The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter XXIV.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "‘We have been fortunate,’ I told Lucy as we left the house on Upper Terrace. ‘We have visited two of the addresses on our list and have slain five vampires and one wolf without injury to ourselves. "‘No?’ she asked. ‘Not physical injury, but do you think that what we have seen and done has not scarred you inside?’ "I stood silent in the foggy yard. I opened my ichor-stained coat and pulled out my watch. It was nearly 10 o’clock. ‘Come,’ I said. ‘We have more work to do.’ "We could not find a cab so we climbed on board an omnibus, sitting in the back. Lucy had pulled her veil down and sat with her unnatural stillness. "I do not know what the old woman sitting next to her sensed, but she suddenly stood, looked down at Lucy, crossed herself, and hopped off the slow-moving vehicle. The other passengers did not seem to notice. "Soon, we arrived at our next address. We entered through the front, quickly searched the place, found the coffin, sprinkled it with holy water and were en route to our next stop in less than 10 minutes. We searched five more properties without finding other vampires. "We were able to commit so many burglaries without attracting the attention of the law for several reasons. "For the most part, the vampires, for their own nefarious purposes, had selected properties in out-of-the-way locales. For another, and Albion and I had discussed this on the train, it helped to have the women with us. With respectable women alongside, our activities looked less suspicious. "Though we did not find any vampires in the houses, each took a toll on our nerves. In each property, we expected ambush. Sergeant Walekar’s death was constantly in our thoughts. "When we came to a house on Acacia Road, I knew it was occupied. From the curb, I could sense malevolence inside the dilapidated structure. The surrounding homes were well kept, but this property manifested a degeneracy that seemed as out of place as a worn-out, drunken whore at a debutante ball. "Lucy’s hand reached out and took mine. ‘Do you feel it?’ she said. "‘Yes,’ I whispered. "‘Do you think it is the horror that entered Hillingham?’ "‘It feels different,’ I said. "Lucy shivered. ‘We should get the others.’ "‘We don’t know where they will be at this time,’ I told her. ‘We are not to rendezvous until 2 o’clock.’ "‘Let’s put this one off,’ she said. ‘I don’t like it.’ "‘I don’t like it either,’ I answered honestly. ‘But if we wait, whatever is inside may escape. Maybe it is our imagination and nothing is inside.’ "‘Do you believe that?’ Lucy asked. "‘It is possible. Why don’t you wait here? I’ll handle this one,’ I answered, trying to sound confident. "‘No, my friend. We stay together,’ Lucy said. "As we walked to the front entrance, I kept looking at the windows, but saw no one. Yet I kept looking for I had a strong impression of being watched. "As I reached for the knob, the door swung open with a slow creak. "My mouth became as dry as the door hinges. I took a glanced through the crack in the door to make certain no one was behind it, and entered. ‘Come in, Lucy,’ I said quickly. "For a brief moment, I had considered refusing her entry to keep her safely away from whatever terror waited inside the house. Call me a coward if you want to, but when I entered, the feeling of evil was so palpable I dismissed the idea at once. I not only needed her beside me I wanted her there. "I set my valise down and we pulled out our weapons. They seemed puny things to battle whatever was in the house. "The house smelled of old blood and morbid decay. I wanted out. I wanted to flee so desperately the urge to run nearly overwhelmed all other thoughts. I felt countless feathery caresses as all the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck suddenly stood up. "Lucy gripped her sword tightly and I held my revolver. We waited, listening and also gathering our courage. "With a bang, the door swung shut behind us and we jumped. I bit my lip to prevent crying out. I tried to swallow, but my throat felt tightly constricted. "I thought I saw movement from the corner of my eye in the room to our right, but when I turned to look, there was nothing. "I inhaled the foul air, held my revolver in front of me, shook off Lucy’s hand and pulled my dagger from the sheath. My feet seemed made of lead, but I walked to the room. Lucy followed behind. "Unlike most of the other properties, this house had furniture though coated in dust and mold. "I entered the parlour, keyed up to fight for my life, but no one was there. I searched behind the sofa and chairs and knelt down to look under a low table. Seeing nothing, I shrugged and stood. "We crept into the next room, a music room. The harp in the corner had several broken strings, leaving blank spaces like a mouth missing teeth. "We worked our way methodically through the house. Despite the chill, sweat rolled down my forehead. I kept in front of Lucy. I thought how it was not long ago that I entered the ‘Defensive Circle’ at Hillingham and feared having Lucy behind me. Now I was counting on her to guard my back. "Soon, we finished our search of the ground floor and we stood at the bottom of the stairway. "‘Thomas, your heart is beating like a kettle drum,’ Lucy whispered. ‘You must be quiet. I am trying to listen.’ "‘Listen to what?’ I asked. "‘H’sh,’ she said. "I muttered under my breath. How did she expect me to stop my beating heart? "‘H’sh!’ she hissed. "I listened, too, but heard only silence at first, but then I thought I heard a faint whisper calling to me to come up. "At the top of the stairs, the whispering grew more persuasive. Though I could not make out the words, an urge to walk down the hall and lay down in a bed came upon me. I no longer felt afraid — only an overwhelming languor and desire to do as beckoned. "From far away, I heard Lucy calling my name. I ignored her. Peace waited. I opened the door and there was the oversized bed just as I knew it would be. I lay down and rested my head against a soft spongy pillow, the most comfortable imaginable. I closed my eyes to sleep. "Perhaps a moment later, I heard Lucy scream my name and my eyes snapped open. The bed beneath me was tacky with thick red blood. Then I realized the soft piling my head rested upon was not a pillow at all — but the skinned right arm of a corpse! "As I took in the hideous reality, I turned to see a face appearing to grin up at me since it had no skin or lips to cover the teeth. The corpse’s arms had been stretched out and my head had rested on exposed muscle. "I bolted upright. "Lucy, standing next to the bed, struggled with what appeared to be an old woman. Lucy pulled back the gray hair of the woman, who shrieked and lashed out with a butcher knife. Lucy caught the old woman’s arm and snapped it, breaking her limb like a dead twig. The woman bared her yellow, razor sharp teeth and tried to bite Lucy. "Lucy screamed. I swung my dagger, the blade sinking into the forehead of the woman. A black, oily substance flowed down the woman’s face. I pulled out the dagger, grayish white flecks of brain splattering out with the motion. Still the woman bit at Lucy, her teeth snapping just inches from Lucy’s face. Even with her vampiric strength, Lucy struggled desperately to hold the old woman back. "I chopped down on the back of the hag’s neck. The blow staggered the woman and her teeth bit off the top button of Lucy’s coat instead of Lucy’s smooth face. "Lucy screamed again. I pulled back on the hag’s hair and slashed her throat, the thick black blood spraying gushing out and running down her chest. She backhanded me, sending me crashing into the side of the bed frame. The impact tumbled the skinless corpse off the bed and on top of me. I pushed the corpse off me quickly and stood up. "In swinging at me, the woman had let go of the arm that had held Lucy pinned down. "Lucy twisted free and shoved the woman across the room through the wall, leaving a dusty hole in the plaster and lathe. "‘What is she?’ Lucy squealed. "‘A witch,’ I said. ‘From ancient days.’ "‘Let us get out,’ Lucy said. "I did not need to answer. We dashed down the hall to the stairs — but then somehow found ourselves back in the middle of the bedroom with the witch! I shook my head in momentary confusion. "By Jove! the hag had altered reality itself! Lucy and I looked at each other in shock and horror. We were beyond wanting to fight. We just wanted to escape. I know it does not sound very brave, but you chaps know I do not cut and run without reason. I had reason aplenty in that room. "The witch grabbed her broken arm and bent it until, with a ghastly snap, I heard the bone pop back into place. The chunk of her skull I had whacked out with my dagger flew back into place. The witch cackled, and Lucy and I raced away — with the same result. One moment we were ready to fly down the stairs and with our next step we stepped into the bedroom 20 feet away! "The witch pointed at me and motioned for me to go back to the bed, back to where I had lain with a skinned corpse as my pillow. And you know I suddenly desired to do what she wanted. But as I passed her, I swung with all of my terror-induced might and struck the center of her forehead with the kukri, splitting her skull. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she dropped back as ichor spilled. "I did not stay to see her die, but turned and grabbed Lucy’s hand. She needed no prompting. We leaped down the stairs to the landing. "I pulled the knob of the front door, but it would not open. ‘Let me,’ Lucy said. She pulled desperately hard with her supernatural strength. There was a loud snap, and Lucy fell back, the broken doorknob in her hand. ‘The window,’ I said and grabbed a chair to smash out the glass. I struck with force. The chair rebounded back. "We heard slow, deliberate footsteps above, heading for the stairs. "‘Hurry!’ Lucy screamed. "I opened my valise and shook out holy water onto the floor whilst reciting lines from the secret works of Saint Augustine. "‘What are you doing?’ Lucy said. "‘Buying us time,’ I said after I finished the ritual. "I pulled out my matches and lit the old, dry curtains at the window. I went to other rooms, lighting everything combustible. The ancient house and furniture went up like tinder. "‘Burn, witch, burn,’ I shouted. "The blaze spread quickly, flames and smoke racing each other up the walls. The heat grew, trapped in the rooms with us. I knew it would get hotter yet. "‘Thomas, we can’t get out,’ Lucy said. "‘The fire should distract her,’ I said. ‘Try the door again.’ "She struck a panel with her fist and broke through. She grabbed hold, ripped the door off the hinges and we ran out. "‘Won’t the witch follow?’ Lucy said as we sprinted down the path. "‘No, I bound her to the house,’ I said. "I had never used the St. Augustine ritual before, but I had hopes. In any case, we did not intend to wait around to find out. I slid my dagger into the sheath behind my back and put my revolver back into my coat pocket. "A moment later I skidded to a halt when I realized I did not have my valise with its bottles of holy water, wooden stakes, shortened sledge hammer, spare ammunition — all the equipment needed to battle the vampires. "‘I have to go back,’ I said. "I turned and ran toward the house, which was not yet fully engulfed though flames shot through the roof and windows. "Through the open doorway, I could see smoke had banked down from the ceiling to halfway down the walls. "In the foyer stood the witch, holding my valise like a trophy. She actually cackled, a horrific sound like you would expect from the Devil’s mother. "The witch spoke, ‘I revoke her permission to ever enter. No other may grant it.’ "I swallowed. I was not certain if fire could kill the witch. Maybe she did not know herself. Certainly many suspected of witchcraft and burned at the stake over the course of history were innocent humans, unlike the fiend in the room before me. Nor were any Druidic nor White Magic practitioners nor Dark Magic either similar to her. No, they were human. She, however, was a creature from antiquity. Her kind was the stuff of countless legends and nightmares in mankind’s history. "My mind raced for a solution. I could see none. I knew the blaze could not go undiscovered for long. Firemen and police constables would be along soon. "But I also knew I had no hopes of fighting vampires without the equipment and relics in that valise. "Lucy realized what I was going to do even before I did. ‘Thomas,’ she screamed. ‘No!’ "I darted inside, going straight for the witch, partially obscured by the smoke and flames. She laughed again, pointed at me, and sent me flying across the room into the wall. My body smashed the plaster and dust trickled down my neck. My eyes watered from the smoke and I felt an ember land on my hair. I slapped it to put out the spark. I blinked the dust and smoke out of my eyes and charged again. This time she spun me like a top through the air into the opposite wall. The impact tore open the stitches at the back of my scalp; blood ran down my neck mixing with the dust. "She pointed up to the stairs, which were now filled with smoke. I shook my head, pulled out the revolver and fired all six shots. A Benevolent Power guided my aim and two of the silver bullets hit her in the eyes, blinding her. The hag screamed as ichor flowed from her eyes like black tears. She dropped my valise and clutched at her eyes. I rolled across the floor, grabbed the handle, and dove out the door, just as the ceiling collapsed on top of her! "Lucy pulled me up and we left without a look behind though I could feel the heat of the blaze against my back. "Off in the distance I heard bells clamoring. We kept going and the alarm bells drew closer. Horses pulling a pumper ran past with leather-helmeted firefighters holding on to the sides and back of the rig. "Even now, when I hear a fire alarm, I think back to that day in October. "We walked another two blocks when suddenly my legs buckled under me. My hands shook uncontrollably and my head grew light. "Lucy held me up with one arm, her brow creased with worry. She fairly carried me across Prince Albert Road, my feet barely touching the ground. We crossed the bridge over the Grand Union Canal into Regent’s Park. In a corner of my mind, I made a mental note that vampires could cross bridges over running water, something I had