Viewing entries in
dark fantasy

Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act VI 1-4)

Author's note: The vampires prepare a final assault as the survivors go to ground in an abandoned factory. Dr. Morgan is tasked with a recovery mission and learns the steep price of disappointing Vlad Tepes, the Son of the Dragon.  

Act VI Scene I:

(Dusk in Basarav. A small stone tower overlooking the mountains. A crescent moon, pointy parts up, is scribed in the stone over the arched main door. Several vampires from the archaeological dig, plus some new ones, are working to erect poles out front. There is a pile of bodies lying carelessly over to one side. Some townspeople are still alive. They are trussed together, weeping and wailing on the other side of the tower. We see Vlad, dressed in his new suit, striding to the tower, shaking out his long hair. Marica walks beside him. She has another bite-mark on her neck. Vlad walks past the tour bus, which has been pulled out onto the street near the tower. Someone is bent over the motor, working on it.)

Worker: (in American) You know, if you thought you were going to need this last night, maybe you shouldn’t have told us to trash all the vehicles in town.

(Vlad whips around, understanding the man’s tone, and glares at him.)

Marica: It is not wise to speak to him like that. He comes from a culture where you respect your superiors.

Worker: All I’m fucking saying is it would be easier to fix this if he didn’t tell us to make it broke.

(Vlad practically snarls at the worker, then lashes out, quick as a snake. The worker, obviously a vampire, still has little time to react as Vlad wraps his fingers around his throat. Vlad lifts him up off of the ground by his throat, his face contorting with rage. The worker drops his tools. Vlad then breathes in, and we see wisps, much like those we’ve seen with Mara, lifting from the worker and trailing back to Vlad. Vlad’s wisps are tinted a bloody red. As Vlad pulls power from the worker, the man’s face grows sunken, his eyes film up, and he looks more and more like a day-old corpse.)

Vlad: (in heavily accented English) Mine to give or take!

(The worker nods rapidly, trying to convey that he understands. Vlad seems satisfied that the lesson has been learned, because he blows a little power back into the worker. The reddish wisps enter the man’s mouth and we see the withering process reverse, though he still looks wasted and pale. Vlad makes a disgusted noise and tosses the worker to the ground.)

Vlad: (spits) Americans. (Turns to Marica, speaking in Romanian) Marica, tell that man to make that thing work or he is dead in an hour.

Marica: (to the worker, in English) You have one hour to get it running. Then he finishes what was begun.

(The worker hustles to the bus’s motor. Vlad and Marica walk past. As the camera zeroes in on the two of them, they converse together in old Romanian.)

Vlad: See? You did not have to fret about the time we spent together earlier. Dr. Morgan had his orders. After his failure last night, I was confident he would do everything to impress me today.

Marica: Forgive me,Vladimir, but I did not share your confidence in the man.

Vlad: Do not worry, Marica. I know how people work. Your American Morgan, he is one who curries favor. He is like a petty boyar, always trying to impress his superiors so he can get a bigger castle, more land.

(Dr. Morgan meets them just outside the doorway to the tower. Around them, the workers begin mounting heads and whole bodies on the stakes. Vlad glances around at this and smiles. Marica tries her best not to look disgusted. She opts for focusing only on Dr. Morgan.)

Vlad: Beautiful. Such a sight strikes fear in the heart of the enemy.

Morgan: Welcome to your citadel, Vlad Tepes.

Vlad: (turning to Marica) Tepes? Why does he call me this?

Marica: It is what they called you after your death, well, supposed death. You are known as the Impaler.

Vlad: I like that. Vlad Tepes, son of the Dragon. It is a name of power. People fear this, yes?

Marica: (in English) What news do you have for us, Dr. Morgan?

Morgan: I’ve had some of my people working all day. One man followed the survivors as far as he could. It seems they have taken up residence in an old factory outside of the town. We looked through the town records, and I found a blueprint. The building with the archives was rather badly burned, so the blueprint is charred in places but it gives a good idea of the lay-out of the place.

Vlad: What is he saying, Marica? He seems very pleased with himself.

Marica: The people you seek are in an old factory outside of town. Morgan has a map of the building.

Vlad: Then let us go inside. I would see this map and hear what he has accomplished as reparation for his failures last night.

(They walk forward to enter the tower. Marica looks up at the crescent moon over the door.)

Marica: Ironic that you must take shelter in a tower of your old enemy, the Turks.

Vlad: This was never a Turkish tower, Marica. This tower belonged to the alchemist, and I do not know what he was. (Vlad surveys the ruins with an almost wistful air) There was more here, a long time ago. What is ironic is that my fortress fell and this tower still stands.

Act VI Scene II:

(The inside of the tower, first floor. Clearly, this is used as a tourist attraction. There are a couple of display cases with armor and weapons under glass. There is a life-sized statue of a Turkish soldier in full regalia standing in one corner by the hospitality desk. A rack of brochures is off to one side. Toward the back, we see ponderous stone stairs, curving up into the dark. There is a chain across these, with a sign upon it in several languages. Dr. Morgan has hung oil lamps all around this inner chamber. A large wooden table, very medieval-looking, stands in the center of the room.  Charred blueprints and some other papers are stretched out on this. Vlad studies the map as Morgan does his best to give the nickel tour.)

Morgan: The tower is under reconstruction. Those stairs are blocked off, but it’s possible to go to the next floor. There’s something like a storm cellar as well, accessible through a trap door beyond that utility closet. The uppermost floors are not stable, however. Make sure you tell him that, Dr. Antonescu. He’ll see construction equipment all over up there and a stairway blocked by sawhorses. It’s not wise to go up past that point. I don’t think the floors will hold.

Marica: I appreciate the information, Dr. Morgan. But tell me about your plans for tonight.

Morgan: As you probably saw, almost all of Basarav is secure right now. Our people went systematically through the buildings, flushing survivors out. We’ve taken a number of prisoners from the town. In some cases, we were able to capture whole families.

Marica: Go on.

Morgan: An hour or so ago, I sent three villagers up to the factory. They’re all wearing crosses. Clever, hunh? They are to pass themselves off as refugees and gain entrance to the building.

Marica: What makes you certain they will not betray you?

Morgan: I have their children and their spouses. They know that if they do not do as instructed, their loved ones will die. We put a few people up on stakes earlier to emphasize that fact. You see, I’ve taken a few pointers from the voivode here.

Vlad: What did he say?

Marica: He has planted spies among the survivors, insuring loyalty by threatening their families with impalement.

Vlad: A good tactic, though sometimes peasants think that they are heroes and it fails.

Morgan: The three I sent up will serve two purposes for us. One, they lull them into a false sense of security. Because not long after them, I will send in a number of our people. They will also pass themselves off as refugees. If our people are turned away, the villagers have been instructed to open the doors for them. We’ll be able to just walk right in and massacre everyone. (pointing at the blueprints) At the same time, I’ll have a few groups breaking in through windows here, and here. Two other groups will climb to the roof and drop in from above.

Vlad: He is too pleased with himself, this Morgan. I see no regret for his failures of the other night. Tell him what we went over earlier, Marica.

(Dr. Morgan looks expectantly at Vlad, then glances back over the Marica. Marica clears her throat, takes a step forward. A slight smile to her lips indicates that whatever she is about to say, she is going to enjoy it very much.)

Marica: I know I speak for the voivode when I say your efforts this night are appreciated, Dr. Morgan.

Morgan: Well, thank you, Marica. My team and I have worked very hard –

Marica: But.

Morgan: But?

Marica:Vladimir is not at all happy with your failure last night. The chaos in the hotel was a disaster. Your people had no discipline. They had a clear directive, and yet they got distracted with mayhem and slaughter.

Morgan: Marica – Dr. Antonescu. That’s not entirely my fault. My people -- they’re not soldiers. They’re college students. They tend to be a little undisciplined. And besides, all of us are having a little trouble adjusting to … to the way we feel now.

Marica: The way you feel?

Morgan: Yes! You wouldn’t understand! He didn’t do it to you. I don’t know why, maybe because you’re a woman.

Marica: Do not over-step your bounds, Dr. Morgan.

Morgan: The point is, we’re hungry, Dr. Antonescu, no matter how much we feed. It’s like a fire in the belly. You can’t just throw a starving man into a banquet and expect him to show restraint.

Vlad: What are his excuses?

Marica: He says there’s hunger –

Vlad: Oh? He thinks he suffers? I will show him hunger!

(Vlad reaches out a hand toward Morgan. Dr. Morgan’s eyes go wide and he takes a step backward.)

Morgan: Voi –voivode?

(Vlad stretches across the table and pretty much palms Morgan’s face. Vlad lowers his head and closes his eyes, concentrating. We see the swirls of misty red, only this time the pattern is different. Morgan stumbles back, but Vlad’s grip on his face keeps him from falling. He gasps, then screams, twitching. Images flash before the screen. Each image is like a snapshot. All are underscored by Morgan’s screaming and pleading, and all are tinted bloody red. We see: A forest of stakes with moaning, impaled bodies. A first-person perspective of battle, Vlad’s arm wielding a sword and cutting through limbs that spray blood. First-person perspective again: A man kneels before Vlad, trembling, something like a yarmulke on his head. Bloody nails protrude from the hat in places. We see another nail held in place, the hammer driving it in. Vlad, again in armor, severing a man’s head, lifting the bloody head above him, bathing his face in the blood that rains from the severed neck.)

Morgan: Please,Vladimir, please! Enough!

Vlad: Voivode.

Morgan: Voivode. Please. I’m sorry. Please. Make it stop!

(Vlad releases Morgan. Morgan practically collapses onto the table, his arms hardly able to bear his weight.)

Marica: The voivode does not like excuses. Last night, you were told to retrieve three things from the hotel. You came back with none of them. In addition, many of your men were killed.

