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vampires

All the Pretty Vampires

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All the Pretty Vampires

Since the cover reveal for my upcoming book, Conspiracy of Angels, I've gotten a number of questions about the series -- what's it about? have you stopped writing non-fiction? who's that hot gal on the cover holding the big knife? -- but the most consistent question has been about vampires. Specifically, Will there be vampires in this series? The short answer, of course, is yes.

I mean, how could I not have vampires in my series? I've spent over two decades of my life hip-deep in the modern vampire community, appearing on everything from the History Channel to CNN to talk about it. I've lectured at universities around the country on vampires in fiction, folklore, and pop culture. And I've written foundational works on the phenomenon of psychic vampirism that have helped to shape an entire generation of practitioners. Vampires are, as they say, my thing.

On the other hand, expressly because I have done so much on vampires since the early 90s, I didn't want to make vampires the sole focus of the Shadowside world. So, while Zachary Westland's world definitely includes vampires, they are not the only things my main character encounters, nor does that main character sport fangs himself.

Fans of vampires in fiction will, I think, be delighted and intrigued with my take on this immortal archetype. I've held off talking about the vampires in the Shadowside series until now, however, because I'm not so certain what the vampire community itself is going to think. As a writer who addresses paranormal and supernatural topics in both my fiction and my non-fiction, I'm aware that, for some readers, the lines between real life and the story might seem blurry -- but those lines are not blurry for me.

Vampires

Certainly, in crafting the world of the Shadowside, I have drawn upon my extensive knowledge of psychic phenomenon, occult practices, and paranormal events. The verisimilitude that drives the Urban Fantasy genre is part of its allure to me as a writer -- the technique that weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft called "supernatural realism." Simply put, with supernatural realism, a generous commingling of facts wedded to the fantastic helps to make the fiction that much more immersive and exciting.

That said, the vampires in Conspiracy of Angels and the later books of the Shadowside series are not based off of anyone in the modern vampire community. Satire -- even self-satire -- was not my goal with this series. The vampires of the Shadowside instead draw upon the vampire archetype as it has been expressed in the time-honored fiction that I love. They have fangs. They drink blood. They wear their sunglasses after dark.

They do not sparkle.

The vampires of the Shadowside are not the good guys. Most are right bastards. They weave skeins and skeins of intrigue, manipulation, and betrayal -- because any being that long-lived would have to -- both in order to survive as well as to alleviate the boredom of an endless march of nights.

There is a distinctly monstrous element to my vampires, and while they make an effort to pass as human, they absolutely do not function on human rules -- as main character Zachary Westland discovers swiftly and to his detriment.

Of course, Zack isn't exactly your garden variety mortal either. As he learns more about who he is and what this means for him, he discovers that, even against ageless, scheming vampires, he can hold his own.

--M

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The Whately Mansion Saga

The Story Thus Far: The vampire Alexander LeMourru acquired the Old Whately Mansion for reasons known only to himself. Formerly the scene of unspeakable murders, Alexander and his crew have refurbished the ramshackle mansion, making it home to a curious collection of blue-shirted cultists. They keep mostly to themselves, save for opening the place to the litterati of New England for grand seances on the weekends.

Alexander has long been a thorn in the side of the local Giovanni, a family of vampires and necromancers thoroughly entrenched in the shadowed underworld of Providence. Led by the stern and sometimes hot-headed patriarch, Antonio, the famiglia has determined that whatever Alexander is up to in the old mansion, it is not in their best interests.

After a week of preparation and recon, Antonio, his enforcer, Menecrites, and the grim, solitary necromancer Karl Beck headed out to discover what secrets the old murder house might hold.

No plan survives the field. The three sought to capture Alexander's cat's paw, Jeff York, unawares, but the spirit of Old Man Whately gave them away. While the Giovanni had hoped to infiltrate the mansion bloodlessly, they are hardly the sort to shy away from conflict once it becomes inevitable.

Adapting to complications none of them could have foreseen, Antonio, Menecrites, and Beck successfully take York as a hostage -- but not without some losses. Jeff pulled what appears to have been an Oblivion bomb from his pocket, and in the resulting explosion of negative energy, Julie, Karl’s wraith, as well as the wraith of Old Man Whately, were both consumed by the darkness. The bomb also did a level of aggravated damage to all of the living (or undead) beings standing in a ten foot radius around its epicenter. This included Jeff York.

As everyone recovered from this development, Karl discovered that his ring of unseen presence was no longer working. With a sinking feeling, he checked his other soul-forged items, only to discover that they now were also inert. The spirits bound to power them had been devoured by the concussive wave of Oblivion just like Old Man Whately and his companion, Julie.

This led Antonio to check his prize swordcane, forged with the soul of the Assamite once sent to kill him. Upon inspecting the blade, veins begin to stand out on Antonio’s forehead. His hands tremble for a moment, and then, closing his eyes, he puts forth a monumental effort to maintain control and not give in to frenzy. But it is very clear that Antonio is not pleased with this development.

In the parlour, one cultist, a young woman, lies dead, shot between the eyes by Menecrites in a mercy killing. Although Menecrites’ gun is equipped with a silencer, the girl’s desperate screams prior to her death caught the attention of at least one cultist who remained in the upstairs portion of the mansion. From the sound of things, that person has come to the top of the stairs and is calling down to York to see if everything is ok.

The story continues tomorrow ...

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Staring into the Abyss

Providence. 1929. The Whately mansion -- once abandoned on the heels of a terrible string of murders, now refurbished and home to a mysterious cult, with the vampire Alexander pulling their strings.-----------------------------------------------------

Jeff York and an unfamiliar mortal woman stand in the front parlour of the Whately place – oblivious to the three members of family Giovanni observing them from down the hall. No words pass between Karl, Antonio, or Menecrites. No words are necessary. They have fought together often enough that a single look conveys everything. Meeting Karl’s eyes, Antonio gives a single, slow nod.

There is a taut and breathless moment where time feels suspended – and then a flurry of action unfolds. Karl reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and withdraws an enchanted ring. With a smooth series of motions, he pulls off one of his leather gloves and slips the ring onto the index finger of that hand. His lips move with a word of command – mouthed, not spoken. He barely imbues the syllables with breath. But his intent is enough. In the next instant, he vanishes, the cloak of shadows in the wraith-forged ring obscuring his presence.

At the door to the sewing room, Antonio touches a pendant at his throat. With a murmured word, he, too, disappears as he activates the obfuscation of the enchanted item. Although their presences are unseen, both Antonio and Karl still make audible sounds. They each move with slow and measured steps so their footfalls do not reveal their positions. They creep toward the lighted parlor.

Menecrites hangs back in the darkened sewing room, taking up Antonio’s previous position at the door so he can watch as things unfold and step in when he’s needed.

Jeff is still chatting with the girl. She’s pretty, in a classy kind of way. She looks nineteen or twenty. Although she wears the collar of her blue shirt buttoned up tight, bruising on her neck suggests that she has been bitten some time in the past few days. York seems interested in biting her again, and he pulls her close as he leans in to feed.

It’s the perfect distraction. They want to catch York unaware so they can restrain him and use him to learn where their true quarry is hiding -- Alexander.

Antonio and Karl move swiftly down the long hall, past the locked basement door. They step invisibly into the parlour at approximately the same time. Almost as if they had planned this part, Karl steps to the left, Antonio to the right. They circle around, closing in on Jeff. When they get within ten feet, however, Jeff suddenly looks up.

“Wraith!” Julie hisses, trying to direct Karl’s attention to something swooping down the hall.

“YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS IN MY HOME!!!” the spirit bellows in a hollow voice audible only to Karl and York’s flesh-and-blood ears.

The wraith – an old man with a shock of white hair and a long, grizzled beard – goes directly for Karl. He balls his hand into a fist and pops Karl squarely in the jaw. Karl staggers backward – more from shock than from pain. He’s seen this wraith before. It’s Old Man Whately. And the dead bastard still packs quite a wallop. Karl daubs the back of his hand against his split lip. It comes away smeared darkly with blood.

York looks up from his dinner and whirls around, trying to spot the source of the disturbances. He sees Old Man Whately as the wraith lashes out – although, for Jeff, the enchantment on Karl’s ring means he can’t quite see Karl himself. York focuses first on Julie, but it’s clear that she is not whatever Whately is striking. It’s obvious enough that someone is hidden. Jeff squints at the air in front of Whately, and his eyes shimmer with power as he struggles to see past the illusion.

Antonio prepares himself to take a flying tackle at York, not wanting to completely lose the element of surprise.

In the next moment, York starts off by moving obscenely fast. In the space of two eyeblinks, he reaches into an inner pocket of his jacket, grabs something the size and shape of a red rubber ball, and tosses this item hard onto the polished wooden floorboards. He aims for a spot about a foot in front of himself and roughly between Karl and Antonio’s cloaked forms.

The item hits the ground and shatters. Antonio and Karl both tense, expecting to be caught in a fiery explosion. There’s not enough time to get to cover.

Instead of flames, the thing erupts into boiling waves of darkness. A numbing concussion of frigid shadows ripples out from the point of impact, sucking the air from the room and temporarily blinding all present. The shockwave hits with a silence so intense, the air seems to shriek with absence. Bitter talons of ice lash against every scrap of exposed flesh, biting somehow deeper than flesh, bone-deep and soul-searing. All thought, all reason is driven before that numbing wave and it’s all anyone can do to keep their feet. Karl stumbles and Antonio is nearly driven to his knees.

Karl and Antonio each take one aggravated wound.

The wraiths shriek and the sound tears at the very air. They’re tossed like autumn leaves in the silent gale rushing from the epicenter, and the pulsing waves of dark shear gobbets from their forms. Old Man Whately howls as he lifts his hands to cover his face – and the memory of flesh is torn down to the bone. Julie pleas for help from Karl, clinging with bitter desperation as the darkness eats her before his eyes. She’s blown like rags along the air, a tattered, screaming form, and then – nothing.

Both Antonio and Karl’s enchantments are ripped away as well, and in the wake of the awful storm of darkness unleashed by York, the two vampires stand, shaken and staring. York looks as shocked as they do. Menecrites catches only the tail of it from his position down the hall. He pokes his head back out the door once the worst of the shockwaves has passed.

The mortal woman is screaming. The sound rises and falls, desolate and empty of all reason. She screams till she runs out of breath, then takes a hiccupping sob and screams some more.

She’s on the floor and she crab-walks back from the point of impact. Her back hits the wall and she doesn’t stop, just keeps trying to crawl backward into it. She claws at her eyes, fingers hooked and nails gouging.

York looks down in stupefaction at the item he dashed onto the floorboards. There are bits of broken glass and bands of some metal – probably copper – scattered in a two-foot radius. From this epicenter, that chilling darkness lingers, though the waves are nowhere near as powerful as the first concussion that caught everyone unaware.

“Shit,” York swears unhappily at the shattered remnants of the bomb.

Antonio doesn’t waste another moment. He tosses his swordcane to one side and levels the Toreador with a powerful flying tackle. He’d prefer to just kill the bastard, but he needs to question him. He catches York by surprise so the smaller man can’t engage his supernatural speed. The two of them tumble down in a heap.

Menecrites dashes into the room. Karl is still stunned by what he witnessed happening to both of the wraiths – Julie especially. The stoic necromancer isn’t one to brood on his feelings, but watching his companion torn apart before his eyes has nearly unmoored him. He stands frozen in place, staring at the air where she had been.

As Antonio wrestles with York, the mortal woman’s shrieks change in pitch and frequency. She slams her head backward into the wall, still digging at her eyes. Her hands are bloody. Her mouth moves in nonsense sounds and she’s still trying to push herself backwards with spastic kicks of her legs.

Before anyone can suggest otherwise, Menecrites pulls out his gun and shoots her once between the eyes. It’s a mercy killing, efficient and quick. She falls silent at last.

Antonio throttles York, landing punch after punch on his face.

“What the fuck was that, York? What the fuck was that?” Antonio bellows. "Menecrites! Hand me my swordcane. I'm gonna take this bastard's head."

Through the ruin of his mouth, York begs for his life, screaming, “I had no idea it would do that! Please! I’ll tell you everything! Just don’t kill me!”

