this page is an excerpt from a short story I'm writing. As yet, I
don't have a real title.
faint smell of decay drifted up the tunnel to where McGee stood and
made his nose twitch in revulsion. If he were right about this
place a foul smell was the least of his worries. His flashlight
cut into the darkness for a few hundred feet, beyond that was
midnight. Swallowing deeply he made a mental inventory of the
paraphernalia in the small duffel griped in his left hand: cross, holy
water, (He wondered if way he obtained the water would somehow lessen
its power, after all he had more or less stolen it from St. Francis')
garlic, hammer and the handle of a solid ash Louisville Slugger cut off
about a foot long and whittled to a needle point. Yes, he had
everything. Now all that remained was to find the courage to go
through with his plan, another deep swallow and a then a step
forward. His foot felt like lead and his heart was pounding so
hard that he thought it would burst. He raised the other foot and
stepped again. He stopped; his whole body trembled. Closing
his eyes he fought to regain his senses. He must be mad to go
into the monster's lair after it. Up in the daylight he was safe,
but down there it was always night, and night was its time. Night
was when it moved like a shadow, and had the strength and ferocity of a
lion. How could he, with a puny stick and some talismans, kill a
thing that had been undead for centuries? But if he did not try
he knew he would not live to see another sunrise, this it had sworn
when last they met. He must go on. Either he would die
fighting today or he would die tonight. This way there was a
chance, however small, that he may prevail. With his courage
braced up by the certainty of his fate he moved forward. A
calmness came over him. It came from knowing death was so near
and unavoidable. After all a dead man has nothing to lose. As he
moved forward loose stones on the floor of the shaft crunched under his
feet. He wondered if it could hear as it lay resting, or maybe it
never rested, but merely hid from the day. At this thought the
fear began to rise again. Reaching into his shirt he grasped the
small gold crucifix that hung around his neck. The feel of it
brought back calmness. It had been his mother's. He could
recall in vivid detail its thread fine chain glistening at her neck,
22kt gold made in Spain. She was gone now, gone for years, but
for a moment he felt her nearby. He thought, you always said if
ever I needed you, you'd be there. Well, by God, I need you now
more than ever. He carefully withdrew his hand and placed the
delicate thing against his shirt. Better on the outside where it
can see it he thought. The garlic that he had crushed and rubbed
on his skin especially his neck stunk, but even that could not fully
mask the smell of rot that grew stronger now that he was in the mine.
How had it come to this? Why was he walking down this into pit to his death or worse? He thought back to that early morning in July. The birds outside his window had sung a joyous aria to the sunlight as it washed into the breakfast nook. He recalled the coffee's rich aroma and smooth texture. How simple and straightforward life was then. He wondered if it would ever be again. He knew it would never be as happy.
McGee heard the phone ring, set his mug on the table and walked across the kitchen.
“Hullo, McGee's place,” he said into the receiver of the wall mounted phone.
“Jim?” replied the voice on the other end of the line. “Jim McGee?”
“Yeah, this is Jim. Who's this?”
“It's Ellie, Ellie Schuster.”
There was a long pause then McGee said, ”How've you been Ellie? It's been a while, hell of a long while.”
“Good Jim. It has been a long while. It's good to hear your voice again.”
“Good to hear yours too. So, what's up Ellie? Where ya calling from?”
“You’re in town?”
“Can't a girl come home Jim?”
“Yeah, I guess if she really wants to she can.”
“Can we get together and talk?”
“Yea, sure...ahh...remember the diner?”
“How could I forget?”
“I'll meet you there in an hour.”
“... Jim ... thanks.”
“Just thanks, see you in an hour.”
“Yeah, see you then.”
As Jim hung up the phone, mixed emotions filled him; after years of trying he had about managed to talk himself into believing that Ellie was only a name from his past. Now she was back.
McGee entered Gadwaski's Coffee Shoppe to the sound of a small brass bell over the door. It greeted every patron of the establishment referred to by the locals as “The Diner”. He scanned the room. It was an undistinguished little eatery decorated in Early American tacky and worn and fraying at the edges, but it was clean and possessed one other point in its favor; Mrs. Gadwaski was an excellent cook. Mrs. 'G' was at her usual place at the grill behind the Formica topped counter that separated it from the body of the room. She turned her massive bulk with surprising grace at the sound of the bell. A smile lit her face.
“Hi Jim, long time no see.”
“Hi Mrs. 'G',” Said Jim as he continued to scan the room.
“If you’re lookin' for Ellie she's in the ladies room. Probably touchin' up her make-up before she sees you,”
A moment later a door at the far end of the diner opened and through it stepped a woman in her early thirties. She was blonde with a pretty face and a good figure. McGee thought how she looked like Ellie's mother had when he and Ellie had been lovers, not quite as old but ...the thought gripped him, had it really been so long?
“Hi Jim,” spoke the woman.
“Ellie?” said McGee.
Yes Jim, it's me.”
After the meeting at the diner he and Ellie picked up where they had left off a decade earlier hardly missing a beat. When he asked what had brought her back she would change the subject or say she got homesick.
Ellie had changed, gone was the girl who needed her space. It seemed this time that she might be content to settle down. Then one day in mid September while at Jim’s house, she said she would be leaving Silverton. On the surface she seemed cold and distant but McGee knew her well enough that inside she was scared. In fact scared didn't begin to describe it; she was terrified of something. Not of commitment this time, there was something else.
“What do you mean your leaving Silverton?” asked McGee.
“I don't want to get in to it Jim. Coming home was just a mistake. I should never have seen you again. All I've ever done is hurt you Jim. I'm sorry.”
“What do you mean a mistake? Just the other day you told me how happy you were,“ responded McGee.
“What I mean is I don't love you Jim, and I never should have lead you on.” As Ellie spoke it was all she could do to hold back tears.