Morgan: I’m sorry. We didn’t anticipate – (he finally gives up on the excuses and lowers his eyes meekly) It won’t happen again.

Marica: Of course not. You have one more chance. Tonight you go to the factory. Strategy is of the utmost. Our numbers are dwindling. Ignore the other people. Defend yourself when necessary. Kill them when you must. But retrieve the women.

Morgan: Alex and the other one?

Vlad: If they can only capture the red-head, the other will come. I am certain of it.

Marica: Not Alex. The voivode wants the red-headed woman with the crescent-moon brand. Her hair may cover it. You can find it at the base of her neck.

Morgan: And the other objective?

Marica: Her dark-haired companion, also a woman. Lean, muscled, short-hair. She wears an unusual necklace. Two serpents intertwined in a figure eight beneath a crescent moon.

Morgan: (Incredulous) She has a necklace with that symbol?

Marica: She is not the priority. The voivode thinks that if you take the red-head, this other one will come.

Vlad: Alive! Make sure the idiot knows to take them alive.

Marica: One more thing, Dr. Morgan. You will deliver them to the voivode healthy and alive.

Morgan: What about the book?

Marica: (turning to Dracula) Vladimir? He wants to know about the book.

Vlad: I am certain that the dark-haired woman will lead us to the book, if she does not have it already. This is why I want to capture her or draw her out. She is a key to many things that have puzzled me. Of this I am certain.

Marica: The voivode feels that the dark-haired woman is the key. Forget the book for now.

Morgan: Very well, Dr. Antonescu. Is there anything else?

Vlad: Discipline.

Marica: Make sure your people act like soldiers, this time, Dr. Morgan. No more college-student chaos. Are we clear?

Morgan:Crystal.

(They all exchange glances. After staring long and hard at Dr. Morgan, Vlad slowly nods his head. At this small sign of approval, Dr. Morgan visibly relaxes.)

Vlad: I would retire to the upper chambers. Tell the American to send me three of the captured peasants. I must dine.

Marica: Send three of the prisoners to us. We will be in the upper room.

(Vlad takes Marica by the hand and leads her over to the curving stairs. He glances down at the chain, frowns, and rips it casually out of the wall. As if she were a bride going to her bridal chamber, Vlad leads Marica tenderly up the stairs. Morgan looks after them, then glares down at the map in front of him. He takes a shuddering breath and rubs his face.)

Morgan: Damn.

(He looks back down at the blueprints, with the despairing expression of a man who has been set an impossible task.)

Act VI Scene III:

(The main room of the factory. In the past few hours, the place has been transformed. A good portion of the windows have been barricaded up with junk plywood. Some heavy machinery has been pressed up against one of the other doors. This leaves one set of steel-reinforced double-doors to open on the outside and these are barricaded with an old metal desk. A detail of men, armed with M16s, stands watch by them. Griffin is working with Victor over to one side. They have a great deal of lighting and other electrical equipment set up, all oriented on the main doors. Cords and wires snake all over the floor. Griffin is digging through a gym bag, pulling out power strips and more wires. Jack is over with a few of the townspeople, giving instructions on how to aim and shoot the guns. Almost everyone has a cross around their neck. From their styles, most of these have been pillaged from the gear of Falling Darkness. There is a man up on one of the catwalks serving as a look-out. Beyond the windows it is pitch black.)

Jack: Tell me something,Griffin.

Griffin: (not looking up) Let me splice this. Ok, Victor, tape it down. (sitting back on his heels and looking up at the vet) Now what do you want, Jack?

Jack: Not that this doesn’t look impressive with all these doohickies and thingamabobs and wires and stuff, but let’s think realistically for a moment. You see those overheads, flickering like that?

Griffin: Yeah.

Jack: Those tell me we’ve got electricity here on a wing and a prayer.

Griffin: You’re preaching to the choir, Jack. Remember? I’m the one who got the thing running.

Jack: Well, I just don’t want you to be the one that also blows it up. All this fancy equipment you’re setting up? I know you think it’s a good idea, but can you absolutely assure me that when you turn this shit on the whole place won’t lose power?

Victor: It should be fine. The wiring here is stable compared to some of the clubs we’ve played.

Griffin: Victor’s right. I know what I’m doing.

Jack: I’m gonna state for the record that I’m skeptical.

Victor: It’s just a little light show, Jack. It’s something we do for the song “Broken Idol.” Lasers and crosses and stuff.

Griffin: It’s pretty basic really, but the vamps don’t seem to like bright light and they like the crosses even less. They get in here, they’ll get a faceful of both.

Jack: You blow the power out and it’s on your head.

Griffin: I blow the power out and I’m probably the one who’ll be fixing it.

Victor: Have a little faith, Jack. We’re professionals.

(Jack snorts and walks away. Livia and Johnny enter from the interior door.)

Livia: We found your water, Jack. There’s a working utility sink down on the lower level. You take the east hall and head toward the back.

Johnny: The spigot was rusty as fuck, but we found a wrench and cranked her open.

Jack: And?

Livia: And it spit out a lot of thick, rusty water. But after a while, it ran clean.

Jack: That’s great news. In the morning, when we can spare the people, I’ll send folks down to refill the jugs we grabbed in town. You didn’t happen to run into Alex or Mara back there?

Johnny: No. Didn’t Mara get here with Briggs?

Jack: Hell, kid, that happened a long time ago. She just went off to lay down somewhere, and I haven’t seen her since. It’s dark out and I want everyone to be in one place.

Victor: Last I saw Alex, she was in with Marta, helping watch the kid.

Jack: News to me. I hadn’t seen her since she ran off in a huff earlier this afternoon. But if Alex is with Anya, we’re still missing Mara.

Johnny: You don’t think something happened to her, do you?

Jack: She said she’d be back by sundown. I should have told her to stick close.

Livia: Mara sometimes can be a heavy sleeper. She’ll probably be around.

Jack: Truth be told, I was more worried about Alex than Mara. Mara thinks like a soldier. She can take care of herself. Alex strikes me as someone who doesn’t always look before she leaps.

Johnny: That can be dangerous. Just ask Briggs.

Griffin: You’re the one who told me, “Let her go. She’s a big girl.”

Jack: Well, yeah. When she was acting like that, sure. My wife Janice was like that. She’d storm off, all in a huff, and if I was fool enough to go after her, she only gave me more grief. My Janice – she was a firebrand. Can’t believe she’s dead.

(Jack starts to get choked up. He swipes at his eyes, hand shaking. Livia glances over at Johnny, then puts a hand on Jack’s arm.)

Livia: Hey. Jack. Why don’t you tell me what you’ve set up out here?

Jack: Hunh? Oh, sure. Be glad to. As you can see, I’ve decided to stick to this main room. All the other little parties I sent out made one thing clear: this factory is a fucking maze. I’m not too happy about those windows there, but this room’s pretty defensible otherwise. We’ve only got those two doors going into the factory proper, and I’ve got men enough to put a small detail at each one.

Johnny: Where’s the other door go?

Jack: This little room – maybe it was an office or something. We put Marta and Briggs and the kid in there. Anything gets to them, it has to go through us first.

Livia: Figures Alex would hide out in there. Seems like she’s always thinking about her own skin.

Johnny: That’s not fair --

Lookout: (heavily accented English) People coming up the hill!

Jack: People? Sure it’s not vampires?

Lookout: They just walk up to the front door.

(Jack climbs up to the catwalk and grabs the man’s binoculars.)

Jack: I don’t trust it. It’s not like you can tell one of them from one of us just by looking.

Victor: What if they’re survivors from the town?

Jack: I’d be more inclined to believe that if they showed up before the sun went down.

Griffin: We’re a couple miles from the town. They could have started walking while it was still light out.

Jack: Yeah, well. They’d practically have to. But I don’t trust it anyhow.

(One of the men with the M16s goes up to the windows and peers out into the night.)

Man: My neighbor, Toma! Wearing crucifix.

Jack: Let me see those binoculars again. He’s got a cross on him all right. But I still don’t trust it.

Victor: We can’t just leave them stranded out there, Jack. What if they are survivors?

Johnny: Yeah! You want to just stand around and watch them get eaten?

(Jack scurries back down to the main floor.)

Jack: Let me tell you something, boys. In war, old ladies and little kids will shoot at you, if they got the guns. There was this woman once at a checkpoint. She had a newborn. The guys felt bad for her and just let her go without a search. She got a little way down the road, and then she turned around, pulled a grenade out of the child’s blanket, and tossed it into the middle of our regiment. I still have shrapnel in my leg from that. You know what that taught me?  Sometimes people look weak and defenseless to get your guard down.

(While Jack is telling this story, the man lets the refugees in. He is tearfully hugging one of the three new men who have just entered. Toma slaps him on the back companionably.)

Man: Toma! Toma!

Jack: Fuck a duck. You! What are you thinking? You do not just go and do that! You hear me? Don’t just let every Tom, Dick, and Harryovich that walks up in this place. How do you know they’re not vampires?

(The man, reasonably enough, points to the crucifix his neighbor is wearing. The other two men, bruised and bedraggled, also wear prominent crucifixes.)

Jack: Fine. They’re in. Close that door and search them. I don’t want those newcomers to have guns, knives, or nothing on them. You hear me? You! Up in the look-out. Translate for me. And make sure they understand the danger they put us in! Fuckers!

Act VI Scene IV:

(A dimly-lit hallway in the factory. Most of the overhead lights are burned out here. Mara, rucksack slung over one shoulder, is striding quickly along the hall, looking around with an expression that is a mixture of puzzlement and frustration.)

Mara: How the hell did I get lost in here? I didn’t go that far, but all these hallways look alike.

(She hesitates, almost turning back the way she came.)

Mara: No, don’t go back. The front’s this way, I’m sure.

(She takes another few steps, then pauses again.)

Mara: I can’t believe this. Thousands of years old, and I can’t find my way back to the front door.