Abyss To be continued …

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Into the House of Death

1929. Night has fallen on Providence, and in one ill-fated house near the town cemetery, darkness comes to call.-------------------------------------------

Wednesday night comes, and they all pile into Antonio’s Packard. He kills the headlamps a few blocks from the Whately place, then cuts the engine as he turns into Kirkwood Cemetery. He lets the car coast for as long as he can, maneuvering it along the narrow gravel path that twists amidst the stones.

Once the car stops, he engages the parking brake and they all get out, taking stock of their equipment. Antonio has his trusty sword cane, an item enchanted with the bound spirit of a vampire assassin once sent to kill him. Antonio killed the Assamite and claimed his soul instead. The Giovanni patriarch has his gun as well, and guns are good enough for mortals. But the cane – especially with the screaming spirit bound to its hidden blade – that has a real bite.

Menecrites opens the boot and pulls out two large glass bottles, trying not to clink them together. The bottles hold a murky brownish liquid that could pass for urine in the wrong light – bootleg mead. It’s not the best stuff. In fact, it’s barely drinkable. But it doesn’t have to be good to be incriminating. Menecrites tucks one bottle under each arm, nodding to Karl and Antonio that he’s ready.

Julie the wraith hovers near Karl’s shoulder, humming to herself. Her reedy voice intermittently crosses to the flesh-and-blood world with a sound like wind sighing through the naked branches of frozen trees. Nadia is nearby as well, but Antonio whispers to her, asking her to stay near the car and keep an eye on things from a distance. If things go south, he wants her to hustle back home and let cousin Luci know to hit the place with everything the family’s got.

On foot, the three Giovanni head toward the house, moving silently among the canting, weathered stones of Kirkwood Cemetery.

Lights are on in the parlor and some of the curtains are drawn. As they watch, the familiar figure of Jeffrey York passes in front of one of the windows. The glimpse is brief, but they all recognize Alexander’s cats’ paw.

The rest of the house is dark, except for what might be a reading light in one of the upstairs bedrooms. With a gesture from Antonio, Karl heads around back. Antonio and Menecrites crouch as they pass near the windows to the parlor, gliding soundlessly through the grass as they move toward the side of the house. Once they’re clear of the lighted windows, Menecrites stashes the mead in the bushes. Antonio studies the windows on this side of the house for a likely point of entry. The foundation of the house is fairly high, so all the windows are a little out of reach, but between himself and Menecrites, that shouldn’t be much trouble.

As Karl approaches the back door, he calls upon his particular path of necromancy, reaching out to the spectral echo of the physical world. Most of the Giovanni necromancers can summon and compel spirits, but Karl’s from a line that has a different sort of knack. It’s one reason the Italian family “adopted” their German cousin. Karl can peer directly into the realm of the dead. Better than that, with effort, he can reach across and even walk through it. It’s a tasking ability, and not without its risks, but it’s a talent Karl’s had since the days he became a vampire.

Stepping carefully onto a regrettably creaky back porch, Karl has a momentary flash of déjà vu. It was this door precisely where he had previously broken into the Old Whately Place with Jack all those years ago. This was the house where he’d first learned spirits could physically hurt people. This was where he’d seen undeniable evidence that attested to his own skills.

He pauses at the door, his gloved hand hovering over its knob. Closing his eyes, he reaches inward to what feels like a dark and fathomless well. Cold power rests in that space, and he dredges it up. Even his undead flesh feels the chill as it bursts forth, flooding him. When he opens his eyes again, the world has bled of all color. The house before him is decrepit again, and all its angles have gone wrong – he’s looking at it through the shadowlands.

Karl presses forward, starting to step across, but he quickly realizes that the house exists very solidly in both the skinlands and the shadowlands. If anything, the place has more substance in the shadowlands, probably because of all of the stories told about it. The fear and horror associated with the place have soaked into every board, making the place unassailable. No wonder the wraiths couldn’t get in. Alexander didn’t even need wards – all he had to do to block the spirits was close and lock the physical door.

Karl steps back across, never actually moving from his position directly in front of the back door. Then he takes a couple of lockpicks from of his coat pocket and jimmies the lock. Julie teases Karl gently over having to resort to this.

He shoots her a look and whispers, “I suppose you could do better?”

She sticks out her tongue playfully, but quiets back down.

Elsewhere, Antonio and Menecrites move quietly to a side window. No lights burn in the room beyond, and some empty wooden crates lie close at hand in the yard beside an wheelbarrow. Quickly and silently, Antonio and Menecrites stack the crates. Antonio hands his cane off to Menecrites, then steps up first. Drawing upon his skills of stealth and security, he lets himself in through the darkened window. Then he reaches down for his cane. Once it’s in hand, he helps Menecrites through the window behind him.

The half-Greek enforcer is not as silent as Antonio, and for a few breathless moments, the two of them stand, stock-still in what appears to be a sewing room. They listen to the rest of the house, but after a few moments, it seems obvious that no one heard them enter. The door leading out of the room is slightly ajar, letting in a sliver of light from the hallway. Motioning for Menecrites to stay put, Antonio creeps soundlessly forward to the door.

At the back door, Karl succeeds in picking the lock. Julie pats him on the back with a ghostly hand. Ordinarily, he would send her in first to scout the place out, but if the vampire Jeff York is in residence, there’s a chance that he’ll see her. The Giovanni vampires might have the market cornered on necromancy, but they can’t control who is and who isn’t a natural spirit medium. The in-born skill makes Jeff especially inconvenient to them.

Murmuring so low not even vampire ears could hear him, Karl instructs Julie to stick close, following a step or two behind him. Crouching low to the ground, he turns the knob and cautiously pushes the back door open. The hinges creak and the sound seems loud as a car wreck to Karl’s ears. He halts, then listens. Nothing. He resumes pushing the door open slowly, but the hinges groan again in protest and, preparing for the worst, Karl gives in and just shoves the door all the way open.

No one seems to hear – or, if they hear, they’re not making any noise of their own.

Karl decides that he’s in the clear for the moment. He edges through the doorway with Julie close behind. The necromancer finds himself in the kitchen. The only light is the ghostly blue flickering of the pilot light on the stove. It streams weakly through the latticed burners. The kitchen is large, with a sizable butcher’s block standing in the center of the room. A rack of pots and pans hangs above the butcher block. Karl makes note of the collection of knives sitting on the block, including a well-honed cleaver. Those might be useful later.

Moving as quietly as possible, although he’s not particularly skilled at stealth, Karl steps toward the door on the far side of the kitchen. He can see weak light coming in around the edges. That way lies the front of the house and Jeff York.

From the darkened sewing room, Antonio peers carefully through the crack in the door. Directly in front of him is the side of a staircase, a thick, highly polished banister leading upstairs. There is a door at the base of this staircase. It probably leads to the basement. The door is closed and has a sizable lock. The lock is clearly new – its brass fittings are shiny compared to the knob and hinges on the door. Faint, rust-colored symbols are visible along the very edge of the door, where it lies flush against the jamb. Wards of some sort.

Filing that piece of information away for later, Antonio glances down the hallway to the right. There’s a dining room, unlit. At the far end of the dining room is a door that probably leads to the kitchen. As Antonio watches, Karl steps carefully through that door and surveys the dining room. Antonio locks eyes with Karl and motions for the black-clad necromancer to stay put for a moment. Karl nods, taking a step back so he stands deeper in the shadows.

Looking to the left, Antonio sees that the hall continues toward the front of the house, leading toward the parlour. York is there, standing in about the middle of the room. The gaslights in that room burn away all the shadows. Their dancing, yellow light paints weird patterns across the flocked wallpaper in the hall.

Standing close to York is a young woman. She wears the powder-blue button-down shirt and the long, navy skirt that is to be the uniform of the female cult members. Her russet hair is twined in a French braid and knotted at the base of her neck. York appears to be hitting on her. He is wearing a powder-blue button-down shirt as well, but he has a navy suit jacket over it. He wears matching navy trousers. From the way the suit jacket hangs on one side, Antonio can tell that York is wearing a shoulder holster. So he has a gun, at the very least.

Karl stands rigidly in the shadows of the dining room. He doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t move a muscle. He watches in silence as Antonio cranes his head out of the door to a side room, peering down the one lighted hall. After a moment, Antonio turns back to face Karl. Gesturing silently, he holds up two fingers to indicate that there are two people in the lighted room. He mouths a name that Karl knows well: “York.” Then he raises a finger to indicate one other. Mouthing “York” again, Antonio gestures to indicate that Jeff has a gun.

Karl nods. Menecrites steps up behind Antonio. It’s time to put the next part of the plan into action.

Haunted

Take me to the next chapter.

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A Council of Shadows

We return once more to our shadowed version of Providence, a city of vampire gangsters and spectral femme fatales.--------------------------------------------------------------------

The Giovanni vampires tail the cultists for the better part of a week, Menecrites with the living, Antonio and Karl with the dead. Monday night, Antonio has them meet in his office to go over what they've learned. He knows time is pressing, but he's dealt with LeMourru often enough to be wary - - he won't rush in until he's certain he will win.

The patriarch of the family sits with his elbows on the big mahogany desk, hands laced under his chin. His eyes are distant as Nadia whispers to him. Karl arrives first, with his own wraith, Julie, trailing in his wake. He has a fist full of receipts and an expression that seesaws between bewilderment and irritation.

The eyes of the two wraiths dart fleetingly to one another – – a token acknowledgment. Simply because they're dead and working for the same people doesn't guarantee that the two ladies get along. Nadia presses herself a little closer to Antonio, clearly possessive. Julie makes a big show of yawning in a spectral pantomime of indifference. Karl shoots Julie a look, clearly not in the mood.

Menecrites bursts into the room, bringing a welcome distraction from the tension strung upon the air between the two wraiths. He's dressed smartly in a suit and tie, a matching handkerchief meticulously folded and tucked into the breast pocket of his vest. He carries a creased manila folder under one meaty arm.

"Sorry I'm late, boss. I had one last thing to check before I put everything together." He pats the document-stuffed folder with no small amount of pride.

Antonio gives Menecrites a perfunctory nod. He pushes back from the desk, stretching in his chair. "So what we got, boys?"

With a baffled air, Karl tosses his receipts onto the desk. He says, "Bees. These people are crazy about bees."

"Hunh?" Antonio responds. Abruptly, he settles forward on the chair, the rollers hitting the tile with an audible clack.

"I checked in at all the shops in town, trying to catch purchases that tied them to occult activity," Karl explains. He adjusts his hat on his brow -- Reynaldo hadn't caught him this time in order to tell him to take it off indoors. "What I found is these cultists have a thing for bee-keeping. They've cleaned the city out of related supplies."

Antonio pages through the bills of sale, squinting at the writing as if this could somehow help what he was seeing make more sense.

Menecrites shuffles a little self-consciously, muttering, "Well, you just blew anything weird I had right out of the water."

Karl shrugs helplessly. "What they're doing with the bees is anyone's guess. I don't know any occult practice I can connect with it.”

"Not just Alexander's Elder Cult and Bridge Club, then," Antonio murmurs.

"Say what now?" Menecrites sputters.

The family patriarch laughs a little at his cousin’s response. He tilts his head in Nadia's direction, forgetting that Menecrites has trouble seeing the dead. "That's what she called 'em. I guess when they're bored, they play a lot of cards. Bridge Club."

Karl makes a frustrated noise. "I have no idea what these people are up to."

With a flourish, Menecrites presents his manila folder. "Then allow me.”

Both Karl and Antonio focus curiously on him. Menecrites is fairly brimming with giddy pride. He says, “I don't got the benefit of spooky dead things for spying on people, but I do got a lot of eyes and ears on the ground.”

He opens the folder and spreads its papers in an arc in front of Antonio. The elder vampire’s brows tick up and he lifts one of the pages to read it more closely.

"This is a timeline," he murmurs with some measure of surprise.

"Yeah. It's like I'm organized or something," Menecrites says.

“Eight AM, breakfast. Nine to one, gardening. Group lunch. Indoctrination. Séance.” Antonio rattles off activities as he goes down the list. “You’ve got their whole day mapped out.”

“Their whole week,” Menecrites corrects.

“Nadia couldn’t get inside the place,” Antonio admits.

“Neither could Julie,” says Karl. “It’s warded or something.”

