing that he had her entirely under his control.

‘I love that you’re afraid,’ he hissed, taking her hand and helping her onto the back of the bike. She said nothing, wrapping her arms around his waist and hiding her head in his shoulder as he revved the engine and drove them back through the midnight streets. She didn’t want to see how fast he was going, knowing that this was dangerous for the living. If she looked it would confirm that she was really dead and she didn’t want to confront that reality just yet. He wiped out in her driveway, slamming the brakes and throwing them both to the floor. She wondered if a crash like that might have killed her before, noticing that the gravel didn’t even pierce her porcelain skin. The bike was totalled. She didn’t breathe. She was dead. He smiled at her like the Cheshire Cat watching her confront her reality.

‘What have you done to me?’ she asked, a single tear rolling down her cheek. On her knees in her driveway, she looked down at her bloodstained clothes and screamed. ‘What have you done to me?’

He just laughed maniacally, watching her break down. This was his favourite game. She was on the verge of becoming irrelevant and he had offered her a way out. A way to escape age and obscurity, without using Botox. She was not his first victim and she certainly would not be his last. He trafficked in the business of Hollywood divas – maybe she had been able to resist the sex and drugs, but she was addicted to fame.

He couldn’t have her making a scene just yet. He grabbed Rhiannon by her wrist and dragged her inside, unbothered by her cries and her attempts to resist. She belonged to him now and she would do exactly as he told her to.

The next day she fired Hannah. She fired everyone who worked for her, and he became her new manager. Rhiannon spent her days locked inside her mansion, walking the empty halls, never alone. He wrote songs for her and she recorded them, scared of what he might do if she ever said no to him. The tabloids said she was on drugs and he sent her to rehab. She wasn’t on drugs, but the public love a recovering addict and he said a mental breakdown would keep her ‘relevant’. At night he took her out to feed and watched, slightly aroused by the sight of her stalking her prey. Feeding was the only thing that made her relax anymore. It became the part of her day she looked forward to because only then did she feel in control. She stalked her prey alone, dominating her targets completely.

Rhiannon’s next album went straight to number one and he made sure she smiled her way through a packed press tour filled with TV interviews, magazine covers, and YouTube collaborations. She became a puppet and he was the one pulling the strings. The police dropped the Robert Graham case and she was never linked to the increasing number of prostitutes and homeless people who were going missing in LA. He had made sure of it.

But there was nothing he could do about her little sunlight problem, that press and fans alike were starting to notice. Why was she skipping red carpets and spending all day at home? With the album released, he couldn’t use the ‘recording new music’ excuse for why she was so rarely seen. She was becoming increasingly withdrawn as far as the public were concerned. No amount of late night talk show appearances seemed to fix that.

Behind closed doors she became withdrawn as well. She never spoke to the stylists anymore. She never went out with the band or spent time with her celebrity friends. She isolated herself from everybody she knew, becoming more and more like the prey she stalked. Was her situation really much different? She felt as though she had sold her body for fame and fortune, and it definitely wasn’t worth it.

She stopped being scared of him, instead feeling numb when he caressed her cheek and kissed her. She didn’t even care how often he crashed the motorbike on the drive home, sending her flying across the road like a lifeless doll.

It didn’t bother her anymore that he stood in the corner of her room and watched her undress every night before she slept, or that he was still in exactly the same place in the morning. Nothing hurt anymore, because she was dead.

‘Rhiannon,’ he would purr at night as he sipped pig’s blood from one of her crystal champagne glasses, reclining in a decadent armchair as they watched her play the laughing, fun popstar in some viral late night segment on TV. She sat on the floor by his feet like some kind of animal, and he ran his fingers through her hair as he spoke.

‘Rhiannon, you really should smile more,’ he said. He set down his glass and tightened his grasp on her hair pulling her head back and leaning forward until his lips brushed against her ear. She didn’t flinch, instead keeping her eyes locked on the TV screen, watching herself play a part that she didn’t even recognise.

‘Smile for me Rhiannon,’ he demanded. Usually she would oblige, but months and months of his abuse had taken its toll on her and her face remained motionless, as if it was carved out of stone. She was not afraid. He pulled her hair harder. ‘Smile for me,’ he growled. When she disobeyed him a second time, he pushed her to the floor pouncing on top of her and pinning her to the ground. His eyes were hungry and she knew then that she had made him angry. Now she was afraid. Through all of his abuse, he had always drawn a line: he would kiss her and control her but he would never ever touch her. It was something she had feared at first, but she soon realised he had no interest in forcing her hand sexually. She had been wrong. It was her punishment.

Tears streamed down her face as she waited for it to be over. She knew there was no use trying to fight him. He was so much stronger than she was, and he always got exactly what he wanted. She never disobeyed him again after that, but it seemed that now the line had been crossed he was not going back. Instead of watching her from the corner of her room, he would creep into bed next to her and treat her like his own personal plaything until he got tired. There was nothing she could do.


When the Vampire Hunter finally came for her, she didn’t try to run or hide. She didn’t fight back. Bursting into her home wielding crosses and stakes and holy water, The Vampire Hunter had come for her because she was the monster whilst her creator fled the one person in the world who seemed to frighten him. He got away, and she was left to suffer a painful death. The Vampire Hunter didn’t know or care about the truth. Rhiannon didn’t care either. Death was a welcome ending to her story.

The tabloids said she had overdosed on drugs. So many washed up popstars die that way that nobody ever questioned it. She had been to rehab after all – a relapse wasn’t entirely unbelievable. Celebrities who hadn’t spoken to her in months, or even years, tweeted about how much she would be missed as if they had been there for her… as if they had known her. Her music briefly spiked in the charts, before descending into obscurity. Nobody ever knew the truth about Rhiannon. Nobody ever asked.




Student-Writers at Work – H.D. HURWORTH

WE continue our series Student-Writers at Work by hearing from H.D. HURWORTH – pen name of HELENA SENIOR, currently undertaking a master’s in English at the University of York, England.

‘I’VE enjoyed writing my whole life; I always loved coming up with stories and poems at school and creative writing quickly became one of my greatest strengths. I especially enjoy writing fiction because I love the process of creating characters and taking those characters on a journey.

I wrote ‘Rhiannon’ kind of on a whim. I had this image in my mind of a pop-star-turned-vampire looking at herself in the mirror, and the story came from that. I feel very passionately about the Me Too movement stories so I decided to use vampirism as a metaphor for the assault that too many women have faced. ‘Rhiannon’ might be a work of fiction, but the torment she goes through is based on something very real and completely horrific.

I love Angela Carter’s work- I studied The Bloody Chamber at A Level and it really resonated with me and changed the way I think about my writing, especially when I’m writing short stories. I’m also a huge fan of fin-de-siecle Gothic, so I’m definitely influenced by Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and one of my favourite novella’s The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, and Susan Hill are also huge influences as female writers of the Gothic, and E. Nesbit’s ghost stories are criminally underrated.

I’m studying for an MA (by research) in English at the University of York. I love the freedom of doing a research degree to really focus on what interests me, and I’m really enjoying writing my thesis on Yorkshire in the Gothic Imagination. It’s a fantastic backdrop for so many Gothic novels and full of so many ghost stories. It’s great inspiration both academically and creatively. Even though I grew up in the Midlands, I was born in York and it’s always been my home.

Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be an author, and that hasn’t changed. Even though I will be training as a teacher next year, I want to continue writing short stories and working to get them published. I’m also in the process of writing my first novel.’

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