 

--M. Belanger

Comment

Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act V 7-8)

Author's Note: Vampires and rock bands and tourists, oh my! Johnny and Livia get closer and Mara confronts Alex about the mysterious book uncovered at the dig.  

Act V Scene VII:

(Back in the underground levels of the factory. Johnny and Livia walk close together as he keeps the flashlight trained carefully on the ground in front of them. The floor is littered with dirt, debris, and the occasional rat.)

Johnny: I can’t believe Briggs hurt himself like that.

Livia: He’ll be all right. It was a bad cut on his arm, but he’ll heal.

Johnny: Yeah, but it was my bloody fault he fell. I wasn’t doing a very good job with the flashlight, you know?

Livia: Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s not like this place is a walk in the park.

Johnny: Yeah, well, some days I think I’m no good at anything. Except maybe posing on a stage.

Livia: You know, the sympathy thing is not going to get you in my pants.

Johnny: Fuck you! That’s not what I meant.

(Johnny stops, holding the flashlight trained at the ground. In the shadows, we can see his face is averted and he’s wiping quickly at his eyes. Livia looks long and hard at him.)

Livia: You’re really upset aren’t you?

(Johnny leans his head farther away but does not reply. The flashlight trembles slightly in his hands. Livia reaches out to touch him but he ducks clumsily away.)

Livia: Johnny? Hey –

Johnny: Of course I’m upset! Bloody hell! It’s my fault! I could have been looking out for Briggs back there. I could have remained calm and collected like you and Mara seem to do, but I got all stupid on him. I’m wandering around in a blind panic and all I can do is be a smart-ass!

Livia: Some people don’t deal well under pressure. It’s called a coping mechanism.

Johnny: There you go, making me feel dumb again. Me and my coping whatever. Truth is, I’m a royal fuck-up and I can’t do anything right, except for strutting around on a stage. And those blokes in the band, they’re my mates. They put up with my shit. They’ve followed me through fourteen different countries, and they’re always there to save my skinny ass. And what do I do? I drag them into this mess! Did you see his arm? You know he’s our bassist, right? If he cut tendons, he may never play again. And don’t think I’m upset because there’s one less man for Falling Darkness, because that’s not it at all. Briggs is a fucking awesome bassist and I’d never want to lose him – but if he can’t play again? Livia, playing music is that man’s life!

(Livia steps forward and offers Johnny a sympathetic half-smile. This time he doesn’t shy away. He grabs onto her, barely maintaining his grip on the flashlight as he cries in her arms.)

Livia: I’m not going to lie to you and tell you everything’s going to be ok. Bad stuff’s happening. But you don’t have to blame yourself over it. It’s not your fault.

Johnny: Livia, I don’t know if you’ll understand the sort of bond that mates in a band can build together. You live together on the road, you share space in a tiny little van, you eat together, sleep together…People talk about true love, and they’re usually talking what a man feels for a woman. But true love – I’ve never loved anyone like I love my mates. We’d go to hell and back and die and, and – oh, I don’t know how to explain it! It’s special, is all. Something you can’t put into words.

Livia: I think I know exactly what you’re talking about.

(Johnny studies her face for a moment. He’s starting to calm down and maybe think a bit clearer.)

Johnny: You and Mara?

Livia: Our relationship is … complicated. But we’re not lovers. Not in any way anyone would understand.

Johnny: I think it’s beautiful, to love another person the way I love my band.

Livia: You going to be ok, Johnny?

(Johnny looks at her. His eyes are tearing.)

Johnny: My name is Nigel. My real name anyway.

Livia: So I should call you Nigel?

Johnny: Yeah. You’re dealing with Nigel now, not Johnny. And I’m sorry, but right now, Nigel’s a scared little boy.

Livia: I think I like Nigel better.

(Livia kisses Johnny gently on the cheek. They pull away, lock eyes in the shadows. On an unspoken cue, they lock lips in a passionate kiss. As they are kissing, there is a crackling noise, and a few of the overhead lights flicker on. They both look up without immediately breaking the kiss.)

Livia: Seems likeGriffin has quite the sense of timing.

Johnny: He’s good at what he does. So maybe we should get back to searching and mapping?

Livia: Joh – Nigel? Isn’t that a utility tub right over there?

Johnny: Well, fuck me. Let’s see if the bugger works.

 

Act V Scene VII:

(A large, cavernous room in the factory. Late evening sunlight streams in through the grimy, broken squares of glass that pass for windows in one wall. Some other shafts of ruddy light filter in through skylights or holes in the ceiling. Over in one corner, tucked away in the deepest shadow, two large crates have been pushed together. Mara is stretched out on top of these. The rucksack Livia had been carrying is folded up underneath her head. She looks serene and tranquil, laid out almost like a corpse. We hear the scrape of a shoe against the concrete floor and Mara’s eyes snap open wide, instantly alert.)

Mara: You must have searched all over for me. What do you want?

Alex: I thought I heard your friend say you were a professor someplace.

(In a quick and fluid movement, Mara sits up, swinging her legs around to the edge of the crate. She cocks her head to one side and scrutinizes Alex.)

Mara: I teach history.  Why?

Alex: You wouldn’t happen to work atBrownUniversity inRhode Island, would you?

Mara: Why do you want to know?

Alex: I knew it! I knew it the first time I saw that necklace of yours.

Mara: It’s a family heirloom.

Alex: The fuck it is. I’ve seen that symbol only one place before.

Mara: Symbols have a way of getting around.

Alex: Not this one. This one should never have gotten around. Damn that Thompson! You saw the images he sent to his sister, didn’t you?

Mara: Alex, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Alex: The fuck you don’t. You’re after the book. I knew something was funny, the way your friend kept trying to get up to the dig.

Mara: If you recall, I came up here for a vampire tour.

Alex: Like I believe you. You’re involved in this somehow. It’s just so convenient. You know everything about what’s going on and you’re wearing that thing. Well I’m onto you. And you can’t have the book. It’s my career-maker. I’ve spent the whole summer out here working my fingers to the bone and I’m not letting any freaky bull-dyke come away with my find.

Mara: So you do have it.

(Mara reaches out and grabs Alex’s wrist. There is a brief, faint glow around Mara’s fingers and in her eyes. Then we zero in on Alex’s face, diving into her surprised eyes. A pastiche of images flashes before the screen, memories that Mara is reading from Alex. We see a flash of Alex looking over the book with others at the dig, then a flash of Thompson’s face, the darkened dig, the chaos, and Alex grabbing the book before they leave. We see Alex at the hotel, paging through the book, then glancing guiltily around, secreting it in her backpack. We come back to Mara’s face. She is smiling.)

Mara: It’s been in your backpack all along.

Alex: Get your hands off me! It doesn’t matter where I have it. It’s mine!

Mara: I suggest you give it to me.

Alex: I’ll make you sorry you laid a hand on me! I’m going to go tell the others that you’re involved in all this shit.

(Alex goes to walk away. Mara does not relinquish her arm. It should be noted that throughout this exchange, the sunlight has been getting dimmer and dimmer. Dusk is approaching rapidly. The main source of light now comes from a few weak, flickering overhead lights, mostly over in the far section of the room.)

Mara: You’re going to do what?

Alex: I’m going to tell them about you. You know too much about all this fucking shit. I bet you’re in league with them. There’s something fucking weird about you, and I’m going to make sure you don’t get in my way!

Mara: I think we’d better discuss this further.

Alex: There’s no discussing it. What do you think they’re going to do to you when I tell them that you’re wearing the same fucking symbol that appears on the first plate of the book? (struggling uselessly) Let go of my arm!

Mara: Now, Alex, I am not violent by nature. But if there is one thing I know how to do, it’s survive. And you have just made yourself an obstacle to my survival.

Alex: Let go, you bitch! You’re hurting me.

Mara: (starting to stand up off the crate) It was bad enough to know you were trying to steal my property.

Alex: Your property? Are you nuts? We dug through six centuries worth of dirt to get that thing.

Mara: (moving nose to nose with Alex) But then you threaten to expose me. You don’t even know what you’re exposing.

Alex: I said let go of me!

(Alex continues to pull at her wrist, but she can’t budge Mara. Mara just continues to stand there, cold eyes level with her own. Finally, Alex gets upset enough to try whacking Mara in the face with her backpack. The backpack, as it contains a book of bronze plates, connects very solidly to the side of Mara’s face. Mara lets the blow carry her head back, but then she just turns right back to Alex and regards her with her piercing eyes.)

Mara: Truth be told, I found you annoying. So I’m not going to regret this one bit.

(Mara’s eyes flash in the shadows and she reaches up toward Alex with her free hand. That hand is beginning to have wisps of grey light trailing around it, boiling up semi-visibly through Mara’s skin.)

Alex: What the fuck are you doing?

(Mara locks eyes with Alex. Alex seems transfixed and unable to say another word. Mara brings her hand up to Alex’s chest. She splays her fingers over Alex’s heart, as if she could pull the entire organ up through the skin. Alex’s eyes grow wide as a glow begins to concentrate in her own body, responding to the light clinging to Mara’s hand. Alex’s mouth moves and she is gulping air, but no sound comes out. The glow that gathers in her chest begins to pulse. We are seeing Alex’s heartbeat, and Mara is drawing it straight out of her chest. Mara is bathed in the wisps of light that she is drawing forth from Alex. Wisps and tendrils climb up her arm. Some even gather around the hand still holding Alex’s wrist, trailing up that arm. Everything pulses faintly with Alex’s heartbeat. Alex throws her head back, silently choking. Her eyes roll back into her head. We see the pulsing light grow very, very concentrated, and then the pulse is momentarily erratic. Finally, it stops completely. The last colors of dusk fade from the windows as the glow fades from Alex’s chest. She swoons and falls over. Again, with snake-like reactions, Mara catches the girl before she hits the floor. Breathing the last of the wisps of life-force, eyes and face faintly glowing, Mara checks Alex for a pulse. She scoops her up, lays her out on the crates. She checks the backpack and takes out the book, opening it and lovingly tracing the symbol that appears on the first plate. Although there are some stylistic differences, it is clearly the same symbol that she wears around her neck. After a moment, Mara shoves the book into her own rucksack. The shadows now are deep in this portion of the factory. Scanning all sides and corners of the room, Mara insures that she has not been observed. She slings the rucksack over her shoulder, then carefully arranges Alex’s corpse in a posture of sleep, folding up the girl’s now empty pack as a pillow.)