“Well, everybody gets a visit from the milkman and the ice man, and those guys report to me,” Menecrites explains. “I got my buddy Cicero over in the cemetery trimming the bushes, and he’s got a real nice view. Then there’s the gal at the grocer’s – those crazy blue shirts might make a lot of honey with all them bees, but they don’t grow all their food. They got people coming into town pretty much daily.”

Antonio continues reading over the papers, nodding vaguely at his cousin’s points. “This is good work, Menecrites,” he says.

“Wait,” the big half-Greek says. “It gets better. Look over on the next page, boss. Wednesdays are like cultists’ night out.” He leans over and taps a finger in the middle of the sheet. "The place is never empty, but that’s our best window. A whole bunch of ‘em go out and party at the dance houses and stuff. They don’t come back till at least midnight. Three or four stay behind, with Jeff York playing babysitter.”

“Seems like his regular job,” Karl agrees. “The only vampire Julia saw coming and going with any regularity was Jeff. No sign of LeMourru.”

“Nadia saw LeMourru once,” Antonio says darkly. “He didn’t arrive by any obvious means, just kind of showed up on the inside of the house. Surprised her.” He sets Menecrites’s meticulously lettered timetables down. Nadia lays a spectral hand on his shoulder and Antonio’s looks softens for a moment. The expression swiftly fades.

“You think he’s learned how to obfuscate?” Karl wonders.

“Nah,” Antonio counters. “That’s not his style. He loves that pretty face of his too much to hide it like that.” Pensive, he picks at a slight bend in one of the corners of the manila folder. “I bet he’s got a haven under the building or something.”

“Then we have to get in there,” Karl responds. “The wraiths can’t get past the perimeter, so we don’t have much choice in the matter.”

Menecrites noisily clears his throat, waving his hand between Karl and Antonio. “Hello,” he says. “Already thought of that. We should break in Wednesday.”

Karl’s eyes flick to Menecrites, his pale lips pressed into a disapproving line. “You said yourself the place is never empty. What do we do with the mortals? We can’t risk being exposed, and you can bet they won’t just sit around while we rifle the place.”

“Killing them is always an option,” Menecrites responds. In unison, Karl and Antonio shoot him dirty looks. “Hey,” he says, shrugging, “Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it.”

Antonio takes a breath and sighs unhappily. “Oh, I was,” he acknowledges, “And a couple years ago, I’d have been all for it. But if I know Alexander, he’s just waiting for an excuse to expose us.” He tears off the ragged corner of the folder with his nail. Sharply, he flicks it away, tracking it as it flutters to the tiles. “Nah, we gotta find a way we can raid the place that will hold up in court. You can bet he’ll try to drag us into some shit otherwise. That’s why he’s practically drowning in mortal patsies in that house.”

“If they were doing something obviously occult, I might be able to spin public opinion,” Karl offers.

“You just said their only weird thing is bee-keeping,” Antonio responds.

Karl shrugs. “I checked in with Shipton to see what kind of books they’ve picked up.”

“And…?” Antonio asks.

“Nothing.

“The Tremere could be lying,” Menecrites offers. “I mean, being a Tremere and all.”

Karl snorts. “He was lying about something. Which is why I had Julie watch the place,” he replies. “And if he’s selling them occult books, he’s doing it where those transactions can’t be observed. So, again, a brick wall.”

Antonio’s eyes have grown distant. He taps one nail against the blotter on his desk. Almost to himself, he murmurs, “Honey.”

Menecrites piques a brow at the family patriarch. “Squeeze me?” he quips.

Karl scowls at the enforcer with a look that eloquently damns Menecrites’ inability to be totally serious even at the most vexing of times. Menecrites either misses the look or ignores it – it’s an even bet. Antonio’s too immersed in his thoughts to catch any of it.

“I got an idea,” he says at length. “All that honey. They could be using it to make mead.”

“Julie didn’t see anything like that,” Karl objects.

Antonio barks a laugh. “I didn’t say they were actually brewing stuff. It don't matter. This will be the very definition of railroading. All we gotta do is plant a few casks in that house. Anything gets ugly, my police contacts can take care of the rest. We’ll be bustin’ up a bootlegging operation, after all.”

Understanding dawns across Karl’s face as he follows Antonio’s train of thought. The Doge of Providence, suddenly animated, slams his hand down on the surface of his desk in his excitement. The sound is enormous in the windowless basement office. His eyes glimmering with purpose, he says, “Menecrites – how quick can you get your hands on some honeywine?”

“Shouldn’t take much, boss.” Menecrites grins. Antonio’s excitement is infectious. “Then we hit the place Wednesday night, right?”

“Like you said, cousin,” Antonio replies, “that is the best possible time.”

Bee-Keeping

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An Honest Night's Work

It's 1929 in a version of Providence that's home to vampires, cultists, and the restless dead. A family of Italian necromancers have a choke-hold on the city, and they're looking to take down their rivals, lead by Alexander LeMourru.-------------------------------------------------

Nightfall finds Menecrites on the docks. The big man leans against a stack of weathered crates that don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon. His dark eyes luminous beneath heavy brows, he watches the ceaseless activity of the dockworkers as they load and unload the ships. It’s late, but this is a thankless job, and many of the men work well into the night.

Menecrites can hear half a dozen tongues shouted back and forth between the vessels in the busy harbor. Italian he knows, and he recognizes Polish, though he doesn’t understand anything more than the tone. Irish, Russian, Czech – and some lilting, rhythmic thing that must hail from the Caribbean, given its speaker’s exotic appearance. The world has many names for this diverse collection of people, few of them kind.

Menecrites sees them for what they are, these stevedores and roustabouts. They’re hard-working men, all trying to put food on the table through an honest night's labor. Immigrants and half-breeds, most of them can’t call any one place their own. The city doesn’t welcome them, but without their raw muscle, it would wither and die.

These are Menecrites’ people – the ones no one else will claim. He understands their struggles because he, too, stands out as someone who doesn’t properly belong. It’s not about being a vampire – that identity is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of family Giovanni, he doesn’t think of it as strange. No, Menecrites is half-Greek in a family that treasures its pure Italian bloodline. When his mother named him, she might as well have pressed a brand to his head. She bequeathed to him her dark coloring – black eyes and hair, skin less olive than brown. Maybe Antonio doesn't think that's a big deal, but all the others – especially back home – they treat the half-Greek like something they scraped off their shoe.

All Menecrites really wants from the world is some respect, but even Antonio doesn’t always manage that. It’s in the little things, like how they often talk around him in the meetings. Half they time, they only remember he’s standing there at the very end. And no one ever asks his opinion on any of the tactical decisions. The occult stuff, he understands. That’s not his bag, and he’s ok with that. Leave the spookfest to Luci and Karl. But would it kill them to ask what he thinks about the family business once in a while? Maybe thank him for some of the work he’s done? All they ever do is bitch at him when things get broke, after they gave him clear orders to go out and break them.

“They mean well,” he sighs. Though good intentions don’t mean things are changing any time soon.

He tracks the activity of a knot of workers who seem to be knocking off for the night, idly tapping the baseball bat he’d brought along against the side of his shoe. Menecrites has potence – the vampire gift of supernatural strength – so he hardly needs a baseball bat to protect himself no matter what part of town he finds himself in. But he’s learned that the bat makes a statement, and that statement is, Menecrites doesn’t fuck around. He almost never has to throw a punch when he walks around with the Louisville slugger casually balanced on one shoulder. That’s pretty handy for keeping his supernatural levels of strength discrete.

And the bat is such a regular thing that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow among the usual gang of dockworkers. They all know Menecrites. He gives them jobs for extra cash, sneaks them a little hooch, and pals around like they’re society guys.

He falls into step with the group of roughnecks as they head away from the harbor. They chatter among themselves in accented English, crude and boisterous and unabashed. None of them stares at Menecrites like he’s out of place, though with his neatly-pressed shirt and his smart pants, he’s too well-groomed for this lot.

A couple of them greet him – they’ve seen him before. He pulls a flask from his back pocket and starts passing it around. It’s Prohibition, and good liquor is hard to find. His family regulates most of it – the stuff in the flask isn’t the usual coffin varnish these guys are used to.

“Hey, fellas,” he says at length, after pretending to take a belt from the flask himself. “I maybe got some work for you.”

“For more of that giggle water, sure,” one of them says. He’s a big guy – bigger than Menecrites himself. His skin’s so tanned and weathered from his labor outdoors, it’s impossible to tell if he started life white or brown. His features could be anything. His accent’s local. Menecrites treats him as he sees him – a man unafraid of hard work.

“I’ll do you one better,” the vampire says. He fishes in his pocket for some money. He holds up a ten dollar bill. That gets attention. The whole group stops walking and clusters around him, eyes bright as they listen.

“We don’t do breaking law,” says a squint-eyed fella with an accent so thick, he might have gotten off the boat last week.

“No worries there, buddy,” Menecrites says. “This is honest work. All you gotta do is watch.” He points two fingers at his eyes for emphasis. “There’s these people in town. You probably seen them. They dress kinda funny. Blue shirts, blue pants --”

“My sister talks about them,” says a whip-skinny man with a porkpie hat. “She works over at the grocer’s. Says they’re real strange.”

“You ain’t just whistling Dixie,” Menecrites laughs. “They’re strange as they come, and they’re up to something. You guys, you don’t gotta do nothing but keep your eyes open. You see them in town, you watch where they go. They talk to people, you see who they are. Then you tell me.”

“We could bust ‘em up for ya, Mr. Giovanni.” That comes from one of the regular guys – Cicero. His skin’s so black, it makes lanterns out of the whites of his eyes.

“Nah, Cis, we don’t need nothing like that now,” Menecrites responds. “You know I don’t make you go bustin’ kneecaps.” He grins as he shifts the bat on his shoulder. “That’s my job.”

Most of the men chuckle. They know the score. The new guy looks dubious, but he falls in step, laughing awkwardly along with the rest.

“I got a sawbuck for every guy that brings me useful information. Emphasis on the useful part,” Menecrites adds. “Don’t try to fool me – I ain’t stupid and I ain’t a charity.” The dockworkers nod and Menecrites flashes a brilliant grin – so well practiced, he manages to hide the pointy ends of his canines with his lower lip. “Play right by me and I’ll take care of ya. You know I’m good for it.”

“There gonna be trouble?” Cicero asks.

“Only for these blue-shirts who’re making trouble for us first,” Menecrites replies. “They’re into some not-so-good stuff, so don’t let them catch you. I wouldn’t want any of my boys getting hurt.”

Cicero takes off his hat and thoughtfully rubs his bald pate. He's been in Providence long enough to be worried -- not about the Giovanni, but about what must be brewing on the horizon with the blue shirts.

Menecrites sees his look, then hands off the ten-spot to Cis. “You all heading to that juice bar down the street?” Only the new guy hesitates before he nods. Menecrites’ grin widens. “Buy a couple rounds on me.”

Longshore Workers

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Her Breathless Kiss

Providence. A city of secrets, each stranger than the last. The year is 1929 and the vampire family Giovanni seek to maintain their version of order in this darkened mirror of New England, where ghosts and vampires are not the worst one can encounter in the long hours of the night.--------------------------

At the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, Antonio steps inside his office and moves aside a bookcase to access a hidden room. There’s no real mechanism involved. He’s got casters on the bottom and a rough little track, but most of the work is by main force alone. The puissant vampire physically lifts the solid mahogany bookcase out of his way, settling it back into place when he’s done. He’s glued down most of its books (who has time to read all that stuff, anyway?) and has hand-holds in the back so he can more easily shift the six-foot-tall piece of furniture from the other side.

It’s not the prettiest door to a secret passage, but it’s functional enough for Antonio. Sure, he could have had Menecrites get one of his contractors to fix a door up real nice – but then others in the family would know about the room, and the whole point’s about secret spaces.

The hidden room beyond the bookcase isn’t much – just an old broom closet. Reynaldo probably knows about it. The old ghoul originally belonged to Antonio’s sire, Scapelli, and he’s been around longer than most of the family’s full-blooded vampires – at least as far as the Providence branch is concerned. Reynaldo knows more than he lets on about pretty much everything, but over the centuries, he’s also learned to hold his tongue – a valuable quality in a family like the Giovanni.

Antonio knows he probably doesn’t have to keep this work-room a secret. It’s more for personal reasons that he does, and he’s all right with that. Antonio’s research into the family’s trade-mark skill of necromancy is something he likes being private about. Not too long ago, Antonio could barely whistle up a shade, let alone bind a ghost. A dirty little secret – and one engineered by his scheming sire, Scapelli.