wondered, although perhaps the slow-moving canal did not count. "Embarrassed and irritated with myself, I shook off Lucy’s arm. Patiently she took my hand and led me to a bench. "‘Please turn around,’ she asked with a surprising gentleness. She tore off a section of the cloth wrapped around the scabbard and dabbed at the back of my hair, which was matted with sticky blood from my re-opened wound. "I reloaded my revolver, but each round took several times to fit into the chambers because my hands shook so badly. I breathed in deeply to calm myself, but I broke into a coughing fit from inhaling too much smoke. When I stopped, I pulled out a flask from my valise and, with trembling hand, gulped down the whiskey. "The drink helped steady me. I pulled out my watch. The inner mechanism jingled, smashed in the fight with the witch. Considering what the price of the encounter nearly was my depression at the sight of the cracked glass and bent case was oddly out of proportion. "I held it up to Lucy. ‘I just bought this.’ "‘I will buy you another,’ she said kindly, holding the cloth to my head. "For a vampire, she had a good heart. "We sat for a time. Autumnal leaves dotted the still-green grass. The gossamer fog hanging over the water and leafy ground gave the park a fey look. "‘We need to take you to a doctor to sew you back up,’ Lucy said. ‘You remind me of a rag doll that I carried everywhere when I was a girl. She was always getting torn. That’s how I learned to sew.’ "‘Just jam the bandage under my hat,’ I said. I stopped and my hands went to my head though instantly I knew my hat was gone. ‘That was my favorite hat,’ I said. "‘Yes,’ Lucy said. ‘You lost it fighting the witch.’ "‘Has the bleeding stopped?’ I asked. "Lucy pulled the cloth away, which had become saturated with blood. She looked at my scalp. ‘No, I am afraid not.’ "We did not have time, but I could not go about London oozing blood. We hailed a hansom for the Doctor’s office near Paddington Station. The Doctor pinched my scalp and sewed me back together with an admonishment to take better care of myself. Lucy Westenra’s Diary. (24 October — continued.) Searching a house on our list on Frognal Lane, we found an empty coffin and personal effects: a comb, brush, clothes, and, in a folding case, a small portraiture of an elegant couple. Thomas caught me looking at it. "Renaissance period," he said. "Did the same lady on Upper Terrace also own this property?" I asked. Thomas looked at his list and nodded. "She was lovely," I said. "Her name was — " I interrupted him. "Please do not tell me," I said. He nodded with understanding. "It is easier when we do not think of them as people," he said. "What if they are not all evil?" I asked, holding the painting. "Then I hope God and you forgive me," he said. I took the painting with me when we left. I did not have any place to carry it so I put it in his valise, beside the vials of holy water and garlic. I closed the case quickly. We traveled further south to Acacia Road and fought a witch who nearly killed us both. I have not been so terrified since that night in Hillingham. We had barely escaped with our lives by setting the house ablaze when Thomas turned and rushed back inside. In his haste, he had left his valise. The witch had revoked my invitation into the house. I could not enter and stood in the empty doorframe blocked by an invisible force as completely as if it were a solid wall. I screamed in frustrated rage and fear. Through the smoke, I could see Thomas hurled from wall to wall. Then he shot the witch’s eyes and fled with his valise. The burning house collapsed as Thomas dove out. I pulled him up and shouted angrily at him, "You could have gotten killed!" He did not reply and we walked away wordlessly and my fear and fury abated. Minutes passed, then his face turned white and I guided him to a park bench, a delayed reaction to the close call. He seemed embarrassed by my assistance, but after he took a drink and his hands stopped shaking, he told me, "Do not ever let me do anything that dangerous again." A weak smile crossed his lips. We spoke for a time, collecting ourselves. We both reeked of smoke, especially him. Soot smudged his face. An old wound had opened and I held a bandage to the back of his head. "Has the bleeding stopped?" Thomas asked. "I pulled the bandage away, my fingers red with his blood. More of his blood ran into his hair. His neck was black from dried blood, which flaked off when he moved. "No, I am afraid not." He looked at my bloodstained right hand. "Does it bother you?" I knew from his tone what he meant. "I can smell the blood. I can smell your scent on it." I looked down in embarrassment. He dug into a pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and wiped my hand clean. "Thank you for your honesty and for being so kind to me," he said. "I know we have been through an ordeal. I am sorry I have put you in harm’s way. I wish —" I did not find out what he wished for I stopped him by leaning forward, lifting my veil and kissing him softly on the lips. My move caught him off-guard and he did not at first react, but then I felt him kissing me back. His lips were warm and dry and tasted of smoke. It was not a lustful kiss like I had wanted so often and so many times imagined. It felt surprisingly sweet. I pulled away and smiled at him. "Let us get you to a doctor." Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "At the Doctor’s office, I washed the blood off my hair and neck and cleaned up as best as possible. The Doctor gave me one of his old coats to replace mine, which was terribly stained with blood. "It was noon by the time we departed. I looked at the other addresses on the list and my heart sank. I noticed Lucy looking at me so I forced a smile. "‘Only a few more properties to go then we will meet with Adena, Anne and Captain Albion,’ I said with a cheerfulness I did not feel. "There was an enigmatic expression behind her veil. ‘I am as eager to continue as you are.’ "I began to look into her eyes, hoping to read her thoughts behind the dark lens, but then glanced away. Staring into her eyes could be unnerving since she only blinked when she remembered to, giving her a direct, unyielding stare. "The next house was unoccupied, gray empty rooms with crates of earth in the back. My spirits perked up. ‘I came, I saw, I sprinkled holy water,’ I told Lucy as we departed. "She groaned. ‘Should we meet another witch, please try your humor on her. Either the joke will slay her or she will kill you more slowly. At the moment, I am not certain which I prefer.’ "I laughed and she favored me with the sort of lovely glance that leads three close friends to propose marriage to the same lady on the same day. I wished later that we had not been distracted for we did not immediately see the shadow we had acquired. "It did not take long, however, before a nervousness crept over us. Have you ever been somewhere, caught up in your own affairs, and instinctively glanced up and seen someone staring at you? That is how it was. I glanced about with a feigned casualness. A dozen people walked or loitered nearby. None of them seemed to be paying attention to us. But the feeling remained. "I hurried Lucy along, but my anxiety grew. Tensed and ready for trouble, we entered the next property. By this point, we had gotten the breaking and entering part down as well as professional burglars. Lucy stood behind me to screen my work. She tapped me on the shoulder to signal no police constables were behind us. I used my pry bar to force the door open. Then we walked in nonchalantly so that a casual observer would simply see the gentleman of the house bending over the lock briefly. "Inside, we walked through the empty rooms until we found the caskets in wooden crates. I splashed holy water on the earth to bar them to their owners and we began to depart. I held out a hand to halt Lucy. Intuition caused me to take a look outside before we opened the door. I believe intuition is simply deduction at a subconscious level. Perhaps I had seen someone walking behind us who seemed too careful to appear not to notice us. Or it may have been some primal sense developed when man was the hunted, not the hunter. In any event, I looked out the window. I did not notice anyone suspicious at first. The street was busy with men in their suits and top hats or bowlers walking about on their business. "Then I noticed a man in a coarse, patched coat hurriedly approach a well-dressed man standing on the corner. Neither looked directly in the direction of us, but they seemed to glance our way indirectly from the corners of their eyes. A third man approached the other two and held up five fingers. I did not know if he was signaling he had five bushels of apples for sale or that in five minutes they would follow us inside the house or that five more men were on the way to assist them in killing us. "But I did not like the look of it. I indicated with a slight motion of my head toward the men in case Lucy should spy them at another time. "She nodded alertly. We ran through the house to the rear, out the servants’ entrance, down a brick path through an overgrown yard and out a back gate into the cobblestone alley. "We trotted down the alley and made a turn into another. As we did I glanced behind us and caught a brief glimpse of a man, who began walking in our direction. Another man farther away was hurrying to the end of the alley to the street. I feared he was going to summon additional help. "I did not wait to see, but kept us moving. I sensed Lucy’s fright. She may have picked up on mine.


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