Mara: (patting Alex’s still chest with mock sympathy) Heart failure. Poor dear. It can happen to anyone.

(Mara closes Alex’s eyelids then turns and walks out of the room.)

Mara: I’m going to feel bad forGriffin. But he deserved better anyway.

--M. Belanger

Comment

Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act V 4-6)

Author's Note: Vampires slaughter unsuspecting tourists on a Dracula-themed vacation. The survivors hole up in an abandoned factory, searching for some way to survive the coming night. Among them is Mara, who has been a great help in combating the attacking vampires. However, she has been harboring a dangerous secret ...  

Act V Scene IV:

(Mara and Livia’s part of the factory. Their hallway is marked with a number of doors, several of which sag upon their hinges. They walk in silence for a bit, Mara casting the occasional glance backwards.)

Livia: They’re not going to follow us. They’ve got their own hallway to explore.

Mara: I just want to make sure. Are you certain you’re feeling up to this?

Livia: Mara, pardon my bluntness, but you look like hell. I know you, I know your needs. We should have taken care of this the other night.

Mara: We were going to. And then we had guests. And vampires.

Livia: Well, right now there’s no one else around.

Mara: I’m still nervous. Exposure at this point could be fatal for both of us.

Livia: You know, for someone who doesn’t have to worry about dying, you sure talk a lot about it.

Mara: It’s the strange thing about being immortal. You get a little over-cautious.

Livia: Of all the people to suffer from fatalism –

Mara: Yeah, I know. I might not die, Liv, but the body does, and that’s never any fun. Besides, if I’m caught off guard, we end up with situations exactly like the one surrounding the book. I go to move from one body to the next and someone interrupts the process. I get disoriented. Why do you think I wandered around for a couple of centuries all confused and bodiless?

Livia: Mara, I told them we’d meet back in half an hour. If we keep talking, you’re not even going to get this chance. And I know you need it.

(Livia reaches up and touches Mara gently on the cheek. Mara smiles and presses her hand against Livia’s hand.)

Mara: Livia, have I told you recently how much I appreciate you?

Livia: Ssh. Just go ahead. Take what you need from me.

(Livia takes a small step back, sets the flashlight down, then stands, straight and relaxed. She closes her eyes and tips her head back a bit, a serene expression on her face. Mara approaches her, placing her hands lightly on either side of Livia’s face. Mara closes her eyes as well, and when she opens them again, they are glowing with that same misty light we saw in the hotel. Faint swirls of the same misty glow are visible around Mara’s fingers and hands. Mara leans forward and places her lips very gently on Livia’s forehead, barely making physical contact. Then Mara breathes deeply in, and we see wisps of that misty light being pulled from Livia to her. Mara pulls her hands back toward herself as she breathes in some more, pulling even more of the ghostly light from Livia, breathing it in. Livia looses a sigh that suggests that this is anything but a painful experience. Mara continues to drink Livia’s life force. As she does so, the glow in her eyes gets brighter, and we see that faint outline of another face under her skin. It is a man’s face, not dissimilar from her own. As Mara feeds, the shallow cut on her face heals completely, leaving no visible trace. Any other cuts or bruises she has sustained up to this point heal as well. Mara and Livia are so engrossed in this exchange that neither of them notice the erratic beam of a flashlight bouncing down from the other end of the hall.)

Johnny: Livia! Mara! Livia? (he rounds the corner) Oh, my.

(Johnny draws up short as he gets within sight of Mara and Livia. Livia has her back to him.  Mara has pulled away very quickly, turning her back to Johnny as well. As she grimaces, we see fangs, though her feeding has been bloodless. She hides her face in the shadows. We see that the glow is lingering, as is the unearthly light in her eyes. Her lips are slightly parted. A tremulous breath escapes, misting on the air. She covers her mouth with one hand, seeking to hide her fangs.)

Livia: Uh, Johnny, um …

Johnny: Am I interrupting something?

Livia: Well, we were, uh --

Mara: (her face still averted) Nothing at all.

(Mara’s voice comes out strangely. The sound is huskier, and a second voice, a distinctly male voice, underscores her natural tone.)

Johnny: Right then.

Livia: It’s not what you’re thinking, Johnny. Mara and I aren’t … (sighs) It’s hard to explain.

Johnny: You don’t have to explain anything, luv. I’m an open-minded chap. I’ve been around. Whatever works for you ladies, you know? And if you happen to like a boy here and there, I don’t mind if we share.

(Rather distinctly, we hear Mara growl. Johnny, eyes wide, starts looking around, unable to credit his ears.)

Livia: Um, Johnny? Where’s Briggs?

Johnny: Oh, bloody hell. I almost forgot. He fell down through the floor.

Mara: He what?

(She turns around and stares at Johnny. The second face has faded away, but her eyes still faintly glow.)

Johnny: My God, your eyes –

(Mara locks eyes with Johnny. Johnny blinks several times, looking suddenly disoriented.)

Mara: Tell me about Briggs, Johnny. That’s what you came for.

Johnny: Uh, right. We uh, we were exploring our hallway and um, the floor turned to this uh, this grating stuff. I guess it wasn’t stable, because we got to this um, one part, and Briggs feel through the floor.

Livia: God, Johnny! Is he all right?

Johnny: He’s hurt and he’s bleeding. He … uh … sent me for help?

Mara: Then don’t just stand there with your mouth open. Take us to him.

Johnny: Uh. Right. This way, then.

(They run down the hall.)

Act V Scene V

(Cut to Johnny, Mara and Livia running up to the spot where Briggs fell through.)

Briggs: Johnny? Johnny! That had better be you, man. There’s bloody rats down in this hole.

Johnny: It’s me, Malcolm. I’ve brought Mara and Livia. They’ve got a rope.

Briggs: Well, at least somebody comes prepared.

Mara: I’m tying a loop in it, Briggs, and I’m throwing it down. Get it under your arms and I’ll try pulling you up. It’s not the thickest rope in the world, so I’m not sure this will work. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.

Briggs: Anything that gets me out of this bloody hole.

(Livia crawls up near Johnny and shines her light down into the hole.)

Livia: Can you see all right down there?

Briggs: I can now. Point the light a little more over here.

Mara: All right. Here comes the rope, Briggs. When you have it in place, give it a tug.

Briggs: Damn, look at my poor arm! That’s gonna leave a mark.

Mara: We’ll patch you up in a minute. For now, let’s just get you out.

Briggs: Well … I guess I’m ready.

(Mara steps back from the edge and starts pulling Briggs up. Livia tries to help, but mostly for show. The rope is being dragged along the edge of the grate and we can see that it’s getting frayed.)

Livia: Mara, the metal’s going to cut the rope before we get him up.

Mara: You’re right. Dammit. Johnny, get over here.

Johnny: What can I do to help?

Mara: I need you and Livia to hold this. Don’t pull on it unless I tell you to.

(Mara and Johnny switch places. Johnny leaves his flashlight balanced on the edge, trained on Briggs.)

Briggs: Something wrong?

Mara: Hang on, Briggs. We’re having a little trouble.

Briggs: Try to hurry, hunh? This is cutting into me like a wire!

(Mara moves the light Johnny left trained on Briggs so the hole is dark. Then she lays on her stomach, leaning over the edge. She takes the rope in both hands, then pulls Briggs up, hand over hand, hardly straining.)

Mara: Ok. Livia? Johnny? Start pulling him up.

Johnny: Sure thing. (begins to tug on the rope. He smiles) Hey, this is easier than I thought.

(Mara continues to pull the rope up hand over hand. When Briggs gets close enough to the edge, she holds the rope in one hand and reaches out to him with the other.)

Mara: Give me your good arm, Briggs. I’ll pull you the rest the way up.

Briggs: Lady, you’re going to hurt yourself. I weigh 15 stone.

Mara: Just give me your hand.

Briggs: It’s your hernia.

(Mara locks her fingers around his wrist and lifts him out of the hole. Briggs crawls out, then tries to stand. He immediately winces in pain and collapses.)

Briggs: Oh damn, ankle’s worse than I thought.

Johnny: Shit, Briggs. You’re really banged up.

Livia: Can you walk on it?

Briggs: I’m thinking, “no.”

Mara: Well this is a mess, and it didn’t even take any vampires.

Johnny: You weren’t kidding about that arm.

Briggs: No shit, Johnny.

Mara: All right. We need to get you back to the others. I’ll carry you.

Briggs: I beg your pardon?

Mara: Unless you think you can walk?

Livia: Mara, do you think that’s a good idea?

Mara: Our other option is to drag him and I think he’s lost a lot of blood.

Briggs: It’s just been steady. It hasn’t been pumping. I know if it was pumping I’d be fucked.

Mara: If it was pumping, you’d be dead. So come on. I’m carrying you.

(Mara bends down and gets Briggs in a fireman’s carry. She tries to make it look like this is difficult for her.)

Johnny: Well look at Missus Tough Guy.

Mara: (deadly serious but softly spoken) I swear, Johnny, one more crack from you and I will introduce you to a suffering like nothing you have ever known.

(Johnny goes to open his mouth to respond, but Livia puts her finger over his lips.)

Livia: If you’re smart Johnny, you’ll swallow those words.