Scapelli had manipulated Antonio’s heritage over generations of family Giovanni’s living relatives, forcing marriages and cross-pairings the way other men might breed prized hounds. Some he brought across as vampires, others he kept as breeding stock, using each and every one of them to forward his own inscrutable aims.

Scapelli felt he’d gotten a real prize with Antonio – the Giovanni was a remorseless killing machine, strategic, efficient, and brutally strong. But the old bastard hadn’t wanted brains in his lapdog, so he’d done his damnedest to keep his protégé stunted in all other arenas, the better to rule through Antonio as the power behind the throne.

Except Scapelli erred in cultivating Antonio’s hard-headed pride. No one makes a fool of Antonio Giovanni and lives to brag about it – not even the elder vampire who’d pruned their twisted branch of the family tree since the time of the Medicis. Antonio made sure that Scapelli was good and dead. He didn’t do the deed himself – blood-bound to Scapelli, he couldn’t have no matter how much he wanted to – but when an opportunity for freedom arose, Antonio did what Scapelli had groomed him always to do: he seized it, and he never looked back.

Now free of the old patriarch’s corrupt influence, Antonio does his damnedest to be the vampire the family needs to rule the city of Providence – not merely a cold-blooded killer (though there’s surely a place for that), but someone with skills on all fronts and a head for politics that would have put Machiavelli to shame.

Antonio strikes a match against the wall and lights one of the candles on a nearby shelf. He doesn’t need much light, and the room is small. One candle is more than enough.

There’s an old steamer trunk pushed up against one wall with a piece of silk cloth draped over its pitted surface – nothing so formal as an altar, simply a workspace, a little prettied up. There’s a ritual dagger and a chalice for offerings of blood. But the thing he’s interested in is a woman’s brooch. Silver, slightly tarnished, with one leaf bent, it’s a single, delicate rose. It serves as a fetter for Antonio’s favored wraith.

Nadia.

The spirit is as enamored with the taciturn Giovanni as he is with her. A woman who, in life, fell victim to her own father’s ceaseless rage, Nadia sees Antonio not as her oppressor, but as her savior. He'd freed her from the place where she’d known only suffering and grief, hunting down her father and making him pay.

The hard-headed Doge of Providence spent weeks secretly frequenting the site of Nadia’s murder, struggling to pierce the Veil so they could speak. He hadn’t planned on anything more than using her. That’s what the family did with most wraiths – summoned them, bound them, compelled them to serve. But once he got the hang of communicating, Antonio found himself growing fond of Nadia. Now a bond lingers between them, the unliving and the dead. The wraith is not a servitor, but a friend.

She is also the only woman Antonio feels that he can love without remorse. He’s a brutal man, and he knows it. With his volatile temper and his violent way of life, he’s left behind a bloody swath of people he’s tried to hold close. He has a marriage of convenience to a mortal woman arranged at childhood by Scapelli – and while the hardened former hit-man sometimes wishes he could love his wife, the best he can do most nights is keep her safe from harm.

But Nadia – Nadia is already dead. She’s lived through the worst life had to offer and come out the other side. More than that, she sees Antonio for exactly what he is – and it has never made her flinch.

Antonio takes up her rose, running his thick, blunt thumb along the delicate filigree of its stem. A thing of beauty, fragile and precious. A symbol of all the things which – beyond the walls of this secret room – Antonio is denied.

He’s too practical to brood on it for long. Every moment he delays, Alexander builds his power and the cultists do who-knows-what in the Old Whately place. There’s work to be done, and the dawn doesn’t wait.

“Nadia,” he calls to the air as he cradles the rose in his palm. “I got work for you, doll.”

Almost instantly, she fades into view. She wears the memory of a flattering knee-length dress, her shapely legs crossed primly as she sits upon the trunk. Death has leached most of the color from the fabric and from her skin, but hints of auburn cling to the carefully dressed waves of her hair.

“Whatcha want, tough guy?” Her voice is all syrup and honey upon the air.

Antonio wastes a moment just looking at her. Nadia’s a real swanky gal, built like a starlet. It's a shame her father robbed the world of her light.

“I got some trouble with that pinko Toreador, LeMourru,” Antonio says. “He’s holed up in the old Whately murder house, gathering power before he makes another move. I need eyes on his people so we know the score before we bust the place up.”

“You know I’m always up for a favor for you.” She drifts from the trunk, circling behind him in the small room. He feels her presence near his shoulder like the promise of a touch.

“He’s got a gang of cultists – mortals. Probably ghouled. I want to know what they eat, where they sleep, and when they take a dump. There’s a couple of vampires in there, too, more than just LeMourru. Jeff York, for one. I need descriptions. Names.”

Spectral fingers trail idly through his hair as she listens. Softly, she murmurs, “York. I remember that one. He can see me."

Antonio nods. He reaches a hand up to her hand. They can’t touch exactly, but her fingers press against his just this side of connecting. He says, “And LeMourru, you remember -- that guy’s dangerous. He’s got that oblivion power, nihilism. He can hurt you.”

“He’s hard to look at,” she admits, shifting to his other shoulder. Her voice is a breathless whisper against his ear. “Swirling darkness. Hungry void. I won’t forget what’s attached to him.”

Antonio closes his eyes. At the same time, he curls his fingers tightly around her tarnished silver rose. For a moment, he allows himself to dream of a different life. A life where he doesn’t have to wage campaigns of terror and bloodshed for the sake of the Family. A life where Nadia is still a breathing woman of flesh and blood. A life where his own existence isn’t one circumscribed by endless, violent nights.

Nadia clings to Antonio’s arm. He doesn’t realize how tightly his shoulders have tensed. But she notices. She knows his moods. He takes a breath – he doesn’t have to, except to speak – and exhales slowly. He lets the fantasy life that can never be drift from him like smoke.

“You spy on ‘em, Nadia, but the minute you see LeMourru, you beat feet, you hear me?” he says. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

With slow reverence, he places her fetter back in its position upon the trunk. The candle gutters and in its dancing shadows, Nadia leans close and presses spectral lips against his cheek. Her kiss is lighter than cobwebs, but it lingers like the burn of a brand. When she retreats, the stuffy little broom closet feels vast and empty as the yawning maw of hell.

Nadia

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Providence: Forbidden Books

The year is 1929 and the city is Providence -- but this is our world through a glass darkly, a place where magic and monsters hold sway in the night and the visions of Lovecraft are not portents of madness, but searing and horrible truths. ---------------------

Forbidden Books

The next night, Karl checks in at Shipton’s Books. A string of little brass bells hanging near the door tinklingly announces his arrival. Travis Shipton, the local purveyor of rare and magical tomes, fusses behind a long, wooden counter. When he sees the dour necromancer, the rail-thin thaumaturge grows as pale as the ruffled bit of lace at his throat.

“Ah, um, Karl. It is Karl, isn’t it?” Shipton asks, his words clipped with a dated British accent. The book vendor straightens his brocade waistcoat. Born some time in the middle seventeen hundreds, the city’s lone Tremere had never adapted to modern fashion.

“Cut the crap, Shipton. You know who I am,” Karl responds. His wraith, Julie, makes a face at him, but her antics serve only to annoy. Karl waves her off. The anachronistic Tremere is oblivious to her presence, and just as well.

Shipton purses his thin lips. “I haven’t done anything,” he says, with the air of someone fearful of being caught.

“Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you won’t mind giving me a little information,” Karl prods.

Shipton maneuvers slightly so a large stack of books sits between them on the counter. He eyes the Giovanni necromancer warily, the briny blue of his irises glimmering with a faint sheen of power. Karl scowls when he sees it.

“You don’t need to use Auspex to see if I’m lying,” Karl barks. “Play nice and I’ll be out of here quickly.” He slams a list of names down onto the counter. Shipton jumps back as if expecting the list to explode like a pipe bomb. Karl says, “I want you to tell me what books any of these people bought in the past month. See? Simple.”

Shipton takes the list gingerly, pulling an old pair of pince-nez from his vest pocket and perching them on his nose. He squints at Karl’s handwriting, which wasn’t amazing on the best of days, and he’d written the list in a hurry.

“Ah, yes,” Shipton says, tapping a particular name. “I know this group. My ghoul Liza calls them the Blue Shirts. That’s all they wear, you see. Blue shirt, navy slacks for the gentlemen. Blue shirt, long navy skirt for the ladies. There’s been rather a lot of them of late.”

“I know,” Karl growls with more ferocity than is strictly necessary. Shipton nearly drops the list.

“You don’t have to be so cross with me. I’m not your enemy,” the Tremere objects.

“Yeah? You’re not my friend, either,” Karl retorts. “You’re selling books to these people, and they’re causing trouble for my family in this city.”

Shipton takes off his ridiculous antique spectacles, tapping them absently against the creased bit of paper. His eyes dart around the over-laden shelves that reach to the rafters, searching for something. He frowns, saying, “This book store existed before your family came to this town, and I have no intention of shutting my doors for the convenience of a few short-tempered Italians.”

Karl starts to hurl an excoriating response at the old Tremere, but Shipton stands his ground for once. No power is exchanged between them, but something in Travis’s eyes gives Karl pause.

Snippily, the Tremere says, “Before you threaten to tear off my head with your customary brutish zeal, let me remind you that I’ve been nothing but helpful to you and your people when events in this city have gotten … ” Shipton falters in his search for a fitting word, finally uttering, "Complicated." He tosses the list back onto the counter, making no effort to hide his irritation. “And none of these people have bought anything I would class as a dangerous book. I’d have mentioned something to Luciano at the Occult Council if they had.”

Karl glares at Shipton, balling his fists so tight the leather of his gloves creaks in protest. Shipton knows better than to stare back directly into Beck’s eyes, but he squares his shoulders and gives a haughty little lift to his cleft chin as he fixes his eyes unwavering at a point to the left of Karl's head. Beside her master, Julie the wraith whispers soothingly. She doesn’t see anything amiss in the store.

“If anything changes, you tell me,” Karl says at length.

“Not Luciano?” Shipton inquires.

“Cousin Luci is not to be bothered. You come to me,” Karl reiterates, drilling his meaning into each individual word. “We clear, Shipton?”

“As a gypsy’s glass,” Shipton says with a disdainful sniff. “Now buy something or get out. This is a place of business, after all.”

Karl leaves, slamming the door behind him so hard, the little string of brass bells crashes noisily to the floor.

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Antiquarian Books

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Providence: A Family Affair

We return to the world of In Providentia, set in a fictional version of Providence, Rhode Island that blends elements of Lovecraft's New England and Vampire: the Masquerade's World of Darkness. The year is 1929, and the Giovanni necromancer Karl Beck has been sent to investigate the history of an ill-fated house that is now headquarters to his family's rivals, Clan Toreador. ----------------------

Fratello Brothers Funeral Home Funeral Home

Karl slips from the city archives where he’s been doing research all night. It’s nearly four in the morning. He’s got a little dark left. He heads back to the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, where he’s sure to find Antonio and the others at this time of night.

Sure enough, the head of the family is meeting with his right-hand man, Menecrites, while Grandpa Reynaldo tidies things up for the night. Karl nods to the old family ghoul as he enters, taking off his fedora and hanging it on a nearby coat-rack when Reynaldo frowns and reminds him of his manners. Karl waits on the bench outside Antonio's office as the Doge of Providence -- Antonio preferred that title to the Camarilla standard of "Prince" -- finishes up with his enforcer.

Once they're done, Karl steps in and plops the old newspaper clippings onto the broad cherrywood desk Antonio keeps in his windowless basement office. Menecrites leans against the doorjamb, his thick, muscled arms folded negligently across his chest. Antonio’s a big man himself, and while he sits in an expensive suit behind the desk, Karl knows the elder Giovanni’s veneer of humanity is a thin one. Karl’s never been one to be afraid – not even of the family’s powerful patriarch, but he’s wise enough to be cautious. Especially when bearing news that Antonio could construe as bad.

“I've been looking into the Whately Mansion,” Karl begins.

Antonio nods smartly, indicating that Karl take a seat in one of the leather chairs arranged in front of his desk. “Go on.”

“Well, I've found some things that are … interesting,” Karl hedges.