“Ellie don't lie to me. You never lied to me before don't start now. I know you, and you love me more now than you ever have. What's really wrong?”
“I just told you Jim, I don't love you, that's all there is to it.”
“Ellie your scared of something. You’re more than scared your terrified. What is it? Who's trying to hurt you?”
“You don't want to know Jim. I'm lost; just let me go for your own sake. God I don't want to get you involved in this.”
“But I am involved. I love you, I've always loved you Ellie and I'll be damned if I'll lose you again.”
“You'll be damned if you try to hold on. For God's sake let me go Jim. I'm already damned and I don't want to drag you down with me.”
As she spoke her voice rose to a hysterical shriek. At the end of this last statement she collapsed to her knees as agonized sobs wracked her body. McGee got down on his knees to comfort her. They stayed in this position for what seemed like forever. The two of them on the floor, Ellie's face buried in McGee's shoulder as she sobbed out her soul, his arms around her holding her tightly as tears welled in his eyes. How his soul ached to see her in such pain. Finally Ellie could sob no more. Gently McGee lifted her face. Her eyes, red rimmed, were dull and without expression.
“Ellie, what's wrong?” McGee asked gently.
Her voice was flat and lifeless. The matter-of-factness of her tone disturbed McGee.
“Jim I don't know how to tell you. You'll think I'm crazy, but it's all true. Someone has been trying to find me ... to kill me. I've been on the run for almost a year now. I thought I lost him before I came here, but he's found me.”
“Who's trying to kill you?” McGee demanded, as gently yet firmly as his shock would allow,
“You won't believe me”
“Tell me,” pressed McGee.
“A vampire. I know what you’re thinking; I've lost my mind. Maybe I have, but he does exist and he wants me undead. God help me... God forgive me.”
“Ellie, I think you had better start at the beginning. Now what's all this about a vampire.”
Over the next hour-and-a-half Ellie told a tale that shocked McGee to his depths. She had become involved with a perverse crowd in Seattle that fancied themselves vampires. Their life-style centered on bizarre rituals and large amounts of drugs, especially hallucinogens. Over two years she had sunk to depravity. She had gone so far as to have drunk human blood and even participated in a grave robbing. A man from somewhere in Eastern Europe presided over some of the rituals. His name was Alex Romesescu.
Alex Romesescu was of middle years with a heavy mustache and deep set eyes that could peer into the darkest corners of your soul. His knowledge of the occult was extensive as was his charisma. Within a few weeks of his arrival he had become the group's leader and High Priest. Though Ellie sensed something profoundly dangerous about him, he possessed an animal sensuality that she found hard to resist. Romesescu also found her attractive. He had shown an interest in her from the night of the High Sabbath. It was she he honored to be first to drink the consecrated blood. The ceremony lasted nearly until dawn. When it was over Romesescu said he must leave, but that he would visit her in her dreams. When she finally came down enough from the drugs to sleep she had a strange dream, most of which she could not remember. The one thing she could recall was his face with its deep-set eyes burning into her soul. She awoke to find herself soaked with sweat and thoroughly aroused. She also awoke with a scream caught in her throat and the hair raised on the back of her neck. It was from this moment that she began to realize just how dangerous he was. For the next few days following her dream she avoided her friends until Cindy, one of her closest friends and fellow cult member, came to visit. Cindy was nearly ten years younger then Ellie and looked even younger. She had an air of child-like innocence that was accented by her pale strawberry blonde hair and freckles that made Ellie want to protect her the way one might a kid sister.
“Ellie we've been worried, you haven't been around. What's up?” Cindy inquired.
“I haven't felt too well the last couple of days, nothing serious, just too much dope I think.”
“Yeah; That'll get ya sometimes.”
“So Cindy, What have you been up to?” asked Ellie trying to be nonchalant.
“Oh wow! The stuff that's gone on the last few days. Me and Alex been having a thing, if you know what I mean. He's really something.”
“Yeah, I imagine he is.”
“You don't know the half of it....” at this point Cindy released a huge sob.
“Ellie I'm scared. Alex isn't like the rest of us, he's not playing at this, he's the real thing. He really is a vampire. Look at my neck,” Cindy then removed the scarf she had tied around her neck to reveal two small puncture wounds.
“He did this last night. He'll finish it tonight then I'll be like him. You know how we always thought it would be so cool; it's not. When he did this I saw into his soul, it's a dark and cold place, as dark and cold as hell. After tonight I'll be that way too and I can't not go to him, I can't run. When he wakes in a little while he'll call me and I'll go. I won't be able to say no. It was all I could do to warn you--he wants you and if you don't run, run far and fast he'll have you. I have to go now.” Cindy said as she got up and headed for the door.
“Wait! We can fight this. We can run.”
“No, you can run. It's too late for me. He's waking; if I don't leave he'll get us both. Run Ellie, run tonight, run now, run far and fast and don't stop running, it's your only hope. Good-bye Ellie”
With this last statement Cindy turned and ran through the door. Ellie could hear her friend cry as she ran down the stairs and out the door of the building. Ellie stood in shock for several minutes then suddenly as if someone had thrown a switch she raced around her apartment gathering up clothes, money and a few personal belongings and within fifteen minutes was in her car and on the road. That was nearly a year ago. Ellie had run for over eight months, never staying in one place more then a few weeks. When she had come to Silverton she was tired and broke and was beginning to feel her health go. She also hoped that Romesescu had grown bored with the chase and would find some other victim. This was not the case.
McGee asked, “How do you know he's here?”
“I had the dream again. I haven't had it since I ran, not that dream. He's here. I know it. I have to run.”
“Where will you go? You can't run the rest of your life.”
“If I don't run there'll be no rest of my life.”
“Ellie we can fight this thing. He hasn't bled you yet. You still have your own will. We can kill it. If you keep running he'll eventually get you. The only way to save yourself is to make a stand.”