Briggs: The only type of smart Johnny’s ever been is a smart-ass.

Johnny: (petulant) Well fuck you, too, Briggs. See if I save your ass next time.

Mara: (gritting her teeth) Briggs, you’re heavy. We’re going now.

(Mara turns and starts heading down the hallway. Notably, she does this without grabbing a flashlight. Livia recovers for her, grabbing Johnny’s and slipping it to her. Mara looks down at it in confusion for a moment, then takes it with her free hand.)

Livia: Do you want us to come with you?

Mara: Keep looking for the water hook-up. But be more careful this time. I don’t want any more accidents.

(Mara heads down the hall with Briggs.)

Johnny: (puts his arm around Livia) I’ll take good care of her.

(Mara has nearly disappeared down the hall. The camera remains on Johnny and Livia.)

Mara: (calling back) Johnny?

Johnny: Yeah, Mara?

Mara: Fuck you.

Act V Scene VI:

(The front room of the factory. Jack is supervising all the activity, which includes having a small group of men cleaning up a cache of rather old M16s. As he is barking orders, some of the fluorescent lights overhead come on. A couple pop and go out immediately, but a number of them stay lit, even though they’re flickering like strobes. There are cheers throughout the room.)

Jack: Hey! Looks likeGriffin got the generator going. And it’s only six-thirty. Not bad.

(One of the light fixtures begins sparking and finally the two tubes of light explode, raining glass down into the room.)

Jack: Shit! Look out over there! Looks like we’ve got some bugs to work out. How are those guns coming along? Anyone find any more ammo?

Villager: Guns are old. Might not work good.

Jack: Hell man, guns are guns. Even if they only fire once before locking, we’re doing better than we did before.

(Griffin enters with Victor close behind)

Griffin: Boiler’s shot. But as you can see, we have light.

Jack: And we have a little daylight left out there.

Victor: How are things coming otherwise?

Jack: Well, first off, I was talking with one of the locals, and he gave me some good news.

Victor: Finally.

Jack: Seems a couple of the survivors packed up supplies and started walking to the closest city.Brasov or something?

Griffin: So we’ll have reinforcements?

Jack: It’s a good walk for them, so it’s going to be a couple days. But yeah, I imagine once they get there, someone’s going to send help.

Victor: Assuming they believe any of this.

Jack: Don’t get negative on me, soldier. I got all kinds of good news for you. We found a cache of guns, too. Don’t know if they were left here by the Communists or maybe guerillas, but they’re gonna come in handy.

Griffin: Are they even going to work after all these years?

Jack: Well, they’re a little gummed up, but I got a detail cleaning them. I took one apart, showed them how. There’s a little ammo. Truth be told, it won’t last long, but every little bit helps.

Griffin: All right, then. I’m going to start working on my light show.

Jack: What was that, son?

Griffin: It’s what we grabbed the van for. Remember I said I wanted my gear?

Jack: I thought you were talking about your tools, boy.

Griffin: I’ve got some other stuff, too. Strobes, black light, lasers. Now that I got the generator running, there’s something I want to do.

Jack: And what exactly might that be?

Griffin: This room here. It’s the most logical place for the vampires to come in, right?

Jack: It’s the main entrance. The most accessible. But I don’t know if we can count on them being that direct.

Griffin: I’ll chance it. This is a good idea. I swear to you.

Jack: I’m going to trust that you’re not wasting our time,Griffin. I –

(Mara walks in. Briggs has passed out. She’s still carrying him.)

Mara: Hey. I could use some help over here.

Victor: Oh shit. What happened to him?

Mara: Floor gave way. This place isn’t structurally sound. Though I see you got the generator running. That’s nothing short of a miracle.

Griffin: Just call me MacGuyver.

Mara: Sure. Does anyone have a first-aid kit? Alcohol and some strips of cloth, if nothing else. He’s lost a lot of blood.

Jack: Damn, that went right through.

Victor: Where’s Johnny and Livia?

Mara: Possibly against my better judgment, I left them further back in the factory so they could continue looking for signs of water.

Victor: Briggs? Malcolm? Can you hear me?

Jack: Splash some vodka on that arm. It’ll wake him right up.

Mara: If none of you mind, I’m going to go somewhere where I can lay down. Carrying him wore me out.

Victor: Sure. I understand. I’ve carried him around when he’s piss-drunk. It’s not an easy task.

Mara: You have it under control then?

Jack: Go catch a cat-nap, Mara. We’ll need you alert when the sun goes down.

Mara: Well. I’ll see you then.

 

--M. Belanger

Comment

Comment

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

Author's Note: Busy with the holidays? Almost done doing the family thing? Welcome back to Transylvania with Mara, Johnny, and the crew.  

Act V Scene I:

(The front room of an abandoned factory. People and bits of equipment are scattered around. There are some faces we don’t recognize mixed in with our familiar team. Some people are unpacking bags of supplies and other equipment. A few people are cleaning guns. Jack, Victor, Griffin, Alex, Briggs, are all standing around a set of concrete stairs. Johnny and Livia are off to one side of the group. Johnny is chatting and flirting with her.)

Jack: How many people ended up following us here from the town?

Victor: About a dozen, mostly men. A couple of them brought their own guns.

Jack: Well, that’s a plus. Did you check them?

Victor: Every one of them passed the cross-test. Yeah.

Jack: OK. Well, let’s settle in here and get organized. I want parties exploring every inch of this factory. I want to know every entrance, exit, and set of windows in the place. Once we get settled and secure the perimeter, then we start working on making weapons for ourselves.Griffin – you said this place had a generator?

Griffin: Yeah. Down in one of the lower levels. There was a really old boiler down there, too.

Jack: Grab some equipment and see if you can’t get that baby cranking. And take a couple of people with you.

Griffin: I’ll get right on it.

Jack: Hang on. I also want to see if there’s a water hook-up somewhere. If we can get the juice cranking and we have water, we can sit tight in here for a while.

Briggs: We’ll need food.

Jack: I’ll want raiding parties organized. No one goes out there alone or unarmed. Sort through the supplies we already have to see how much more we’ll need and how soon.

Victor: Worse comes to worse, we’re far enough out from the city, we could probably shoot a deer or two.

Jack: Or bag a bear. Bear’s good eating and there’s a lot to go around.

(Mara approaches looking pale and worn-out.)

Mara: Is there anything you need me to do right now?

Jack: Well, Mara, you seem to know the most about what we’re up against. I’d like you to train the newbies and give me some input on the vampires.

Mara: I think almost everyone learned what they needed by surviving last night.

Jack: It’s good to know basic survival tactics, but we don’t have what we need to win this war. We need answers to some hard questions. Like what the hell are we really up against? How many of them are there? What do they want?

Johnny: Seems to me they just wanted to eat people.

Briggs: I don’t think so. I watched them last night while they were killing everyone. Seemed to me like they were looking for something. Sure, they went ape-shit drinking people down. But it wasn’t just that. They were searching all the rooms they broke into.

Jack: You got any ideas, Mara? Since you’re our expert on vampires.

(Mara sighs and pulls up a crate to sit down.)

 

Mara: First of all, the ones we were seeing last night, they were just extensions.  Like branches of a tree. There’s another one out there, and he’s the source of their power. The others will keep coming until we eliminate the source.

Victor: What? You talking about some master vampire or something?

Mara: (wearily) Something like that. He’s what’s giving them their power. You noticed that not everyone who died last night got back up and walked around, right? There’s a process to creating soldiers like what we were seeing at the hotel. And that power can only come from one.

Jack: What’s the 411 on the crosses. Why do those work?

Mara: I wish I had an answer for that. It’s got to be something unique to the source. He’s passing it on to them, just like he’s passing along some of his power. So we can bet that crosses are going to work on him, too. But why do they work? (she shrugs, genuinely baffled) Maybe just because he believes that they do.

Victor: That’s a little fucked up. So is my Star of David gonna work, too?

Mara: Probably not. I’m betting the symbol is specific to the source. Again, I don’t really know why. But it’s a weakness, so we exploit it.

Briggs: (with a hint of suspicion) How do you know all this, Mara?

Mara: I’m a history professor, but I have an interest in the occult. I study a lot of things. If you don’t want my info, I’ll be happy to go lay down.

(Jack shakes his head, giving Briggs a look that gets him to back off.)

Mara: (she stares down Briggs until he gets uncomfortable and withdraws a few feet away) If we’re going to beat this together, we’re going to have to find a way to draw the main one out. As long as he’s somewhere safe from us, he’ll just keep sending shock troops to wear us down. But flushing him will be dangerous. He’s not going to be a push-over. He’s going to have powers you’ve never seen before.

Victor: All right. How do you draw a master vampire out of his lair?

Mara: We find what he’s looking for and we use it as bait.

(Mara looks pointedly at Alex. Alex glares back at her.)

Alex: What? What are you looking at me for?

Mara: It’s obvious to all of us that the vampires are looking for something. All of this started when you and that other guy came into town from the dig. So maybe you have some idea what they’re looking for?

Griffin: You talking about that book?

Mara: Oh. There’s a book?

Alex: Shut up,Griffin! I don’t have it. We left it back at the camp.

Jack: What are you guys talking about?

Griffin: A couple weeks ago, they broke through to a library. Alex was telling me about this weird book that was brass plates or something.

Alex:Griffin – it’s none of their business. That’s top secret stuff I should never have shared with anyone.

Jack: So you think the vampires are looking for this book?

Mara: I think it’s a safe bet they’re looking for something from the dig.

Alex: Look. All I know is it got dark outside and then people started dying. I did the smart thing and got the hell away from there. I didn’t hang around to ask what anyone was looking for. Are you blaming me for this mess or something?

Jack: Look girl. No one’s blaming you. But Mara has a point here. Your camp seems to be tied in with this disaster. Someone mentioned another guy. Maybe he took the book when you weren’t looking?