He could practically feel Menecrite’s eyebrow climb at this, even though his back was to the enforcer. Antonio says nothing, just sits still as a corpse, his dark eyes gleaming attentively in his sallow face.

Clearing his throat, Karl goes on. “Back before I met any of you I visited this place with my old occult group. The place was supposedly haunted but it was also supposed to contain some sort of lost treasure. All we ended up finding was a very angry wraith of Old Man Whately who scared off the person I was with by nearly breaking his jaw. Needless to say we didn't look around too much and we left.

I never thought about the place again until we found Le Mourru there, and since then I have done some digging. It turns out about 50 years ago Old Man Whately butchered several people in his home. He then performed taxidermy on them and arranged them throughout the house as if they were guests or residents. This guy even killed an eleven year old boy named Kevin Blackwell, and then proceeded to hang him from the rafters, complete with a set of angel wings he constructed from different things including human bones. Whately was never found but he was pronounced dead and since I saw his wraith, I would say that is correct.

Now I am telling you this for a few reasons. The first is that my old associate Jeff York has a wraith of a little boy and I am guessing that the boy is probably Kevin Blackwell. If York doesn't know what's going on, Kevin might. Secondly, Le Mourru picked this place for a reason, and when this is all said and done we need to find out why. It could be the wraiths, Whately was quite powerful, but I doubt that. There has to be something there, whether it was a treasure of gold or something mystical that attracted Le Mourru. My guess is the second one.”

Still, silence from Antonio. Menecrites shifts in his post at the door, the only thing giving him away the subtle whisper of the starched collar on his shirt.

“All I am asking here is that we don't blow up or bulldoze this place until we figure out what is so special about it,” Karl concludes, sparing a glance for the enforcer. Menecrites hadn't encountered a problem yet that he thought couldn't be solved with a wrecking ball.

Antonio tents his fingers, leaning back in his chair far enough that the springs creak.

“Very well,” the patriarch says. “We won't destroy this location until we know more. After all, it could be worth something. As for York's wraith; how is he controlling it? Has he picked up necromancy somehow? We can’t allow that.” Antonio’s scowl made his dark eyes glitter. “The guy’s a natural medium right? Maybe the wraith wants something, maybe we can give it to it. If it really is this murdered kid, that might be how we can learn what’s up with the location.”

Menecrites moves to stand behind Antonio and a little to his left. The big man looks down at the clipped articles, brow furrowing as he reads.

Pensive, Antonio taps the edge of one nail against the wooden surface of his desk. “We also need to know what influences control this site. I will use my contacts in local business to run a deed search, pull a few strings in bureaucracy to get my hands on the deed itself, then I’ll get my police contacts to dig up the file on the murders. Karl and Luci can use that to gain information on the wraiths, maybe figure out a few of their fetters. If we’re lucky, there’s some old evidence somewhere in the back of the courthouse that the police can pull. One or two things there might be useful.”

He turns to Menecrites and says, “You tap into your contacts, too, and see who controls this site.” Menecrites nods, making notes of some of the names. Antonio turns back to Karl. “You did good tonight, Karl. We’ll get these bastards and run Alexander out on a rail. Or maybe I’ll just run one through him.”

A chilling smile curls the elder Giovanni’s pale lips.

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The House of Death

The year is 1929. The city is Lovecraft's Providence, set in a fictional version of New England where magic is real and vampires roam the night. Some of those vampires belong to the family Giovanni, a clan of necromancers who have held control over the city of Providence for many years. The Giovanni's power in Providence was recently challenged by an elder Toreador, Alexander. Although Antonio and his boys got Clan Toreador to back down, shaming them publicly, Alexander and his minions have taken up residence in what was once an abandoned house, infamous for a string of grisly murders. With death such an integral part of the family business, the local Giovanni are investigating Alexander's involvement with this ill-favored residence because they know he is planning something -- the only question is what. The first member of the family sent to investigate is Karl Beck, a master necromancer related by blood, if not by birth. -----------

The Whately House

Something has been bugging you, Karl, about the old mansion the Toreador seem to be using as their home base. It nagged at you so bad, you decided to do a little research on the place. When you saw the old newspaper article in the archives of the Voice of Providence, it hit you why this place seemed so familiar. You had been there on a dare when you were just getting involved with your group of human occultists.

Jack was the one who told you about the place. He'd heard rumors that it was haunted and that the ghost of Old Man Whately was always searching for his lost treasure. Whately had been the eldest of the Whately siblings. He was a cantankerous sort, never married, and he had a reputation for dabbling in unwholesome activities. He lived and died in the house in the 1870s. Or, at least, everyone believed that he died there and, although his body was never found, the presence of his ghost seems to argue against any earthly survival.

At the time that Jack led you to sneak up on the house at night, you didn't know all the details of why the Whately place was reputed to be haunted. Jack's story about the haunting was garbled at best, and as far as you could tell, the self-appointed leader of your rag-tag group of black magicians was scoping the place out mostly to see whether or not there were any items in the house worth stealing. You half suspect that he dragged you along because he was actually afraid of the threat of the ghost.

Your little venture into breaking & entering (does it count, really? by then, the house had stood abandoned for nearly twenty years) didn't end in either of you getting rich by discovering Old Man Whately's hidden treasure. It did, however, prove to you that you had an innate ability to perceive spirits. Because you saw the angry old specter long before the wailing image of Whately hauled off and clocked Jack squarely in the jaw. It was a night of firsts for you: you had one of your first legitimate encounters with a spirit, witnessed by another person, and you encountered a spirit that could reach across the Veil and wallop a living being.

Jack was scared shitless. You were actually pretty excited. The specter took great offense to the fact that Jack had vandalized the back door in an attempt to gain entrance to the abandoned house. He didn't seem to care much about you -- but then, you hadn't busted his back door down. Jack was so freaked by the whole experience that he barely made it five feet into the old mansion before he ran like a scared little girl. You stayed behind, cautiously, and explored a little, but all you found was a dusty, run-down, abandoned house. There were signs that the place had looked impressive in its day, but by the time you & Jack got in there, there was really nothing to see. You do remember finding a door that probably went to the basement. This door was locked and, given the outburst the spirit had accomplished when Jack forced the backdoor, you didn't think it would be in your best interests to force this door either. It seemed thoroughly stuck from the other side anyway, so you called off your explorations and tried to find where Jack had run off to in his blind panic.

The newspaper article you found recently sheds a little more light on the mansion and its tale than you knew back then when you and your old gang dabbled in breaking and entering:

The Voice of Providence Saturday, April 15, 1900 Evening Edition

(continued from page 2)

Deputy Roderick Kemp made the grisly discovery on a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1875. The corpses included the body of Detective Solomon Godwin, 35, Arnold Powell, a drifter, and young Kevin Blackwell, an eleven-year-old-boy who had been missing since March of that year. The Whately mansion as it stands today.























Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence coroner, worked hard to identify the remains of the other bodies, however, in most cases, decomposition was so advanced that identification was impossible. In all, the remains of at least fifteen individuals were discovered in the home, which, by all appearances, had been abandoned for at least two weeks. No sign of Whately himself was ever found, although it was the opinion of the Providence police that Whately was dead.

Since the house became the scene of one of the most dreadful murder cases Providence has ever seen, it has stood abandoned on its lot not far from the Kirkwood Cemetery. Many tales have grown up around the house, including a persistent rumor that Old Man Whately haunts the property, protecting his hidden gold. The rumor of hidden treasure associated with the house came about from the fact that Whately, the eldest of five siblings, was the sole inheritor of the Whately fortune. Despite this, Whately lived a relatively simple live, remaining in the seclusion of his home and coming into town only to buy supplies every two or three weeks. On these occasions, he was often observed wearing the same patched and soiled set of clothes, with wild, unkempt hair and beard. To all appearances, he lived in poverty, which of course begged the question of what happened to the family fortune.

In twenty-five years, the mystery has never been solved, but it has become a rite of passage for some of the daring young men of Providence to invade the abandoned home, particularly on nights of the full moon, to dare the specter of Wheatley to manifest and drive them from his house of horrors.

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Further research led you to a longer recounting of what was discovered in the house, from the memoirs of Deputy Kemp:

Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp

Chapter Five: The Whately Place

Now, this was an investigation that I was involved in back in 1875. It’s twenty-five years after the fact, and I will carry the details of this investigation to my grave. In all my days working in law enforcement, I never saw anything so awful, and I thank God every day that I never encountered anything like it since. Some nights, I still wake up seeing scenes from the inside of that house. I knew Thomas Whately. Not real good, but I had seen him now and again, growing up. I don’t know how a man can become such a monster, but Thomas Whately was a kind of evil that should never walk the earth.

Well, you’re not all reading this to listen to me proselytize about man’s inhumanity to man or to conjecture about the metaphysical nature of evil. No, you want the details. So here goes.

Everyone knew that Old Man Whately was up to no good. But since he kept to himself and rarely went out of his house, no one bothered to really call him on it. There were a couple of incidents involving missing persons that a detective Godwin tried to trace back to the Whately house, but his investigations went nowhere. And then Godwin himself went missing, and no one seemed brave enough to suggest that maybe this disappearance was also tied to Whately. Godwin was a good man, and a few of us on the Providence force, we kept niggling at the case, trying to get someone to do some honest-to-goodness investigation into the issue. But nothing ever went forward. Maybe he paid people off. I don’t know, and I don’t care to think about it now. Whatever it was, no one was ever brave enough to confront Whately directly.

In the end, Whately's true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Whately himself mysteriously disappeared. And, eventually, the stench coming from his abandoned house became too much for the neighbors, even though there was a good amount of space between them & the Whately house.

A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Whately at his property. He found that the front door was sagging open and a terrible stench wafted out on the summer air. The buzzing of flies was audible through that open door, so loud that the deputy at first thought some kind of machine was on inside the house, running. There were no lights on in the old house, and most of the windows were covered over with heavy cloth. Most of this cloth was nailed directly into the walls around the windows. When the deputy yanked the first of these makeshift window covers off to let in some afternoon sunshine through the streaked and yellowed glass, he found himself staring at the most macabre scene he had ever witnessed. Shortly after that, he was just staring at the gravel on Whately's driveway, as the poor deputy knelt, hunched over, puking his guts out. Of course, by now, you all know that reluctant deputy was me, Roderick Kemp, though back then everyone called me Roddy. I thought the smell was the worst thing I’d ever been exposed to, but that was before I cleared off the windows and got a good look at what was causing that smell. Hell could never look so grim as that house on that June afternoon.

Inside the parlour, arranged in chairs as if they were just over for tea, were three corpses. They were well-preserved -- almost mummified. One of them was the missing detective. One of them was Arnold Powell, a drifter. One was a woman, never identified.

Five more corpses, similarly preserved and staged throughout the house were discovered. The most unsettling of these was the corpse of Kevin Blackwell, a young boy eleven years of age. He was in that attic. Whately (it could only have been Whately) had strung the boy from the rafters. He had also painstakingly fashioned wings for the child, cobbling them together with the bones and feathers of several birds, as well as a few bones from a human -- never identified -- who left no other remains in the house.

The stench of rot came from the basement. Whately's most recent victims were in a jumble down there. Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence Coroner at the time, identified the parts of at least seven bodies in the festering abattoir that lay beneath the rickety wooden stairs. A bathtub with saws and other implements as well as a worktable with needle, thread, and some taxidermy equipment, suggested that Whately had been planning to put these corpses together in much the same fashion as the others -- only he seems to have been interrupted.

No sign of Whately himself was ever discovered. He must have been dead. I made a thorough search of the house – and I’m not too proud to admit that I had to make that search in pieces, as I had to vacate the premises on more than one occasion to vomit in the yard. After a while, I wasn’t even bringing anything up, but that didn’t stop the smell and the horror of it all from getting to me. Like I said at the outset, I never saw anything like it in all of my years, and I am happy to have never encountered anything so terrible ever again. We never did figure out who all of those body parts in the basement belonged to. Frost, the coroner at the time, he did his best, working late nights to piece the bodies together. But even he had to admit defeat, and Frost was a smart man. Scary smart, though some called him crazy. I think that was just because he preferred to always work at night and he spent so many long hours locked away with the corpses. But my insights on Dr. Jacob Frost – well, that’s all material for another chapter.