“Do I have my own will? I've drunk unholy blood with him. There's a bond between us. Why do you think he's after me? How do you think he found me? It's unholy calling to unholy, unclean to unclean. I'm damned.”
“Stop it! You're not damned, or unholy, and you're not dead. And if we work together you'll stay that way. I think we'd better see Father Murphy at St. Francis. He's a good man and I think we're going to need him”
“I can't go into a church, not after what I've done.”
“Have you tried?”
“Then I think it's time.”
McGee held Ellie's hand tightly as they climbed the granite steps of the church. As McGee opened the massive oak door a sudden gust of wind blew up.
“You see God doesn't want me in there,” said Ellie.
“Ellie, the wind was pushing us in not out. I think we really better go in.”
Once inside they found Father Murphy, a young priest about thirty, with red hair and a face like a map of Ireland, praying in a side chapel. They asked if he could hear their confessions. Ellie went first. A little over an hour latter she came out and went to the altar to pray. Father Murphy approached McGee.
“Jim, I'd like to talk to you for a minute about Ellie.”
“I thought you would,” replied McGee.
“Jim, Ellie needs help urgently, She's obviously delusional. I think the drugs she did have made her paranoid.”
“I know Ellie, she's not nuts Father. This is real. It's the strangest thing I've ever heard, but it's real.”
“Jim, I know you and Ellie go back a long way but you can't believe this story about vampires. It's just a lot of superstition. She's sick and your going along just feeds her sickness. I know a good doctor who can help with this kind of thing…”
“I hoped you would believe. We need you to fight this thing.”
“Ellie needs a doctor more than she needs a priest Jim. I can help with her guilt about the things she's done but it's only a doctor that can really help her.”
“Father it's true and if you won't help us fight it then will you at least hear my confession?”
“I will do that Jim. Under the circumstances I think that would be a good idea.”
Jim and Father Murphy entered the confessional where Jim purged his soul. When he was done he joined Ellie who was still praying. They both prayed until the church closed at three. As they left the church Jim stopped at the holy water font by the door. He removed a small prescription bottle from his pocket and filled it from the font. Then turned to Ellie and said, “It won't be long till dark. We have to decide what to do. Either way the holy water is insurance.”
“I'm afraid to stay here Jim, but I'm too tired to run. You were right when you said if I kept running sooner-or-latter he'd get me.”
“Then we make a stand. I just wish we could have convinced Father Murphy.”
On the trip to Jim's house they stopped at the Silverton Super Shopper and bought five pounds of garlic then went next door to Garlock's Christian Supplies. Here they obtained a large wooden cross nearly a foot tall. Once they reached Jim's he immediately went to the hall closet and pulled an out an old wooden baseball bat and his camp hatchet.
“Jim, what are you going to do with those?” inquired Ellie.
“We need a wooden stake.” was the reply.
“But Jim, that was the bat you won the championship with.”
“That was ages ago, this more important. We need a stake. I remember reading that ash is one of the preferred woods for staking vampires. This is good strong White Ash.”
Ellie made no reply. Jim began hacking at the bat with all the skill of an experienced woodsman. Soon he had the handle chopped off and sharpened to a fine strong point. He placed the hatchet back into the closet and removed a large heavy hammer. “I think we have everything, now we have to prepare.”
“We have to make a stronghold that he can't enter. Then we wait for him to try. When he does we go on the offensive. With any luck we can kill him or at least drive him off. If we can find his hiding place we can destroy him during the day. But first we have to survive tonight.”
“Jim where did you learn to think like this?”
“Two years in the Marines. After you left I was pretty messed up so I became a Jarhead to sort it out. It was pretty bad so I don't talk about it, but it taught me to survive.”
“What I've done to you, keep doing to you. How; why do put up with it?”
“I guess cause I love you.”
They chose Jim's bedroom to fortify because it had only one window and its own half bath, which had no windows. Jim brought in enough food for the night then nailed the door shut and hung garlic around the door and over the keyhole. He also hung garlic around the window and pulled down the shade and duct taped the edges. The cross was positioned on the nightstand, which was placed in the middle of the room. The holy water was placed next to the cross and the stake and hammer on the dresser.
“Now we wait,” said Jim at the end of the preparations.
“I'm scared Jim,” said Ellie
“Me too. This is some scary stuff, but we've got a good chance to beat it if we stay together and stay cool.”
They spent the evening watching TV and waiting. The hours passed quietly with a parade of sitcoms and old movies. About two Ellie got up to use the bathroom.
Jim said, “Leave the door open just to be safe.”
“You know it bugs me when you watch me on the can.”
“Yeah, well, humor me and at least don't close it all the way.”
Ellie went into the bathroom and pulled the door part way closed leaving about a foot wide opening to the bedroom. While she attended to business Jim waited nervously in the outer room.
After a minute Jim said, ” You all right in there?”
Jim leapt from the bed and grabbed the cross in one fluid movement. Throwing the door open he thrust the cross into the small room. A hiss emanated from inside. Jim's eyes beheld a sight that he knew would haunt him the rest of his life--assuming he lived past the moment. Romesescu stood in the bathroom with Ellie's head pulled back to expose her neck. Her eyes were glazed as if she were in a trance. His eyes burned like all the flames of Hell. His lips were curled back in an animal snarl to reveal ivory fangs.
“Release her,” cried Jim brandishing the cross closer.
“Come closer she dies!” roared the monster.
They stood in this stand off for what seemed like an eternity. Finally Romesescu placed one hand on the top of Ellie's head and the other on her jaw and began to rotate her head slowly to one side. In an instant Jim knew he meant to break her neck. McGee attacked swinging the cross like a club at Romesescu's head. The vampire dissipated into a gray mist and flowed out through the exhaust vent in the ceiling. As the last of the vapor disappeared he heard,
“By The Unholy you die tomorrow.”
“Ellie, Ellie.” screamed Jim.
Slowly Ellie's senses returned.