Alex: Well why don’t you go back to the hotel and ask him yourself? And make sure you take a ouija board with you because he’s fucking dead!

(Alex storms off, backpack over her shoulder. The others, silent, watch her go.)

Jack: Somebody didn’t take her meds today.

Griffin: I’ll go talk to her.

Jack: No you won’t. You go get that generator going. I want it up and running before nightfall, you hear me? Hey, Mara. You know anything about plumbing?

Mara: Not really.

Jack: Think you know water pipes when you see them?

Mara: Sure.

Jack: Good. Take your girlfriend and see if you can’t find a water source in here. Briggs? You and Johnny go with them.

Mara: She’s not my girlfriend, Jack.

Jack: Mara, I’ve seen a lot of things. You think I’m going to hold it against you two?

Mara: (testily) It’s not like that, Jack. You assume too much.

(Mara turns on her heel, and goes over to where Livia and Johnny are talking. Jack shakes his head.)

Jack: Well, then. Seems the PMS is contagious today. It gets too bad, I may just take my chances with the vampires.

(Briggs chuckles & heads off with Johnny and the others.)

 

Act V Scene II:

(A hall of the factory.  Broken skylights overhead provide light. Broken equipment and debris are scattered everywhere, and everything wears a coating of cobwebs and dust. Mara, Livia, Briggs and Johnny are walking along. Livia and Johnny have flashlights which they have not yet turned on.)

Mara: This place is going to be impossible to defend unless we hole up in the basement. Too many windows. And those skylights --

Johnny: How do you propose the vampires are going to get all the way up there?

Mara: Never underestimate your enemy. Especially not this one.

Briggs: I don’t know why we’re even trying. We’re all dead. It’s just a matter of time.

Livia: Don’t think like that. Thoughts manifest reality.

Johnny: Then just who in the hell was thinking about an invasion of vampires? That’s what I want to know.

(They find the stairs down to the basement levels. They switch on their flashlights and head down. They go past several places that open onto rooms with heavy equipment, most of it rusted and broken beyond recognition. They take a moment to look in each room, searching around with the beams of the flashlights, trying to find a sink or utility tub. After some twisting and turning, they come to a place where the hallway splits off. There are fewer windows here, so both ways are shrouded in shadows and dust. They turn their flashlights on and shine them down each passageway.)

Johnny: Do you think we should split up?

Mara: We’ll cover more ground that way.

Livia: Anyone have a watch?

Briggs: Yeah.

Livia: All right. Half an hour, we meet back at this spot.

Briggs: Sounds good.

(Mara and Livia start off together down the left-hand passageway.)

Johnny: So we’re doing boys against girls in this little scavenger hunt?

Mara: Sure.

 

Act V Scene III:

(We cut to Johnny and Briggs picking their way through the dust and debris in their hall. The concrete floor has given way to a rusty metal grate.)

Johnny: I really like Livia, but her friend Mara is a bitch.

Briggs: You don’t stand a chance, Johnny.

Johnny: I dunno. Livia seems pretty sweet on me. She talks to me, she even laughs at some of my jokes.

Briggs: (rolls his eyes) You’re right. That must be true love.

Johnny: Seriously, Malcolm. You don’t think she’s got it bad for me?

Briggs: Johnny, get a clue.

Johnny: What’s that supposed to mean?

Briggs: You got two women who stick together like glue. One’s all cute and curvy, the other’s buff with short hair. Do I have to draw you chart?

Johnny: I know what you’re getting at, but I don’t get that feel from Livia. Mara, maybe. Sure. But I’ve seen Livia checking me out.

Briggs: You’re bloody impossible, you know that, Johnny?

Johnny: And hey, if they like a little girl on girl action, who am I to object? Two for the price of one, you know?

Briggs: God in Heaven.

Johnny: What? If you had the chance to bag two girls at once, you telling me you wouldn’t do it?

Briggs: Unlike you, mate, I am not perpetually thinking about the next shag. Right now, all I’m worried about is surviving this bloody shit-hole.

Johnny: Fine then. (jumping back quickly) Oh, fuck, Briggs, look out!

(A portion of the floor has rusted through and a part of it has given way beneath its own weight. There’s time enough to see the hazard in the light of Johnny’s flashlight, and then Briggs goes down, crashing through to the lower floor. We hear cursing as he falls, then silence. Eyes wide, Johnny edges up to the lip of the collapse, gingerly shining the flashlight around. It’s a mess down there, with lots of oddly-shaped bits of metal and other debris. Briggs is conscious and moving. There is a cut on his head and a much nastier cut on his arm.)

Johnny: Briggs, man. You ok?

Briggs: Fuck no, I’m not ok. I just fell through the bloody floor. Speared my arm on something, too. I think it’s cut pretty bad.

Johnny: How bad is pretty bad?

Briggs: Bad enough that I’m bleeding all over the place down here.

Johnny: Can you get out?

(Briggs looks pointedly up at Johnny who is peering over an edge at least ten feet above him.)

Briggs: Sure. I’m Super-man. Stand back while I fly up there, you stupid sod!

Johnny: Is there like a door or something down there? Maybe you can work your way back?

Briggs: Johnny, I’m hurt and I’m bleeding. Get some bloody help!

Johnny: You sure you want me to leave you?

Briggs: Johnny, you twit, just go find the girls!

Johnny: Ok. I’m going. No need to shout.

--M. Belanger

Comment

Comment

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

Comment

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act III 1-6)

Author's Notes: The vampire tour settles in for the night but real vampires are loose in the hotel. No Twilight sparkles here, just hungry bloodsuckers. These scenes were some of my favorite to write. I loved having all hell break loose as the tourists had no clue what was hunting them until it was too late. Act III Scene I:

(The hotel lobby. The party in The Impaler has finally drawn to a close. The tour people are filing back to their rooms in ones and twos, some of them staggering, many of them draped with black crepe and bat-fetti. The front desk is down to one employee, a sleepy night auditor yawning and reading a book. He nods to each person or small group as they filter out of The Impaler, bidding them a good night in English and Romanian. The tour guide is the last person to leave The Impaler. His arms are bundled with party favors and other novelties left over from the event.)

Guide: I’ll get the rest of it tomorrow morning. Right now, I just need to go to bed.

Auditor: (in accented English) That’s fine. Good night, sir.

(As the tour guide makes his way heavily up the stairs, the auditor comes around from the desk and goes to The Impaler. He looks around, turns off the lights, closes the door. When he turns back around to head toward the front desk, he jumps, quickly assuming his customer-service face.)

Auditor: Good evening, sir. I’m sorry, but we have no more rooms. There’s a tour in town.

(The person standing just inside the doors has a hat pulled down a little over his eyes. The hat is one Morgan was wearing at the dig. He stands in the entryway, silent and a little foreboding.)

Auditor: I’m sorry. Did you hear me? We have no rooms. (in Romanian) We have no rooms to rent tonight.

(Dr. Morgan still does not respond. The auditor gingerly gets a little closer.)

Auditor: Are you deaf? (in Romanian) Do you hear me? Sir? (in English) Sir?

(The auditor gets closer and closer. Finally, when he is within an arm’s reach, Dr. Morgan springs to life. He moves so quickly, the hat flies off.  We see bared fangs and gleaming eyes. The auditor barely has time to react. He lets out a muffled sound and we cut to a spray of blood jetting across a plant and the lobby wallpaper.)

Act III Scene II

(Hallway One in the hotel. A couple in their fifties are making their way down the hall. The wife is swaying a bit and chattering on and on about her night with the vampires.)

Joan: Oh, and the tour guide! He’s so debonair. Did you see his outfit tonight? I think he looked just like Gary Oldman in Dracula. Don't you think, Roger?

Roger: Whatever you say, dear. (guiding her as she stumbles down the hall) Careful now. Watch your step. Our room is right down here.

Joan: (turning and kissing him sloppily) This is the best time ever, Roger! Thank you so much for taking me on this tour.

Roger: It’s our anniversary present. (steers her down the hall) Just don’t enjoy yourself so much tomorrow. I’m too old to carry you up the stairs.

Joan: Oh, you silly –

(The couple turns a corner and they both draw up short. At the end of the hall, a long-haired American from the dig is bent over another woman from the tour group. He’s been feeding on her. He looks up and bares bloody fangs.)

Joan: Oh! Roger, look! They’ve got actors to follow us to our rooms.

Roger: Um, Joan, I don’t think –

Joan: Oh Mr. Vampire! Pick me! Come and drain me dry, you little hottie!

Roger: Joan, really, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.

Joan: (slaps his chest dismissively) Oh, stow it, Rog. (waving to the vampire and practically jumping up and down) Yoohoo! Edward! Over here!

(Joan holds her arms out to the vampire and cocks her head to one side, baring her neck invitingly. The vampire drops the woman he has just killed. Roger jumps at the sound she makes as she contacts the floor. He starts back pedaling, trying to draw his over-eager wife with him as he goes.)

Roger: (backing away) Joan, honey, please –

(The vampire charges with supernatural speed down the hall. Joan practically runs into his arms. Joan’s squeal of excitement rapidly turns into a gurgling shriek of terror as the vampire tears out her throat. Roger falls back around the bend in the hall, stumbles, then lands heavily against a door.)

Act III Scene III:

(Cut immediately to the other side of the door. We see Roger’s impact from this perspective and hear muffled cries from the hall. The forty-something lady who is in this room sits up in her bed, pulling her sleeping mask back to squint at the door.)

Lady: For God’s sake, keep it down out there! People are trying to sleep!

(Noises at the door. The knob is frantically turned. Roger shrieks but is cut short. The room’s occupant snaps on the light, glancing angrily at the door.)

Lady: I said keep it down! I swear. Mix people and alcohol and you get instant assholes.