Take me to the next chapter

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The Rest is Silence

This little piece grew from a scene in a roleplaying game. I often escape to RPGs when writer's block rears its head. There is a certain immediate gratification in sharing stories and character development with other players. He swept her up, carrying her off to the little room deeper in the crypt. Then he laid her gently on satin sheets of the deepest red. He laid a chill finger lightly against her lips, whispering, "The rest is silence."

From there on, he spoke only the language of lip against lip, teasing her with the frisson of light nails dragged down bare skin.

He broke the edict once, after pulling away to slip off his shirt. Languorously she lay, studying the intricate pattern of the ritual scars curving across his torso. She was still clothed. She lifted her eyes to his, her question clear.

"For you? Nothing you do not wish. Nothing you do not invite," he murmured in response.

And then he bent over her, his white hair spilling forward to tickle her cheeks. He sought her mouth, his teeth sharp against her lip, nipping but not yet hard enough to draw blood.

He trailed kisses along her jaw, down to the little hollow where her pulse surged beneath soft skin. He laid his lips there, lightly, breathing the scent of her. He teased himself with the promise of her life and heat, eyes closed to hide the crimson fire that burned within their depths.

A kiss there, then the flick of his tongue. He held his lips upon her thudding pulse. His teeth grazed the sensitive skin, and for a moment, it seemed he teetered on the edge of seizing her -- ripping flesh to release the crimson heat within -- but he drew away, heaving a breath as he mastered himself. She watched him the whole while with half-lidded eyes.

When he bent to her again, he trailed kisses all down her neck as the nails of one hand traced lazy circles of sensation upon her other cheek, eventually twining lightly in her hair.

When he finally reached the base of her throat, he lay his body across her, wiry muscles shifting along his bare shoulders and arms. He leaned his face against hers, nuzzling, his breath soft upon her skin. And then in that place where shoulder meets neck, he took her, sealing his mouth around the flesh and teasing with his tongue before finally slashing with the two sharp teeth.

Stars stood out briefly upon her vision with the two brilliant points of pain. And then rolling, cresting pleasure followed the sweet flow of blood - not much, it seemed, just enough to taste, enough for his magic to connect. She felt his tongue dart along the edges of the little wounds, summoning a tangle of sensations. Pain and pleasure, sharp and soft all in a jumble.

As her blood flowed to him, the death-touched power flared upon his scars. He seemed lit from within by a glimmering dark-light, and all over his shoulders and torso, he gleamed with elegant runes. They pulsed in time with her speeding heart, and then the magic took her, too, gliding along her nerves like lightning, dancing on the inside of her skin.

They lay twined together, his mouth locked upon her flesh. But neither of them were close to their bodies. They were someplace else. Floating, immersed in sensations that had no adequate name.

When he finally drew away, she had no idea how long they had lain connected in that sweet and aching moment. He pressed lips still rouged with her blood against her mouth, questing with his tongue. She could taste herself upon him - copper and sweet.

She met his eyes again, silent in her question. His own eyes, crimson, spilled with stolen light.

"The rest we save till later. A promise, yes?"

She nodded.

He sealed it with a kiss.

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Fragment: First Blood

I rarely play with high fantasy, but here is a fragment from a little tale set in a world where a vampire-like race had once ruled. Ousted by the mortal populace, they were driven into hiding, and now their younglings are sent out to live among mortals for a period of time to learn how to hide their nature so their bloodlines can survive without being hunted any further. I had been at Castle Basaril for barely a month, but I already knew it was a bad idea to get on Chancellor Veyan’s bad side.

The Chancellor was a thin-faced man with a nose sharp as a razor. His rheumy blue eyes were too close-set and they always seemed to turn slightly inward, as if peering at the high, pointed bridge just in case it disappeared. His lips were almost as thin, and they seemed frozen in a perpetual sneer.

In my duties at the castle, I tried to avoid him as best I could. Given the fact that my real reason for working at the castle had everything to do with learning how to blend in among the mortals, I did my best to remain invisible to the Chancellor and all his men. So when the Chancellor called on me to attend him in his private chamber, I knew it was bad news. What could he possibly want with a page of my lowly rank?

As I entered, he looked up at me with those bleary eyes, the blue more vivid because they were so bloodshot. He gestured for me to shut the door and take a seat. Wordlessly, I did. I sat awkwardly in front of him, staring at my shoes. Someone of my rank was not supposed to meet his eyes unless instructed.

“Shaelindor, isn’t it?” he asked in a high, reedy voice that grated on my sensitive ears.

“Yes, my lord.”

“We have some things to talk about, and I want you to look me in the eye as you answer.”

Frowning a little, I looked up. I tried not to stare. He had such wrinkles about his eyes and lips, and the skin hanging from his jowls reminded me of wax beginning to go soft and melt. I thanked the Silent Lady that I would never look like that. Quietly, I said, “Yes, my lord.”

“You come from Keselwyn, in the Eastern Provinces, do you not?” He spoke to me as he would a lad of seventeen. Of course, that’s what he believed me to be, and there was nothing in my official papers that would suggest otherwise. I gritted my teeth and endured it.

“Yes, my lord,” I said humbly for the third time. I dug the nail of one finger into the palm of my hand and hoped he didn’t notice.

He consulted some paper in front of him. “And by my count, you have been here almost three months.”

“It will be three months on the Hearth Festival, sir,” I responded, still fidgeting.

“Hmm…” he muttered, and as he said this, he pursed his lips so the wrinkles around them grew even more pronounced. I tried to look at the tapestry behind him while still appearing to meet his gaze.

“Well, Shaelindor of Keselwyn, I’m not sure how they do things out where you’re from. By my reckoning, Keselwyn is not what we here in Basaril consider rightly civilized,” he sniffed with obvious disdain, “But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this one time.”

I felt a cold lance of fear jolt down my spine, and I sat a little straighter, my heart racing. Could the servant-girl I visited in the night have been awake after all? I used my best calming spell to lull her into a deep sleep before I made the cut so I could feed. Discovery was a terrifying prospect, but I forced myself to remain calm. “About what, sir?” I wondered.

He sniffed again, shuffling the papers. “We hold our women very dear here in Basaril, young man. Their greatest asset is their virtue because this insures that they will bear their husbands strong – and legitimate – children. In Basaril, we take a very dim view of those who would lead our virtuous daughters astray.”

I continued to keep my silence, admitting to nothing. My heart pounded harder, fear now mixed with indignation at what he was implying. I would never think of a mortal woman in that way. Copulating with an animal seemed more appealing.

“I have word from a credible witness that you were seen leaving the Lady Vitessa’s quarter the other night. Now, the lady Vitessa is a young woman of irreproachable virtue, and this is one of the qualities that has made her a desirable match for her future husband, the Knight-Champion Ardenthal. Her father, Lord Solaris is exceptionally proud of the marriage he has recently arranged for his middle daughter, and he would be deeply aggrieved should anything arise that might threaten that happy union. There should not even be a whisper of doubt as to the lady’s virtue.”

Here he settled his watery gaze on me and let it sit for a few long moments. I tried not to squirm.

“Now,” he continued, “I am certain that even someone like you who hails from such a backward little province and holds his rather minor position at the sufferance of Lord Xarxes – even you are not so unwise as to engage in any act that might call into question the lady’s virtue. In fact, I am certain that you wandered by the lady’s quarters by accident while you were out after hours taking a stroll. And with that in mind, my advice to you Shaelindor of Keselwyn, is quite simple: in future, take your strolls elsewhere. That is all.”

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act IV 4-5)

Author's Note: Vladimir the Third, otherwise known as Dracula, makes his first full appearance in the play. And in the aftermath of the vampire attack on the hotel, weary survivors trek to the relative safety of an abandoned factory in the hills. I had to skip yesterday, folks. Sorry about that, but a beloved member of the Paranormal State fan-family died suddenly, and we did the memorial stuff yesterday.

Act IV Scene IV:

(The upper floors of a clothing shop in the town. This is obviously part living space, part workshop. In the foreground, the shop owners, an older man and woman, lay dead on the ground. Their eyes stare wide at the camera. A little blood has dried around their open mouths and bite marks are visible on their throats. Above and behind them are some racks of clothes, a fitting dummy, and other items of the tailor’s trade. Standing in the midst of all this are Marica and Vlad. Marica has already helped herself to new clothes and is now wearing a shimmering silk blouse in off-white. Its collar is low enough to reveal twin puncture marks surrounded by a little bruising on her neck. Vlad is wearing a pair of designer sunglasses obviously stolen from another of the stores. He holds a light blue Polo shirt and is regarding it with a sneer They speak in old Romanian..)

Vlad: I am used to finery, Marica, the things befitting of a prince. Appearance is very important, when among one’s enemies as well as one’s friends.

Marica: Try this, voivode.

(She hands him an expensive suit, charcoal grey, not quite black. He glances at it, seems satisfied, then begins to strip right in front of her while she’s still holding out the suit. Marica tries to politely avert her eyes, blushing. Through the racks of clothing, we see Vlad’s naked chest. He is pale but well-muscled. He has the body of a fighting man. Scars are visible here and there on his arms, on his chest. Some have a definite pattern to them, as if intentionally cut into the flesh ages before.)

Vlad: Why are you looking away, Marica? I would not show you my body if I did not expect you to appreciate it.

Marica: (blushing )I’m sorry, voivode.

Vlad: I amVladimir the Third. I would hear my name and not my title from your lips.

Marica: Very well,Vladimir.

(Vlad busies himself with putting on the silk shirt that goes with the suit. The buttons give him a little trouble, and Marica immediately moves to help. She looks up; they are close enough to kiss. We feel the tension of that kiss as they regard one another, and then Marica turns suddenly away to retrieve the rest of the suit. Her gaze falls upon the dead shopkeepers.)

Marica: Will those two rise as Dr. Morgan did?

Vlad: What? Peasant shop-keeps? They are not worthy of it.

Marica: What determines which ones live again and which ones simply … die?

Vlad: The choice is mine to make. My power gives them life.

Marica: You simply will it and it is so?

Vlad: I took their lives. Not only their blood, but the very essence of their life-force. I can choose to give some of that back, along with a sliver of my power. You saw me give the others blood, didn’t you?

Marica: Yes.

Vlad: That is part of the process. A gift from me.

Marica: And you learned all this from that book?

Vlad: Most of it.

Marica: And will you do this to me?

(Vlad moves toward Marica, laying his hands gently on her shoulders.)

Vlad: I would not do such a thing to you, Marica. Those others, they only seem alive. They are not truly immortal, not as I am.

Marica: How is it different?

Vlad: The ritual described in the book, it is an extensive process, very demanding. You become your own power, a power you can give and take. It begins with fasting. Thirty days you purify body and spirit. You push yourself to the very edge. Some of those scars you saw – they are mementos from my ordeal. At the end of things, you feel your body perish around you, yet you will yourself to remain.

Marica: And all of this is in that book found by those Americans?

Vlad: I am certain that the book contains even more wisdom. My understanding of its language was perhaps a little poor. This is why I think some portion of the process was incomplete. I fight the death of this body daily. With all this power, I struggle just to live.

Marica: And so the blood.

Vlad: If I sleep as I did in the tomb, half-dead and dreaming, I can exist for long periods without it. But if I am to live, truly live, I must feed. Such a half-life was never my intention. I sought immortality for my people.Transylvania was torn by warring states, greedy nobles, sons who fought for their father’s lands. We needed a monarch who would not die and leave warring sons. Someone proof against assassins’ blades. An immortal monarch could uphold years of peace – centuries! I thought it but a fool’s dream, until I found that book.

Marica:Vladimir, there are so many things beyond my understanding. If you were not standing here before me, I would never believe –

Vlad: If I had allowed my doubts to stop me, then I would never have crossed the sea of centuries to stand before you, today.

(Vlad looks up suddenly. He closes his eyes, casting his head around as if trying to hone in on something, then he strides over to one of the windows. He moves the heavy curtains aside, squinting into the street.)

Marica: Voivode – Vladimir – be careful of the light!

Vlad: It does not burn me, Marica. I avoid it because it weakens me. But a little – this will not kill me. (he spots the refugees from the hotel) Ah. There they are.

(Marica joins him at the window. The camera follows their gaze down from this second story window to the street. We see Livia, Victor, Johnny, Briggs, Alex, and Mara making their way down the street. They are keeping to the sunlit parts. Mara is wearing sunglasses and walks as one exhausted. Livia is by her side, discretely trying to support her.)