“Jim? Where are we? What's going on? I'm confused.”
“You’re safe, he didn't hurt you.”
“Who didn't hurt me?”
With this last remark Ellie knit her brows then a look of terror began to grow on her face. At its zenith her mouth opened to release a scream. For a long time Jim tried to comfort her. Finally her hysteria had run its course. Jim picked her up and tucked her into bed. Her ordeal had left her exhausted and she fell sound to sleep. As Jim stood watching her sleep he felt a deep wrenching sob begin to surface. He was tired and frightened and wanted to hide, to run, to cry.
“I don't have time for this.” he said to the air then took a deep inhale and turned back to the bath. He looked at the ceiling vent. He had forgotten it because it had never worked in all the time he had owned the house. He stuffed some garlic through the rusting chrome grate, then surveyed the little room for some sign or clue. Finally he noticed a foot print on the floor. Kneeling for a closer look he saw that it must be Romesescu's. It seems that he had enough substance to track mud. He picked up a clot of mud for closer examination. It looked familiar yet unique. There was only one place around Silverton where there was mud like this and that was the old mine that gave the town its name. He now knew the monster's lair and what he must do. He prayed that he would have the courage to do it.
When the dawn came McGee finally slept. He set his clock for ten.
“Father Murphy, I'm leaving Ellie in your care. Keep her in the church, Romesescu can't
touch her here.”
“If what you said is true then I should go with you. My calling is to drive back the darkness. I always thought that meant the darkness in society and in each of our hearts. I have to confess to you I never really believed in the Devil. That's not the kind of thing a priest is supposed to talk about but...”
“After last night I believe. I did battle with one of his lieutenants; he's real. He's powerful, but not unbeatable. I know that. I drove him back. When I saw that he meant to kill Ellie I was willing to do anything, risk anything to stop him. I didn't care about me, just her. That's what he can't beat. No offense Father, but it's not so much faith as it is love that can beat him. It gives us the courage and strength to do it. The Devil, like any bully, is a coward. Just stand up to him and he'll run.”
“I still think I should go with you Jim.”
“Then who would watch Ellie? Look at her; she's still in shock. She can't take care of herself in this condition. In this church she's safe but if she leaves...”
“I guess your right, but I still wish I could go with you.”
“So do I Father, but you have to guard Ellie and I have to fight Romesescu. God willing I'll win. Either way I have to do it alone.”
“Then kneel.” To this McGee kneeled in a posture of prayer.
“By the power vested in me by the Holy Mother Church I absolve you of all sin. May God add strength to thine arm and guide thy blade in this holy combat thou art about to undertake, and may the Holy Ghost be thy shield. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; amen,” To accompany the final lines of this benediction Father Murphy made the sign of the cross with his thumb on Jim's forehead. “That was a medieval blessing for knights about to go into battle. It seemed appropriate,”
Jim was well into the mine now. Water dripped from the ceiling to land with audible blips in pools on the floor. His nostrils were filled with the smell of damp earth and rotting timbers. Mixing with these smells was the stench of ancient charnel decay. As he rounded a turn the floor beneath his foot vanished and he felt himself falling into a void. His heart missed a beat as he instinctively lashed out with his left hand. The white light of pain shot up his arm as he contacted rock, but the force of his effort drove him from the brink and he fell to the floor of he shaft. He sat, for a moment, with the pain in his arm throbbing all the way into his head. The agony ebbed to a numb aching that left his fingers tingling and reluctant to act. He raised his light and shined it ahead of him. It went out into emptiness. Then he shined it up. Some 50 feet above was a rough dome ornamented with stalactites, down, some 30 feet, lay the floor. Out a short distance from the wall there was water gleaming in his light like an obsidian mirror. Well away from the shore there seemed to be a small island. He had come to a chamber hewn from the Earth eons ago by a subterranean river.
That's right he thought, the mine closed when they struck an underground lake. This would be the ideal hiding place for Romesescu, deep in the Earth's eternal night, and surrounded by natural fortifications. McGee crawled to the edge and looked over. He saw a narrow path carved into the rock that sloped steeply away toward the floor. It had probably been carved a century earlier by miners. Jim inched his way down the path in a sort of crab walk with his body pushed to the wall of the cavern. Upon reaching the bottom Jim shone his light on the water that stretched calm and mirror like before him. The light flickered and gleamed across the surface. Dimly at the edge of his light there was a small island, more of a large rock perhaps ten to twenty feet on a side and rising only a few feet above the water. This would be where the monster slept, safe from day and surrounded by a moat to repel any assault by mortals foolish, or desperate enough to try. Now he must find a way across. As McGee planned his attack on the moated fortress of this 'prince of night' he thought of the blessing given him by Father Murphy.
If you only knew how fitting your blessing was he thought. The first thing to do is try to find a way across that did not involve swimming. This seemed likely as Romesescu had to bring his coffin with its earth across somehow. Jim shined his light in both directions. The land to the right seemed to rise ever so slightly. If there were a land crossing it would be to this side.