(She stomps over to the door and throws it open. Roger’s corpse falls back upon her feet. She yelps, and the long-haired vampire dives into her room. She falls back toward the bed, screaming and scrambling for anything to fend off her attacker. Stumbling against the nightstand, she seizes a thick black book on the nightstand – the hotel Bible. It has a large silver cross embossed on the cover. Grabbing this in both hands, she beats him over the head with it.)

Lady: Get off of me!

(the vampire looks merely annoyed until the cross from the front of the Bible actually singes him a little, leaving a reddened mark in the middle of his forehead. After an initial look of confusion and several less effective strikes from the panicked woman, he snarls, knocks the Bible from her hands, and falls upon her. Fade to black.)

Act III Scene IV

(Hallway Two. There are several bodies in the hall and at least two doors are smeared with blood. Dr. Morgan stands with the long-haired vampire who ate Joan. Dr. Morgan pages through the guest registry from the front desk. The other vampire looks restless. There is dried blood in his goatee.)

Morgan: No Thompson. No Richards. They must be under different names.

Long-Hair: So?

Morgan: So this makes things more difficult for us. We have to search the entire hotel.

Long-Hair: I’ll go get the others. We can start on the first floor.

Morgan: What are you going to do, just go from room to room, killing them as we go?

Long-Hair: Sounds like a plan to me.

Morgan: We’ve already been too loud already. I’m amazed there hasn’t been a panic. We won’t find them if they’re running from us. We need some strategy.

Long-Hair: Strategy?

Morgan: I don’t want him to think we’re being sloppy. I don’t know if they can hurt us, be he certainly can. Do you want him angry with you?

(The tour guide rounds the corner into the hall. He is wearing a fancy dressing gown and only some of the makeup has been washed from his face. He trips on a body, cursing. Morgan and Long-Hair look up.)

Guide: Jeez. Every year, it’s worse and worse. Now the drunks don’t even make it to their rooms.

(The Guide nudges the body with his foot.)

Guide: Hey! Hey, you! Get up off the floor!

(The body slumps over a little more.)

Guide: If I have to call the front desk to put you in your room …

(Dr. Morgan steps approaches the tour guide.)

Guide: (automatically) Ssh! Remember to keep it down. I heard some screaming up here earlier, and you people have to remember that there are other patrons in the hotel. (He stops short, blinking) Oh – you’re not in my tour group.

Morgan: No, I’m not.

Guide: Could you help me with this fellow? I’m afraid he’s all partied out.

Morgan: I’d love to give you a hand.

(The tour guide bends down to help the “drunk” up. Before the tour guide can react, Morgan snaps his neck. He eases the body to the floor next to the other man. The long-haired vampire looms over his shoulder.)

Morgan: See? Quick. Quiet. Efficient. Now follow me.

Act III Scene V:

(Hotel Hallway Three. No signs of struggle yet. Thompson, Johnny, and Victor walk together.)

Victor: Do you even know what room she’s in?

Johnny: She didn’t exactly tell me, but I got a look at that little envelope her key was in. It was definitely three something.

Thompson: So you don’t know.

Johnny: I’ve got a good idea.

Victor: You’re amazing, Johnny. There’s some freaky shit killing people out there and you’re dragging us through the hotel on a late-night booty call.

Johnny: Sex and death, man. We sing about it all the time.

Thompson: He takes himself seriously?

Victor: If Griffin didn’t have that archaeologist chick to look after, he’d be the one baby-sitting your ass, Johnny. I’ve been doing it for far too --

Johnny: (scrambling backwards) Oh fuck.

(A middle-aged woman stumbles out of a room in front of them, clutching her throat. A stream of blood runs down the front of her night gown. She reaches out to them, gurgling, eyes pleading. Kristof emerges from the room behind her. When he sees Johnny and the others, he grins. His fangs are impossible to miss.)

Victor: Shit!

(The lady collapses and the vampire charges over her corpse, heading straight for them.)

Thompson: That’s Kristof! Kristof! Mother of God!

Johnny: You know that fucker?

Victor: Just run.

(They turn and start pelting back down the way they came. Johnny, shocked by what he sees, is the last to move. When he does run, he trips over his own boots, landing heavily on the carpet. Thompson and Victor are halfway down the hall. Kristof is practically on top of Johnny.)

Victor: Johnny! Don’t you get killed, you little blighter!

(Victor pulls a knife and charges back toward the vampire. Kristof descends upon Johnny, but hisses, pulls his arm away and stumbles back a step. Johnny looks down at his chest. He’s been wearing a big, showy Gothic cross and this seems to have repelled the vampire.)

Johnny: (touching the cross) Well, fuck me.

(Kristof recovers and dives for Johnny a second time. Johnny brandishes his cross at the vampire, connecting with Kristof’s face. There is a satisfying sizzle. Kristof stumbles away, clawing at his face.)

Johnny: Eat Jesus, bastard!

(Victor catches up, helping Johnny to his feet with one hand and brandishing his knife in the other. Another vampire comes rounds the corner at the end of the hallway where the stairs going down are.)

Victor: Fuck that. We’re out of here.

Thompson: Where do you plan on going? Hotel’s only got three floors.

Johnny: Shit.

(They stand together, looking worried.)

Act III Scene VI:

(Mara and Livia’s room. The lights are low. Mara is in her familiar black tank and cargo pants. She has added a belt with a knife on it. Livia is also in more practical clothes. She sits on the bed, a gun in her hands. Mara studies the room, looking from the door to the one window to the various pieces of heavy furniture. She talks to Livia as she works. Occasionally, we can hear screaming or other noises coming from the rest of the hotel during their conversation. The two women ignore most of this, only sometimes even looking up.)

Mara: Remember. You aim for the heart or the head. Destroy the central nervous system as completely as you can.

Livia: You know I’m no good with guns.

Mara: We don’t have any of the others with us, so we have to make do however we can. I’d rather have the gun in your hands. You need it more than I will.

Livia: Do you think it’s really that bad?

(Mara goes over to the armoire, tries to slide it, discovers that it’s bolted to the floor. She takes a moment to focus herself, much like a martial artist about to break a stack of bricks. Then she rocks the entire armoire back and forth, snapping the bolts. Straining only a little, she moves the massive piece of furniture against the door.)

Mara: You heard the screams. They’re in the hotel. The main one, he’s somewhere else right now. Close, but not here. What we’re dealing with are his extensions. Victims who don’t know that they’re dead.

Livia: How does that work exactly? I’ve never seen you do anything like that before.

Mara: I would never stoop to something that low, Livia. Please don’t insult me like that! I have companions, like you and the others. I would never create slaves.

Livia: Are they like zombies or something?

Mara: No, not exactly. They’ll talk and act like they’re alive. There’s a residual personality in there. They’ll even manifest some of the source’s powers. But when push comes to shove, they have no will of their own. He wants them to do something, and they react, like he’s flexing a muscle. Only the muscle is them, and their intellect degrades over time.

Livia: That’s pretty creepy.

Mara: That’s why there are rules against it. And horror stories that go back to the dawn of time.

(Mara frowns at the window.)

Mara: I should have put the armoire there. It’s a few inches taller. Oh well, I wasn’t thinking.

(She grabs the dresser, snaps the bolts, and moves it over to the window.)

Livia: Do you want me to help you with anything?

Mara: I appreciate the thought, dear.

Livia: Do you think they’ll get all the way up here to the third floor? I mean, through the window?

Mara: Consider the things you have seen me do. Now apply those to our enemies. I can only assume that we are standing on common ground.

Livia: So you think someone translated the book.

Mara: At this point, I have no doubt that someone used it. It’s only a question of when. The council was right to punish me for leaving it behind.

Livia: Mara, you’ve beat yourself up over it enough.

Mara: I should have taken more precautions. And I’d be happy if I could remember any of it clearly. But something caught me right as I bodyhopped.

(Livia gets up off of the bed, goes over and touches Mara tenderly on the arm. She leans her head against Mara’s shoulder, almost hugging, almost holding her. They’re turned toward the full-length mirror that’s against one wall of the room, and Livia is studying both of their reflections as she speaks.)

Livia: I’ve seen how vulnerable you can be. It wasn’t that long ago that you moved to this body. I still haven’t gotten used to you being a woman, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stand by you. That’s what I’m here for, me and all the rest of my family. We love you. We protect you. We’d die before something hurt you, especially when you’re weak.

Mara: Oh, Livia. That’s the worst of it. Knowing that everyone I loved back then had to die for that book to fall into someone else’s hands.

(They are interrupted by a ruckus at the door.)

Johnny: (from out in the hall) Livia! Someone! Let us into a room! We’re gonna die!

Mara: Oh, damn.

Livia: That’s Johnny, from the band.

Mara: I just moved that thing.

Livia: Could you please let them in? I don’t know him that well, but I don’t want to listen to him die.

(Mara sighs, then moves toward the armoire.)

Mara: I’ll get this out of the way. You get the gun and keep it trained on the door. Unlock it, get them in here, and don’t let anything else in. I’ll block the door the minute they’re in.

Livia: Thank you, Mara.

Johnny: (from the hall) Livia! Someone! (a vampire shrieks) Eat Jesus, fucker!

Mara: One, two, three, go.

(Mara lifts the armoire and Livia jumps to open the door. Johnny practically falls in with Victor close behind. Thompson is behind them.)

Livia: Get in. Get in now!

(She pulls Johnny and Victor into the room. Thompson moves for the door, but Kristof and another one are on him, dragging him backwards.)

Victor: Shit. Thompson!

Livia: Stand back.

Mara: Two seconds and I’m blocking that door.

Livia: Give me a chance –

(Livia aims and fires the gun at Kristof. The bullet only grazes the side of his face, but he stumbles backward, dazed by the pain.)

Livia: Shit. Shit. Shit.

Mara: Time’s up. Close the door.