Vlad: It seems Dr. Morgan has failed in his job. I shall have to discipline him.

Marica: What are they doing now?

Vlad: They probably tried to leave in one of those – what do you call them? – automobiles. And thus they learned that we had already anticipated that. They are trapped here. They will gather supplies and find some place more defensible than the hotel. The church could have been a good sanctuary – which is why I burned it to the ground. I have cut all lines of communication, I have removed all methods of escape. They have very few options left.

Marica: What will you do when you capture them?

Vlad: Obviously, I want the book. The one who bears the moon-brand, she I will take for my food. The little one’s companion? I only want to speak with her. She can talk freely, or she can talk under torture – that will be her choice. But she will give me answers. I want to know how she saw me looking at her in the hotel.

(As they watch, Mara stops in the middle of the street and looks around. She turns her head, questing, exactly as Vlad himself did moments before. Finally, she looks up, focusing her attention on the window. Victor stops, looks around, tries to follow her gaze but sees nothing. Livia pulls on her, urging her forward. After a few moments of being riveted to the spot, she concedes to Livia and moves on. As she turns away, the light catches the gem in her necklace. Vlad sees this and catches his breath.)

Vlad: I did not see that before.

Marica: What is it,Vladimir?

Vlad: Your doubt, Marica, is a contagion, because right now I hardly credit my own eyes.

Marica: I don’t understand what you’re talking about.

Vlad: Did you see that woman’s necklace?

Marica: No. My eyes aren’t that good.

Vlad: It is a symbol, two serpents twined beneath a crescent moon. Each serpent eats the tail of the other. The alchemist wore that very sign.

Marica: What do you think it means?

Vlad: It means that I will redouble my efforts to capture that one. Did anyone outside of Dr. Morgan’s team learn about the book?

Marica: No … Wait. I seem to remember an argument about some of the images getting out.

Vlad: I can almost guarantee that the woman down there came for the book. We share a connection that I can feel in my bones. It’s ironic, beautifully ironic.

Marica: I’m not following you, voi –Vladimir.

(Vlad puts and arm around Marica, drawing her close.)

Vlad: The more I look at her, the more I understand. Consider the irony. Those mortals, they spent the whole night, all of them, fighting off my people. And yet there she is, walking among them, and she is the same as what they fight. Better. She is like me.

(Vlad shakes his head, lets the curtain drop.)

Vlad: I grow tired, Marica. Come and sleep beside me in these good peoples’ bed.

 

Act IV Scene V:

(The outer streets of Basarav. Mara is lagging a good distance behind the others. Livia walks next to her, trying discretely to help. Mara glances up at the sun, squinting even with her sunglasses. She shakes her head mutely, then puts her head down and doggedly trudges along.)

Mara: I can’t do it.

Livia: It’s not that much farther.Griffin said the factory is only a couple miles outside of town.

Mara: Maybe if I’d had a chance to rest last night. Maybe if I’d had a chance to feed. But as things stand, you’ll be carrying me in a few more steps.

Livia: I was hoping we could use the church. It was so much closer.

Mara: Given the aversion to crosses, that suggestion made a lot of sense. Which is also why our enemy burned it.

Livia: And half the other buildings with it.

Mara: Slash and burn. It’s a typical defense.

Livia: Maybe if you just stick to the shaded places?

Mara: Now that’s going to look suspicious, don’t you think? I just explained to these people how their vampires would react to the sun. How do you think they’ll take it if I start behaving just like the things that have been killing them all night?

Livia: You could say it’s heat stroke. It’s worked before.

Mara: I’m really afraid of pushing them, Livia. I’ve taught them how to kill me.

Livia: Well, it’s not like you wouldn’t just come back.

Mara: You don’t have that luxury, Livia, and I think you’d fall to guilt by association. Besides, I kind of like this body, you know? Went through a lot of trouble to get it.

(The sound of a motor approaches from off-camera. Mara and Livia turn to see the Falling Darkness van coming up the street. Griffin and Jack are in the front seats, grinning. The van is coughing and sputtering. The streak of blood from the bartender is brown and flaking on the side.)

Livia: Well damn. They got it working.

Mara: (wearily) Doesn’t sound like it’s going to go far.

(the van pulls up and Jack hangs his head out the window.)

Jack: You two seem to be lagging behind a little. From whatGriffin tells me, this is going to be a bit of a hike. Why don’t you two get in the back with Marta and the kid? It’s too easy to pick off stragglers, you know?

Livia: You sure there’s room?

(Griffin puts the van in park, gets out goes around to the back doors and opens them. Lighting and sound equipment have been shoved around to make room for passengers. Marta perches amidst the chaos of stuff with little Anya asleep on her lap.)

Griffin: You’ll have to shift some stuff around, but you two should fit. We can usually cram in the whole band plus even more gear without much effort.

Mara: What is all this stuff?

Griffin: Lighting equipment, mostly. I’ve got an idea for a first line of defense.

Mara: If you say so.

(She and Livia squeeze in and get settled among the gear.)

Griffin: (patting the van with genuine affection) Hell, the touring days this van has seen. It’s taken us across most of the Continent. I had a hell of a time getting her up and running – on top of her other problems, someone went around sabotaging all the cars. This is going to be a kind of memorial run. She’ll make it as far as the factory. That’s about all.

Mara: Hey – thanks for giving us lift.

Griffin: Don’t mention it. You were looking a little pale. Heat getting to you?

Mara: I’m worn out. I didn’t get any sleep last night.

Griffin: Like any of us did.

(He closes the doors on them, goes around and puts the van back in gear. There is a terrible grinding noise and the van lurches forward, then stops. The gears grind a little more, then finally they are heading out. In the shadows of the back of the van, Mara lets out a weary sigh, then lays her head in Livia’s lap.)

--M. Belanger

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Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act IV 1-3)

Author's Note: Vampires run amok in the hotel, feeding on unsuspecting tourists. Livia, Mara, and the band survive the night, then begin to look for survivors as they make their way to safety. The story behind these scenes: the scenes with both Jack and Marta that appear here are lifted almost word for word from the dream that inspired this whole rollicking play. The only difference is that the person Jack was confronting in my dream with the whole "Lord's Prayer" request was Dominic St. Charles of URN. The detail about Jack's kill-count with a shovel in Kuwait was actually taken from a story I heard in real-life about my ex-husband's drill sergeant. And yes, I have one of those -- ex-husband, not drill sergeant. Marta and her little grand-niece appeared shortly after Jack in the dream and they were in fact speaking Russian (though Ukrainian, a variation of Russian, fit them better in the rewrite). Like I've said, I have ridiculously vivid dreams. Welcome to my head:

Act IV Scene I:

(Mara and Livia’s room, several hours later. Victor in the chair, handgun resting in his lap. Livia is asleep on the bed. Johnny is curled up on the floor between the bed and the chest of drawers. He’s practically cocooned in the comforter that’s been dragged off the bed but we can see his skinny legs and his pointy boots. A shaft of sunlight spears through the curtains just above the chest of drawers. There is a tear in the curtain and slivers of glass on the top of the chest of drawers. The armoire is battered and the door is broken in places above the heavy piece of furniture. Splinters and plaster litter the floor. Mara is holding one of the posts torn from the four-poster bed like a war club. She sits, leaning against the chest of drawers in the shadows. She is watchful and wide awake, but there is a tightness to her face that speaks of a deeper exhaustion. She looks over at Livia and Livia stirs, stretching and running her fingers through her hair.)

Livia: What time is it?

Mara: Hard to tell. They cut the power sometime around four. I imagine the phone doesn’t work any more, either.

Livia: Well, it looks like the sun’s up.

Mara: It’s been up for a little while. I thought I’d let everyone sleep in a bit. It was a long night.

Victor: (stretching) Oh, fuck.

Mara: Welcome back to the land of the living.

Victor: Jesus, what time is it?

Mara: Sun’s up. That’s all that matters.

(Victor’s surveys the damage to armoire and door.)

Victor: What the hell?

Mara: They were persistent right up until an hour ago. I’m surprised no one woke up.

Victor: I slept through that?

Mara: I thought you were going to get up a couple of times, but as you can see, I handled them myself.

(She hefts the four-poster war club and offers him a tight-lipped grin. We notice a small scratch on one side of her face, very shallow, following the line of one cheekbone. Victor rubs his bald head, trying to take it all in.)

Mara: Don’t feel bad. That one down there is the really deep sleeper. They practically came in on top of him and he didn’t even blink.

(Mara toes the sleeping Johnny and he mutters a bit, then goes to roll over. We hear the tinkling of broken glass as he shifts the comforter. He sits up, shaking slivers of glass out of his hair.)

Johnny: Hey, there’s glass all over me.

Mara: They tried coming in through the window.

Johnny: The window?

Livia: I hope the others made it through the night.

Mara: We’ll find out soon enough. But we’re going to have to be careful. They’ll be less active with the sun up and they’ll stick to places that are dark, but it’s not like they burn to cinders in the sun.

Johnny: How do you know?

Mara: Just trust me. You’ll see for yourself soon enough.

Victor: Have you dealt with things like this before?

Mara: Something like that.

Victor: Wait a minute. If they stick to places that are dark but the sunlight won’t just toast them – we could still run into them out there in the hotel.

Mara: Yeah. So we have to move fast. I’m banking on the fact that they’re all very new, so they’re going to feel their weaknesses more poignantly than usual.

Johnny: Poignantly?

Victor: They’ll be hurting, Johnny. (he stands, shaking himself) OK. Let’s do this.

Mara: The club was very effective. Any severe trauma to the central nervous system is going to give them pause. That makes head injuries your friend. You can go for the heart as well, but unless you have one of the guns, I don’t recommend it. They make it look easy in the movies, but in real life, it’s pretty hard to shove something through a person’s ribcage. The heart’s a well-protected organ.

Victor: Ok. So head injuries. What about the neck?

Mara: If you can snap the neck – and it looks like on a good day you could do that – that will drop them. Sever the spine. That will do it, too.

Victor: (cracking his knuckles) All right.

(With some effort, Victor breaks off one of the three remaining posts on the bed. He hefts his new club, smiles, then breaks off another post. He wraps his big hands around the two bedposts, grinning as he tests the weight in his hands, swinging both rapid-fire at an imaginary target.)

Mara: Impressive.

Victor: (maniacal grin) What? Johnny didn’t tell you? I’m the drummer.

Act IV Scene II:

(Hallway Four, identical to all the others. The main lights are off, but emergency lights are on. A few of these fixtures have been ripped out. Other damage is visible all along the hall – several doors have been smashed in or have been ripped off their hinges. There are bodies, some in the hallway itself, some lying slumped in the open doors. Victor, Johnny, Livia, and Mara cautiously make their way down the hall. Mara has condensed their belongings down to a single backpack slung over her shoulders. Livia carries an empty rucksack and a gun. Johnny holds the other gun. Victor has his twin clubs. As they walk passed one slightly open door, a voice erupts.)

Jack: More of you? Eat brass, punks!

(Jack, a slightly wild-eyed man in his forties erupts from the room. He’s a little beat up. He hefts the remains of a large brass lamp over his head like a club.)

Jack: Semper Fiiiii!!!

Victor: Whoa! Back off! We aren’t the bloodsuckers!

(Jack draws up short, lamp still half-raised, eyeing all four suspiciously.)

Jack: Prove it.

Johnny: I’m wearing a cross, for one.

Jack: Say the Lord’s Prayer. I want to hear each of you say it!

Livia: The Lord’s Prayer?

Jack: Say it! Say it with me, you punks! Our Father, who art in Heaven –

Mara: (rolling her eyes) That’s not going to prove anything.

Victor: Dude, I’m Jewish.

Livia: Isn’t the fact that we haven’t attacked you yet proof enough?

Jack: Oh no. No, no. They’re tricky buggers. They got Janice, my wife, by pretending to be actors or something. Well, she thought they were actors. And then this one, later, he tried talking to me, saying he was hotel staff and I needed to come out of my room. But that fucker spoke perfect English. Perfect English! We’re in Romania! I was onto him, I tell you. I opened my door and waited for him to jump me – that’s how I found out if you smash their heads in they’re dead. Really, really dead.

Johnny: You’re not a veteran of one of those American wars, are you?

Jack: Desert Storm and proud of it!