Jim walked off in this direction. The floor beneath him was incrusted with minerals leached from the rock that shone with fantastic colors in the beam from his light. At irregular distances were stalagmites in phantasmal forms. Here and there the floor was covered with mats of bacteria that glistened in his light but were treacherous under foot. McGee now sited his goal. The path was narrow and slippery. In places it was covered by a few inches of water. The land bridge leading to the island had fallen from the roof millennia ago. It now sprawled in an uneven exclamation point before him. The dot was a huge rock thrusting out of the lake. This was his destination.
|I could still
turn back he thought; this, of course, was not an option
and he knew it even as he thought it. Now was the moment of truth
when McGee would test his courage and strength against the
monster. Last night had been a fluke. Had he the time to
think, to realize what he was facing he would not have challenged the
beast. He would not have had the courage to drive back Romesescu
and both he and Ellie would be dead or worse. This time his attack
would be cold and deliberate. He would not have the moment's
passion to drive him. He wondered how he would manage, though
manage he must. With only a moment's trepidation McGee set off toward
the rock. The stones were uneven under his feet; some shifted and
moved as he stepped on them. The cold bit his feet as the water soaked
His heart was pounding as McGee came to the rock. It was bigger than it had looked from the shore; some five feet above the water with a shear face. McGee tucked his light in his belt and threaded his arm through the handle of the duffel. He then felt out handholds and began to climb. Upon reaching the top he retrieved his light and surveyed the rock. It was large, very large, maybe fifty or sixty feet across and nearly flat. Near the center something rose about two feet above the grade and was about six feet long. McGee retrieved the large cross from the duffel and advanced. As he approached the form became clearer -- it was a coffin. The foul smell of rot was unbearable. Jim kicked the lid from the box and thrust the cross into its void. Nothing -- His light revealed a thin layer of soil lining the bottom, nothing more. He touched the cross to the earth and acrid smoke rose. A faint scream seemed to vibrate the air. The strangeness of it all made him recoil.
“Mother of God save me,” Jim said and meant. Fear began to rise in him to a scream. He shone his light wildly around the cavern; if Romesescu was not in the box then where was he. He felt sick, he had to calm himself.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of death,” the 23rd psalm tumbled out of his mouth. As he finished the moment's panic had passed. “I can't afford another lapse like that. If Romesescu had attacked I'd be gone by now.” Jim took the vial of Holy water from the bag. He had found the monster's coffin now he must make it unusable.
“Lord God, purify and cleanse this coffin and this earth that no evil may come near. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” As the drops of blessed water touched the coffin and soil they smoldered. A groan rose louder and louder from inside the box until a tortured shriek. The rock shuddered as if retching forth some vile poison while the coffin heaved and twisted then exploded into a brilliant blue white flame. The flame spread across the face of the rock and licked at McGee’s ankles. Terror struck Jim, then he felt a hand lightly on his shoulder and heard a voice whisper-
“It's OK Jim, I'm with you.“
An instant later the rock, which had been engulfed in flame, now lie quite and cool. Jim was unharmed. The fire had not even singed his shoelaces. The coffin, on the other hand, was gone without a trace, not even ash.
“If he's not here than where is he?“ Romesescu was not in this coffin and had let this one be destroyed too easily. The conclusion was he must have another, but where? Jim hurriedly circumnavigated the cavern and found no passages other than the one by which he entered. The monster had out witted him and allowed a coffin to be destroyed to buy it protection through another day. It was already past three and it had taken hours to get this deep into the mine. He must hurry. He must get to St. Francis' before dark. By the time Jim reached the church the western sky was ablaze. Father Murphy was praying in a pew, Ellie was sitting next to him.
“How's Ellie been?”
“No change, I don't think she's aware of much, though she did eat a little,”
“Father I failed, the monster played me,” said Jim and then recounted the events in the mine.
“We'll stay here tonight. We'll be safe,” said the priest.
“Father... I need to confess something. I'm so afraid,” With the last sentence Jim began to sob.
“We're all afraid Jim but, I have faith in you,” said Ellie her voice still weak and distant. Then she took Jim's hand.
The next day passed in much the same fashion, Jim called in vacation time and they alternately prayed and brainstormed as to where Romesescu might be hiding. Ellie had largely recovered from her ordeal. That night they slept in the church again. About one they simultaneously awoke. The Church was cold enough to see their breath.
“Jim he's here, I can feel him,” said Ellie.
“Holy Father, protect us. In Jesus' name leave this place” cried Murphy.
A wind buffeted each window and seemed to claw at their latches. As it past from one window to the next they took on a sinister life. First Saint Joseph menaced with an ax, then the virgin leered with the eyes of a strumpet, finally Moses stuck the rock with the ferocity of a rabid beast. Again and again the wind threw itself at the window. Each time with greater force until the window cracked.
Father Murphy leapt to his feet and raised his right hand in a large sign of the cross and shouted –
“In the names of God the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, Alex Romesescu begone.”
The church was suddenly filled with a brilliant light from behind them. They turned to see the Arch-angel Michael in full battle armor with sword raised to heaven floating in the air above them. A moment latter it faded and they heard a car drive past the church. All was quiet now, wind was gone and the church was warm.
“What, how?” said Jim.
“He's stronger then I feared,” said Father Murphy. There have been reports, very old, very sketchy, of vampires strong enough to assault a church. Most where repelled, a few weren't. A church is only as strong as the faith of those in it. One thing we can be sure of...tomorrow someone will be dead or missing. He couldn't do this unless he'd just fed.”
“But the angel?” said Jim.
“Come-on Jim,” said the priest. “ Mike has always been both of our favorite window in this church. As for the light you heard the car. He must have had his high beams on. Don't misunderstand me, I'm certain the Arch-angel Michael, God's own general, was here fighting for us. God works in mysterious ways Jim. Ways that require faith. Was it just headlights or was God's general fighting for us? You tell me Jim.”
The morning paper confirmed Father Murphy's theory ...a child was killed the night before; dragged from his bed and left in a near-by field with his throat torn. The paper went on to say that 'authorities' assume it to be the work of a wild animal that was frightened off before it had a chance to feed. One side note... nobody was sure what kind of animal, possibly a wolf, though the last wolf in the area was killed 80 years ago and the body was drained of blood.
“He's good for at least a week now, though the more he feeds the stronger he is,” said Murphy. “He hopefully won't strike again soon for fear of drawing too much attention.”
“God what have I brought to this town,” cried Ellie, “Maybe I should just give myself up to him. Then he'd leave.”
“Don't even think that,” shouted Jim.
“There's a little boy dead, or worse, because of me. I'm cursed and I've brought that curse down on Silverton. Let him have me. Maybe that will atone for my sins.”