(The group exchanges glances. When no one moves to jump him, Jack relaxes a bit more with the brass club.)

Jack: (almost disappointed) So you guys aren’t bloodsuckers.

Livia: No, sir.

Jack: And you survived the first wave.

Victor: Looks like it.

Jack: Well then. You got a plan? Because you can bet they’ll be back come nightfall, and they’ll just start picking us off one by one.

Mara: Right now, we’re meeting some other survivors in the lobby. Remember the big windows down there? They face east. The vampires are going to have some trouble with the sun.

Jack: Negative on that, lady. I dragged one of the fuckers into the light coming through my window and he didn’t burst into flames or nothin’. I had to brain him with my lamp, just like all the rest.

Mara: It won’t be like the movies. But I can tell you that they’ll avoid the light if they can. If nothing else, they’ll have trouble seeing.

Jack: All right. I’m in. (saluting) Sergeant Major Gerald Kendall. Just call me Jack.

Mara: I’m Mara. This is Livia, Victor, and Johnny.

Jack: Hail and well met, my friends! Hey, I see you got a couple guns.

Johnny: Apparently Mara here is a whiz with customs.

Jack: Wish I had my gun, but this lamp, she’s been my friend. Reminds me of the kill count I had with my shovel back in Kuwait…

(the others exchange glances but make no comment.)

Mara: (after a pause) It would be smart of us to search around for supplies, once we’ve got everyone together. We’ll need food and water. More weapons, too, if we can find them.

Victor: We should look for other survivors. I don’t want to leave people behind.

(There is a noise coming from one of the rooms at the far end of the hall. Mara glances back over her shoulder.)

Mara: We need to get moving. Two more floors to the lobby, and I’d like to swing by two-fifty-seven, just in case.

Johnny: Just in case what?

Mara: Just in case they didn’t make it. Your crosses are in there, aren’t they? From what you said, they may come in handy.

Act IV Scene III:

(Hallway Two. Alex, Griffin, and Briggs are cautiously making their way toward the stairs at the end of this hall. They are a little roughed up. Alex has her backpack slung over one shoulder and clutches a huge gaudy crucifix in the other. Griffin has a damaged black Flying V guitar that he’s hefting like a baseball bat. Briggs has part of a mic stand as a weapon. Bodies litter the hall, including the tour guide. Briggs almost trips over him.)

Briggs: The vampires got Chuck-ula here.

Griffin: Poor sod.

Alex: I hope we don’t find any of them waiting for us in the stairwell.

Griffin: Yeah, that one that jumped us from room two-forty-two just didn’t want to die.

Briggs: Well, it’s like that red-headed chick said on the phone. Smash their heads in. That stops them fast enough.

Alex: I think I still have brains on my blouse, thanks.

(A door opens as they walk past. They all jump and then just stare. A cherubic little four-year-old girl stares up at them. She says nothing.)

Alex: Why hello there. What’s your name, sweetie?

(An inhuman screech erupts from the room and an old woman in a ruffled nighty charges past the little girl. She is wielding a broken-off clothes-rod as if it were a quarter staff.  Her eyes are wild and she shrieks rapidly in Ukrainian. She targets Griffin first, beating him viciously around the shoulders and head. He wards the blows off as best he can, not reciprocating.)

Griffin: (protecting his head) Jesus! Get her off me!  Granny! Hey, Granny! I’m alive like you. Lay off it. My God, she’s a maniac. Alex, someone, talk to her. I won’t hit an old lady.

(The little girl just watches with huge eyes. She has a rosary around her neck, and she’s clutching this with one hand. Briggs goes to try to pull the old lady off of Griffin. She starts hitting him, too.)

Briggs: Don’t you speak Romanian?

Alex: That’s not Romanian. That’s Russian or something. The only Russian I know I learned from reading Clockwork Orange. Nyet! Nyet! (Alex points to herself then the other guys) Horosha!

(The old lady stumbles back a bit, then squints very suspiciously at Alex.)

Marta: (in Ukrainian): You’re not devils?

Alex: Horosha. We’re the good guys. Horosha. Understand?

(the old lady makes a face as she thinks about this, then pulls a large Eastern Orthodox cross out of her nightgown. Still acting very skittish, she shoves this against Griffin’s forehead, then Briggs’ and finally, Alex. The old lady nods and makes a satisfied grunt.)

Marta: Horosha. (she points to herself) Marta. (she points to the little girl) Anya. (she then launches into a rapid-fire explanation in Russian of her night with the devils and how she protected her little niece Anya.)

Alex: Whoa. Whoa. I don’t understand. Do you speak Romanian? English? French, maybe? (Marta shakes her head firmly to each of these). Well, never mind. You’re coming with us. Marta, Anya, come.

(Marta frowns, then gestures to Alex. When no one gets it, she taps her chest, says Marta, then gestures again to Alex.)

Alex: Oh. I’m Alex. This is Griffin. This is Malcolm Briggs. Ok? Come with us?

(The old lady grabs her niece and the two cling to one another, not budging. Alex rolls her eyes and looks to Griffin for help. He’s currently nursing a cut on his eyebrow obtained during his beating from Marta.)

Griffin: Don’t look at me, Alex. She’s a crazy old bat.

Briggs: Well, we can’t just leave the kid to die. I mean, look at her.

(Briggs goes to grab the little girl. Marta makes an indignant noise and whacks him solidly in the back of the head with her closet-rod.)

Briggs: Son of a bitch!

Griffin: Did I mention that Granny here hits really hard?

Alex: Maybe if we start walking, they’ll just follow.

Griffin: I don’t mean to be cold, but those two aren’t exactly going to improve our chances of survival. They’re both going to be dead weight.

Briggs: You said yourself Granny hits hard. She knows how to use that thing. I think she’ll take care of herself.

(A vampire stirs in one of the rooms)

Griffin: Fuck. Look out.

Alex: (whining) Oh, it’s Brandon. Why does it have to be Brandon? I fucked him.

Griffin: You did what?

Briggs: Duck!

(as Griffin, Alex, and Briggs engage in fending off Brandon the vampire, our other party emerges from the end of the hall opposite the stairs.)

Victor: Shit. Looks like trouble.

Johnny: Hey guys, duck!

(Johnny tries aiming his gun at the attacking vampire. Jack sneers and deftly grabs the gun out of the lead singer’s hands.)

Jack: What do you think you’re doing, hero? You ever hear of friendly fire?

(Victor charges down the hallway, both posts in his hands. Brandon has his back to Victor and Victor runs up, nearly crashing into him, then pummels his head with both sticks as if he were a timpani. Blood sprays here and there and Brandon goes down. Briggs spears Brandon’s corpse through the chest with the mic stand for good measure.)

Victor: Good to see you, man.

Briggs: That’s some fine stick work.

Johnny: Fuck, Griffin, is that my Flying V?

Mara: I see we’ve added to the party.

Alex: That’s Anya and Marta. They’re Russian or something. We were just trying to get them to come with us when Brandon tried to get lucky again.

Griffin: (poking the dead vampire with the toe of his boot) Aw man, Alex. He’s not even good-looking.

Alex: (shrugging) He had connections.

Mara: You said they’re Russian, right?

Alex: That’s what it sounds like to me.

(Mara walks over to Marta and starts conversing with her in Russian. Marta tilts her head a bit, answering in Ukrainian. Mara switches her dialect up a bit and Marta nods vigorously, clearly excited to have someone she can communicate with. They engage in a rapid conversation while the others look on.)

Victor: Mara speaks Russian?

Livia: Mara speaks a lot of languages. She’s a professor of history. She likes … immersing herself in the cultures she studies. Customs, beliefs, languages, all that. Sometimes it's like ... she lived it all.

Victor: She's pretty buff for a history professor.

Livia: He's a well-rounded guy -- I mean, woman. Well, you know what I mean.

Briggs: (snickering) Yeah, I think we do.

(Livia glares at him but does not respond to his comment)

Mara: (returning to the group, oblivious to why all the men are staring at her) Marta and Anya will come with us. They held them off together all night long. Marta’s one tough lady.

Jack: I’m taking this kid’s gun. He almost shot into the crowd. Hope no one minds.

Johnny: I wouldn’t have hit anyone!

Mara: Jack probably has more experience with the gun. And besides, you’ve got that cross of yours.

Briggs: We packed the rest of them and a couple other things from the room.

Johnny: Where’s my Gibson silverburst?

Griffin: That’s back in the room.

Johnny: Well fuck, let’s go get it. That shit’s expensive.

Griffin: Uh … That’s the first one I was hitting vampires with.

Johnny: Oh, not my silverburst, too! I practically slept with that guitar.

Griffin: Good thing, too, ‘cause it was nice and handy right there in the room.

Johnny: She’s not too banged up, is she?

Briggs: Let’s just say I hope that insurance we got for all the gear covers vampires and acts of God.

Johnny: Shit.

Mara: One more floor, people, then I want to make a side trip into that bar. I want the alcohol there.

Alex: You want to get shit-faced or something?

Mara: No. Think survival here. A good Molotov cocktail will ruin anybody’s day. Let’s move.

--M. Belanger.

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The Vampire's Christmas

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The Vampire's Christmas

Bourbon Street Christmas

Author's Note: Sharing this little story-in-poem is becoming a winter holiday tradition of mine. I wrote it on a lark a few years ago, and while it started out a little silly, I actually liked the story that unfolded. It is, of course, shamelessly adapted from "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Silly & serious by turns, I hope it amuses you as much as it does me. The Vampire's Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and along Bourbon Street, The vampire was searching for someone to eat. The shops were all quiet, having closed for the night, But the vampire was restless and hoped for a bite.

The partying crowds had all cleared away, Heading home to prepare for tomorrow's big day. The streets were now empty and nobody stirred. The vampire walked, whistling, but nobody heard.

He stopped for a moment in the pale streetlamp's glow And the only thing sparkling was the light scrim of snow. When off in the distance, a strange sound was heard. The vampire froze, listening, and breathed not a word.

He thought he heard weeping, but he could not be sure. So he ran toward the sound. He took off in a blur. Far away in an alley, a girl sat and cried, Huddled close to her mother, who sadly had died.

The vampire stepped softly, staying out of the light. In silence he pondered the poor child's plight. The track marks were clear on the mother's thin arm, In a fit of despair, she had done herself harm.

As he watched from the shadows, he felt mounting rage. The child was a bare five or six years of age. "I might not be Christian," he thought in his head, "But today's not the day to mourn someone who's dead."

He paused but a second before he stepped near. The little girl jumped and looked up in fear. "I know what this seems like," he said with a smile. "But ruining your Christmas is just not my style."

He bent to the child and held out his hand. "This once, you can trust me. I'll help if I can." The look in his eyes made the child feel bold. She soon clutched his fingers, so pale and so cold.

They walked through the streets toward old Jackson Square. He thought he could leave her in the church that stood there. At Saint Louis Cathedral where they held midnight mass, The light flooded warmly through scenes of stained glass.

The vampire's steps faltered the closer he got. He felt his skin prickle and sting and grow hot. A cross in the window shone forth with the light, And it took all his courage to not flee from the sight.

"You see those big doors there?" he asked, cringing away. "There's safety within and a place you can stay." The little girl seized him, unmoving as stone. She wept and she wondered, "Must I walk in alone?"

Reluctant to face what he knew did him harm, He nevertheless took the small girl by the arm. He moved slowly forward, though each step was a strain, And he struggled to hide from the girl all his pain.

At the top of the steps, he reached out for the door, With his flesh nearly singeing and his fingers so sore. As he pulled the door open, they were both bathed in light And the sounds of the hymns flooded out in the night.

They stood in the threshold, the vampire and child, His face a rictus, hers sweet and mild. The priest at the altar stopped short in his prayer. He could hardly believe who he saw standing there.

Years ago, as a boy, he had seen such a fright, Wandering the French Quarter alone in the night. He had been drawn by the sound of a poor woman's screams And the face of the vampire had since haunted his dreams.

Now that same monster stood unchanged by the years With a girl in his clutches and her face streaked with tears. The fiend stared at the priest with his eyes glowing red. Then he pushed the girl forward in an instant and fled.

His good deed accomplished, through the dark streets he ran, And he tried to ignore the harsh burns on his hand. His courage had cost him. The thirst raged like a storm. And he thought to himself, "Hope the mother's still warm."

--M. Belanger

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