“You can't do that Ellie,” said the father. “You must believe that you are God's instrument in Romesescu's destruction, you are the bait in God's trap. He would have done this to someone, somewhere...and as for ‘or worse’ I know the family. I've talked with the father at length, they have a strong personal belief that money is for the living and funerals should be as cheap as possible. Cremation is a lot cheaper then burial, the boy's soul will rest.”
“Still, that puts us back where we were,” replied Ellie. “We need to find where he's hiding by day, and we need to do it before someone else is killed,”
“I've a few ideas where to look,” said Jim. “There's the old cement plant as well as the abandoned cemetery. The plant must have a dozen empty buildings, most of which have cellars, very dark, very private. The cemetery is...well a cemetery.”
“The cemetery is also holy ground so I doubt he's there, but the cement plant is worth a look,” responded Murphy. “We need to find some place that's unholy, someplace where the powers of darkness are strong. That's where he'll be.”
“There's the mine over by Hampton,” offered Ellie. “When it collapsed twenty men died. The investigation blamed management for cutting corners.”
“That's the kind of place he'd choose,” replied Murphy “A place where evil acts led to death and destruction.”
“Then that's where I look,” said Jim. “I'll check the plant too, and the cemetery if there's time. Let's leave no tombstone unturned.”
“You’re not funny Jim,” said Ellie as she suppressed a chuckle.
I'll be gone most of the day. I'll see you both tonight. God willing this will be over by then.”
“Be careful Jim,” said Ellie.
“Jim wait,” said Father Murphy. The priest walked to the alter and removed something from the tabernacle. “Take these Eucharist and leave one at each possible hiding place then say a prayer of blessing. This will bar him from using them in the future. God's speed Jim.”
Jim left the church on his mission.
“I'm going to the library Father. I want to see what the local history department has on the kind of places we're looking for,” said Ellie.
“I think I should pray,” said Father Murphy. “I'll ask God guide us and protect us in this.”
The place reeked of urine and the walls were covered with filth scrawled in spray paint. The litter of teen beer blasts strewn the floor. Jim diligently went from room to room leaving small bits of Eucharist in the darkest corners. The cement plant saw its share of petty evil, but this abandoned place was far too populated for Romesescu's use. Noon saw the cemetery. Rank grass and broken stones, nothing more.
Hampton was a sleepy little town much like Silverton or any of a dozens of other ex-mining towns in Colorado. Jim visited the site of the Hampton Mine Disaster. The shaft had been sealed with dynamite and a granite monument stood in the middle of a small cluster of decrepit buildings. Jim checked each building carefully, leaving Eucharist in any dark corner. This place had seen tragedy and, if the rumors were to be believed, true evil, yet it held no sign of Romesescu. Jim stopped in town for food. The local diner could be counted on for passable fare and he could ask questions.
“I just been out by the mine, terrible thing what happened there.”
“Yeah, Lot of folks lost kin there.”
“I was just out for a drive and kind of found myself there so I stopped and looked around. Sealed it up after, suppose that was the best thing to do. Don't need any one else getting hurt. Imagine they got all the air shafts and so on.”
“There was only one air shaft and they dynamited it when they blew the main shaft.”
“There been anything strange happening around here lately?”
"Nothing 'cept people coming in from Silverton asking too damned many questions.”
As Jim was getting into his truck he heard a voice.
“Mr. McGee.” Jim turned and saw the owner of the voice. He was very old with a beard that covered his jaw but no mustache. He was dressed as a farmer.
“You are Jim McGee aren't you? I knew your father, and you when you were a little boy. He was a good man, a friend.” The voice carried a heavy eastern European accent. “You asked about strange happenings. There have been strange happenings-- our town is hexed. Milk from cows sours before noon. Other farmers blame it on bad refrigeration. It is not refrigeration. A chick hatched on my own farm yesterday with two heads and both heads had forked tongues. This is not a freak of nature. This is the work of the dark one. I know the old ways. I know the sign of his hand. The boy in Silverton, his throat torn out, his blood drained. This is the work of Nosferatu, yes, in English. a vampire.”
“I know, his name is Romesescu,” replied Jim.
At this the old man blanched and staggered “We are truly cursed, I know the name. He is a prince of his kind. Romesescu is very old, ancient. It is said that he was old when Jesus was born.”
“He's not invulnerable. He's been driven off twice and I destroyed one of his coffins. I need to know where he's hiding so I can finish him.”
The old man looked Jim in the eyes with an expression of disbelief that gave way to respect bordering on fear.
“Do you have help?”
“Just Ellie and Father Murphy... and maybe saint Mike”
“I will help too. I know the ways of Nosferatu, of the vampire. Back in the old country, before I was born my family suffered under a vampire. He was one of Romesescu's ‘dark children’, a vassal. We suffered many centuries; finally my grandfather destroyed the beast. It cost him his life. Not quickly, no, slowly over years. The horror he could not speak of drove him to first drink, then finally to put a gun to his head. I will help because it is the good and right thing to do... and because I have a score to settle with Romesescu.”
“Suppose we could use the help. What's your name?”
“Mr. Lorenski...I remember you now. I couldn't have been more than five last time I saw you.”
“You were six, barely. It was at your father's funeral. I helped bare the casket. He was a good man. You seem much like him. I must go feed my animals. Where shall I meet you?”
“Do you know St. Francis Church in Silverton?”
“Yes, I bore your father's casket there.”
“Be there before sunset. He'll be watching after, you won't be safe.”
“I will hurry.” Nicolai Lorenski turned and walked away with a vigor that contradicted his ancient appearance.
“No luck, he's not hiding in any of the places I looked. All of the places I looked are either gone or still in use.” said Jim.
Ellie added. “This area has its share of dirty little secrets. The librarian was most helpful, of course I didn't tell her the real reason for my interest.”
“I prayed for guidance and aid. I got a particularly strong feeling my prayers were heard.”
“I think so too Father," said Jim. "I met an old friend of my father today--Nicolai Lorenski. He'll be here before sunset. He knows about Romesescu. Seems his family had our problem in the old country. His grandfather killed one before he was born. He knows their ways.”
“Good we could use someone with some in-depth knowledge. I took the required courses at seminary but, I'm afraid I didn't take them seriously.”
A little before sunset the door to the church opened, “Jim McGee are you here?”
“Mr. Lorenski, come in. Ellie, Father, this is Mr. Lorenski; he's here to help. He knows their ways.”
Father Muurphy said, “Mr. Lorenski I have so many questions to ask I don't know where to begin. I know a priest is supposed to be the expert but I'm afraid I 'm out of my depth on this one.”
“I know the lore of my family, passed down from centuries of dealing with Nosferatu. We have, by necessity, become experts. What do you wish to know?”
“What are they?” interjected Ellie.
“They are truly the undead. They are the combination, the synthesis of human flesh and unholy malevolence. They are dead yet they walk, they have substance yet can melt into nothing at will. They are a human captured and held in thrall, both body and soul by a demon. They feed on the living and are strengthened by our weakness and our blood. The longer they are allowed to exist the stronger they become. Romesescu is old, very, very old.”
“I thought they had to feed regularly, but other then the boy there have been no reports?” asked Ellie.
“He has many options for feeding, animals will sustain him. If he can find a place to hide that is dark enough, that is evil enough in its own nature, the malignant energy of the place will feed him. You must understand that the demon is only part way in this world. The human that it has captured is a portal. Energy must be applied to sustain that portal or it will decay and fail. There are places where the barrier between our world and theirs is weak. These places are inherently evil and the forces of hell pour into our world. In such a place the demon need not work as hard to sustain its portal. Luckily these places are small and they are few. He will need blood, at least animal, to leave it for long. Human blood is the best way; it is the most concentrated form of sustenance. He will need to kill again before he makes a move. “
“How do we destroy him?” asked Jim.
“There are many ways, none easy. First understand that you cannot destroy the demon. It was made in the beginning and will only end at the end. You can only close the portal. If you can expose him to direct sunlight the demon will be forced to abandon his host. The light is of God and he cannot stand it. Without the demon's will and energy to hold it together a body as old as Romesescu's will decay instantly. Fire will destroy the host and close the portal.”
“What about a stake through the heart?” inquired Ellie.
“This is risky with a vampire as old as Romesescu. With a younger vampire you would do enough damage to the body that the demon would have to abandon it. Romesescu is very old and very strong. He might be able to survive it. Oh, it would hurt him, but would it destroy him? This I don't know.
Holy water and icons are only as strong as your faith. All things of good are as poison to him, but he is very strong and not easily overcome.”
What does the demon want here?” asked Murphy.
“To be free to wreak havoc. To have vengeance on the creation and creator that cast him into the abyss. To feed his lust for power and slake his thirst for blood, to take physical form and have God's image tremble in fear and prostrate himself, and worship at the monster's feet. This is what drives him. The Cast Out are insane and will stop at nothing to achieve their end. The more that it offends God and all that is holy the better they like it.”
“You make it sound like we're fighting the Devil himself,” said Ellie nervously.
“Not The Devil, that is, not Lucifer. We would have no chance against his immense power. Luckily, one who is even more powerful, the one who made him will not allow it. We do not fight The Devil, but we fight a devil, an angel that fell with Lucifer and was cast out into the abyss. I do not know his name, but to have survived as long as Romesescu he is very powerful. Many have tried to destroy him; none have succeeded. I am old and I have a personal hatred of Romesescu. If I die trying to destroy him it would be worth trading my last few days for. Jim, Ellie, you are young, why do you chase death?”
“I've sinned and now death chases me,” said Ellie.
“And I love her and won't let that bastard get her,” added Jim.
“It's my job,” finished Murphy.
“Good, Then we are all well met and our motives pure. We have a chance, a small chance, but a chance.”
The night passed slowly, one of them was always awake and on guard. In the morning they planned their days.
“I'm out of ideas. He's hiding somewhere, but for the life of me I can't think where,” said Jim. “Might as well show up for work, it might be nice to still have a job when this is over. If anybody finds anything call my cell.”
“I must feed my animals. I will be back when they are tended to,” said Lorenski.
“I'll pray and do some research. One of my teachers at the seminary knew a lot about the occult and the dark truths as he called them. I'll look him up,” said Murphy.
“Back to the library and there's a few old folk who know this area going way back. I think it's time to pay a little visit,” finished Ellie.
Something seemed wrong as Nicoli Lorenski got out of his pickup truck. By this time the farm should be alive with animal noises. It was quiet, much too quiet. As he walked to the barn he grabbed the ax from the woodpile. When he came to the barn door he lifted the ax high with one hand as he turned the knob with the other. He pushed the door open then grabbed the ax with both hands. The site inside the barn sickened him. All his animals had been ritually slaughtered. Chickens lay dead everywhere. Their throats were slit and they had been eviscerated. Their entrails had been used to scroll obscene satanic graffiti on the walls. The cow hung from the ceiling. Its hind legs hoisted by a block and tackle. Its throat was slit and had been drained of blood. Romesescu had been here and had fed.
“ Hello, may I speak to Monsieur Tagenski?”
“May I ask who is calling?” replied a voice over the phone.
“This is Father Murphy. I was a student of the Monsieur at seminary. I’m in rather urgent need of advice. May I speak to him?”
“ I guess you haven’t heard. Monsieur Tagenski died two weeks ago.”
“He was crossing the street on his way home from the seminary and car came out of nowhere. It hit him and kept on going. It was in broad daylight and there were witnesses, but no one got the license. So far the police haven’t got anyone. We’re all still in shock over it.”
“That’s terrible news, the Monsieur was a good man. I remember many conversations with him over a pint… I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but what being done with his books?”
“ They are being donated to the seminary library.”
“Thank you, my condolences, I’ll pray for the Monsieur, ahhh…bye.” With that Father Murphy hung up the phone. It seemed a strange coincidence, too strange thought the priest.
Ellie watched as Mabel Thackeray’s hand trembled ever so slightly while she poured tea from an antique porcelain pot. Ellie noted how thin and bony the hand was and the brown spots randomly strewn across its pale parchment like skin.
“It’s nice of you to visit Ellie,” said Mabel,” It’s so seldom any young folks come around and most folk my age aren’t around either.” With this last comment there was a slight twinkle in Mabel’s eye. “So what brings you visiting an old granny like me?”
“I’m doing some research for a writing project. I’m writing about local legends, especially the dark and scary ones.”
“Dark and scary legends, my,” said Mabel, another twinkle in her eye.
“Well…, Those are the ones that sell best”
To this Mabel grinned broadly and audibly chuckled.
“I figured you being one of Silverton’s most senior citizens…”
“The word is old dear, but go on.”
“You might know a thing or three of the kind I’m looking for.”
“Well, let me think. There was one I heard when I was just a girl. I don’t think I was ten yet. It was very dark and scary and supposedly true.”
“It sounds like just what I’m looking for,” said Ellie.
“Give me a minute to remember it, I haven’t been ten for awhile… oh yes, it comes back now."
“Now that we’re all here did any one find out any thing?” asked Jim as they all met at the church.
Both Murphy and Lorenski looked around not knowing how to begin, finally Murphy said,” My teacher at the seminary, the one that knew about the occult, was killed two weeks ago in a hit and run accident. His books are being donated to the seminary library.”
Lorenski added, “Romesescu knows I’m helping you. He was at my farm last night. All my animals are dead. He fed on them. I should have expected this”
“How could he know? You joined us just yesterday,” said Jim.
"He is strigoi; he can see things hidden in the past, in the future, in the present. Father, I’m guessing he knew you would seek your teacher’s help so he killed him.”
“Monsieur Tagenski was hit by a car in broad daylight not killed by a vampire,” said the priest.
Lorenski replied, “He must have a mortal slave. This is common among his kind. Someone he has bled, but not enough to kill. The slave will have no will of their own, but can move in the daylight to do the monster’s will.”
“Cindy!” interjected Ellie. “A friend from Seattle, she was the one who warned me about Romesescu. He bled her the night before, she said it was all she could do to warn me”
“He has bled her more since I’m sure,” said Lorenski. "That is their way with slaves. They bleed them again and again, but never enough to kill them. Each time the slave loses more of themself to the will of the vampire. I am afraid that your friend is gone by now Ellie,”.
To this Ellie shut her eyes tightly in an effort to hold back tears, then, without opening them she said, “Poor Cindy, she was so kind and gentle, such a dear friend.” Suddenly her eyes snapped open, the tears replaced by rage. “ That son-of-a-bitch, we have to destroy him before he hurts anyone else. A child, your animals, all of us if he can, and now Cindy turned into a murderer; who’s next? We have to stop him, and I might have a lead as to how. I had a nice long chat with Mabel Thackeray. She told me a very interesting story. Seems sometime back about 1870 or so something happened up in the mountains in behind town, something very nasty. There was a miner working a claim back in the wild country. The Utes wouldn’t go near the place and tried to warn him about 'bad medicine and evil spirits' but he didn’t listen. Had his whole family with him. They were nice folks by all accounts. They did a little farming and he worked his claim, basic pioneers. One day he comes wandering into town all covered in blood with a dazed and wild look about him. At first the town folk thought he’d been robbed or Indians had attacked. They took him too the local midwife, closest they had to a doctor. She checked him out; the blood wasn’t his. He wasn’t hurt. He kept babbling about the Devil’s in that hole. He talks to me. He told me to do it. Well, the town got a posse together and went up to his claim to check on his family. The posse found his family alright. All dead. Some shot; all hacked with an ax. Even the dog was hacked. There was stuff written in blood on the cabin walls. Mabel didn’t know what, only that it was foul, wicked words. Seems no one wanted to repeat what ever it was. They kept him locked up waiting for the circuit judge. One morning they found him dead in his cell. Bashed his head against the wall till it killed him.”
“Did she say where this claim was?” asked Jim.
“She didn’t know, only that it was up in the wild country. She did have a name though- Davidson; the miner was named Davidson. If he registered the claim we can find it,” replied Ellie.
“Good,” said Murphy. “That’s just the kind of place we’re looking for.”
“Yes,” added Lorenski. “It sounds by all accounts, to be where Hell pours into our world and has been doing it for a long time. He is strigoi. He would be drawn to such a place.”
“That’s the second time you used that term. What is strigoi?” asked Ellie.
“Strigoi are beings in league with the Devil. There are two basic kinds. Strigoi viu are living people who have sold their souls. They are sorcerers who use dark magic to further their own ends. Then there are strigoi mort; the undead. They are by far the more powerful and dangerous of the two because they are a demon in human form. They are nosferatu or in English, vampires.”
“That would be Romesescu alright,” said Ellie.” Tomorrow I’ll go to the courthouse and look for the claim. If it’s in this county it should be filed there, and if not there’s always Denver.”
“I’m going to the seminary to look over the Monsieur’s books,” said the priest. “It’s a long drive to Denver. It’s dangerous for any of us to be out after dark so I may stay overnight and come back the next day. Jim, here’s a key to the church just in case.”
“Father, may I come with you?” asked Lorenski. “I have some knowledge of what we’re looking for.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” replied Murphy. “Jim, Ellie, will you be OK here by yourselves?”
“We should be,” said Jim as he looked to Ellie for agreement. She nodded her head and added “We’ll stay in the church after dark. We’ll be fine.”