(Livia tries one last time to pull Thompson through the door, but Kristof recovers and tackles him, biting at his jugular. There is a spray of blood. Livia jumps back as both Thompson and the vampire nearly crash into the room. Mara darts forward, presses the door closed against both bodies, then moves the armoire back into place. Thompson’s dying screams are audible through the door. Then there’s silence.)

Victor: Damn.

Johnny: (to Mara) Did you just pick up that whole bloody thing and move it?

Mara: (deadpan) Of course not.

Livia: (before Johnny can respond) Mara, that’s Johnny. And that’s Victor.

Victor: Thank you, Mara. That was close.

Mara: How bad is it out there?

Johnny: There are vampires all over the bloody place. Vampires! Like the kind you repel with a cross. What the fuck is up with that?

Mara: (confused) What?

Victor: He’s not shitting you, lady.

Mara: No, no. I understand the part about the vampires. What did you say about the cross?

Johnny: You saw that ugly bastard who just ate the black bloke, right? Did you see what he had burned into his face? That was my cross, lady. My fucking cross.

Mara: Don’t stick it in my face. And my name is Mara.

Johnny: I’m a wee bit stressed, sweets. I just got attacked by vampires. Bloody vampires! They ate my keyboardist earlier this evening. And now we just watched that guy buy the farm. This was not how I wanted to spend my European tour.

Livia: Johnny’s the lead singer, unless you couldn’t tell.

Johnny: What’s that supposed to mean?

Victor: You’re a lead singer. That’s what it means, Johnny.

Mara: (lost in thought) Crosses, though. Crosses? What on earth is going on?

(Mara begins to pace. More screams from the hall. The door shakes and the armoire visibly moves.)

Victor: Umm, so what do we do now?

Mara: You look like you can use a gun. Give it to him, Livia. I’ve got another one in the luggage over there.

Johnny: How’d you get that shit past customs?

Mara: I’m very charming when I need to be. As for what we do now, we sit and wait them out.

Johnny: I don’t like the idea of just sitting around here waiting for them to eat us.

Mara: For the moment, this will have to do. We don’t have a more defensible position. And besides, we only have to wait until dawn. I suspect they’re going to have problems with the sun.

Victor: What about the others? We left Briggs and Griffin and that chick Alex back in room two-fifty-seven.

Mara: Alex? From the archaeological dig?

Victor: Yeah. Why?

Mara: I needed to talk to her.

Johnny: Well, you two can just have a bloody tête-à-tête, assuming you feel like wading through vampires to do it.

Livia: Wait a minute. We can call them.

Victor: What?

Livia: I used to work at a hotel. Usually, the phone number for a room is the same as the room number. What did you say, room 257?

(Victor nods. Livia starts to dial)

Mara: This is why I love you, Liv.

(Johnny raises an eyebrow at this remark, then frowns a bit as he looks pointedly at the single bed in the room.)

Livia: Hello? I almost didn’t expect an answer. This is Livia. Livia, remember? Johnny and Victor are with me in my room. No. No one’s done anything of the sort. That’s not why I called. You know there’s trouble in the hotel? Thompson’s dead. I’m sorry. There wasn’t much we could do. Tell her when she wakes up. I think she’s had a bad enough night. Right now, this is what you need to do. Get the heaviest piece of furniture and put it against your door. Get something to block the window if you can, too. Don’t go out in the halls. No. Don’t go out at all.

(Johnny keeps pointing at his cross. Livia glances over.)

Livia: Oh, and this will sound crazy, but do you have any crosses?

Johnny: We’re a Gothic rock band. They should have a metric ton of them. Tell them to dig through my jewelry!

Livia: Yeah, that was Johnny in the background. He says he has crosses with his jewelry. As I said, this is going to sound strange, but crosses seem to repel them. Yeah, just like the movies.

Mara: Is Alex still there with them?

Livia: Who’s all there? Briggs andGriffin and Alex. OK.

Mara: Tell them when the sun comes up we’ll meet in the main lobby of the hotel.

Livia: You guys sit tight for right now. You just have to wait out the night. When the sun comes up, meet us in the lobby of the hotel. You got that? OK. Good luck. Oh, and we’re room 331 in case you need to call.

Victor: They’re all alive?

Livia: Safe and sound, for the moment.

Victor: Maybe we should call the other rooms? You know, to warn them? Tell them how to defend themselves?

Mara: There’s no guarantee that one of the others won’t pick up.

Johnny: What? Vampires answer the phone?

Mara: Becoming vampires has not made them stupid, just feral. They’ll still approach the world as if they were alive.

Victor: Well, minus all the tearing peoples’ throats out.

Livia: Yeah, minus that.

Johnny: So what do we do now?

Mara: (sits on the bed) Now we wait for dawn.

Johnny: Bloody hell.

--M. Belanger

Comment

1 Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act II 5-9)

Author's Note: Things heat up with the Dracula tour as people start turning up dead. The tourists think it's all part of the fun, mistaking real vampires for actors paid to liven up their night. This makes them easy prey for the bloodthirsty predators in their midst. (Warning: strong language) ... I was just looking over my saved files for this work, searching for a couple of deleted scenes. And I realized that I was mistaken, thinking I'd written this in 2005 or 2006. The first saves are from December 2004. My, how time flies! One other thing. When I first started posting, I'd mentioned my dreamcast. I never did tell you who I cast as Dracula in my head: artist & musician Joseph Vargo. It's not just his look, it's his voice. His vocals on his Nox Arcana CD Transylvania cinched it. Queue up the last track and listen to the very end. That evil laugh? That is Joseph Vargo. Sexy as hell and perfect for the immortal Count!

Act II Scene V

(The front of the Boyar Hotel. Three members of the band, Griffin, Victor, and Johnny stand on the street. The band’s van is parked a short distance up the street, near one of the few working streetlights. Most of the surrounding buildings are dark, so the town appears abandoned. No one else is out. The door of the hotel is propped open. Light, muted music, and laughter emerge from the door. The band members smoke and chat casually in low voices, except Johnny who seems both a little drunk and a little loud. Livia comes out, practically glowing.)

Livia: Hey guys. Got a light?

Johnny: Sure, luv. Nice dress. You having fun?

Livia: The food was crap, but I’m having a good time.

Johnny: You still leaving in the morning with the rest of the tour?

Livia: I’m thinking I might stay for a while.

Johnny: Right on.

(Johnny goes to put his arm around Livia. In the process, he catches sight of the crescent moon.)

Johnny: Ooooh. Let me see your tattoo.

Livia: It’s not a tattoo. It’s a brand.

(She turns back toward the light, holding stray strands of her hair up so he can see it better.)

Johnny: That’s hard core. Victor here is into that body-mod stuff. You pierced, sweetie?

Livia: No piercings. Just the brand. It’s a family thing.

Victor: That’s nice work, really clean. Hard to get them to keloid just right like that. I’m a fan. Got me some Teflon implants under the skin in this arm and some on my chest – they make a spiral pattern.

(Victor takes off his shirt to show off his tattoos and body mods. Livia admires them politely. Johnny pulls her back to him, runs his fingers lightly along the brand.)

Johnny: It’s lovely. We’ll find some way to work it into the video. Maybe do some shots of the moon, play with layering the images. How are things coming with the shoot, anyway,Griffin?

Griffin: I was checking that factory out this afternoon. It’s got no electric hook-up, which is a problem, but I think I saw a generator in one of the lower rooms. If I can get that baby cranking, we’re in business.

Livia: What about Dracula’s tomb?

Johnny: Eh, luv?

Livia: You said they’re digging up Dracula’s tomb. Getting in there to film would kick ass.

Griffin: Nah. Alex was right. It’s not much but tents and an old foundation. No visual appeal.

Johnny: Griff here is our light and stage man, so if he says it won’t work in the film, it won’t work.

Victor: Hey look – somebody’s in a hurry.

(A motor guns. The Jeep approaches at high speed. Griffin recognizes Alex, steps out to wave, but she speeds past, and he jumps back to avoid getting hit.)

Griffin: Fuck!

Johnny: What’s gotten into her?

Griffin: Something must be wrong back at the camp. She doesn’t usually drive like that.

Victor: Where you think she’s headed?

Griffin: Only things down that way are the church and public offices.

Johnny: She going for the cops?

Griffin: I’m gonna head down that way and see. Catch you guys later. (Griff walks off)

Livia: What do you think could be wrong?

Johnny: Accident, maybe. That, or a bear. Those fuckers are nasty.

Livia: I hope everything’s ok.

Victor: Maybe they found a vampire.

Johnny: If they did, he’s going to star in my film. Vampires are sexy bastards.

(A woman wails off camera, coming from the same direction as the Jeep and the touring van.)

Victor: Wolf keeps that up and he’ll wake the whole town.

Livia: Someone having a little fun?

Johnny: Wolfie’s shagging that one blonde bartender over in the touring van.

(the screaming starts again, this time more urgent. A man’s voice is added. He sounds anything but orgasmic. Victor and Johnny exchange worried glances.)

Livia: That doesn’t sound good.

Victor: Shit.

Johnny: Maybe she had a boyfriend?

Victor: I want to go see.

Johnny: You know, Victor, you walk in on them in the van and it’s nothing, Wolf is going to wring your neck. I’d do the same.

Victor: It didn’t sound right, Johnny. Besides, my other pack of cigarettes is in there.

Johnny: Oh, I see how it is.

Victor: You coming, or what?

Johnny: What the fuck? I’m game. You coming, too, luv? We’ll make it a party.

Livia: Sure.

(They walk the short distance to the touring van. A streetlight casts the van in contrasting pools of light and shadow. Things are eerily silent. Victor approaches cautiously. Johnny and Livia bring up the rear.)

Victor: (stage whisper) Wolfie? Wolfram?

Johnny: Hey, Wolfie-boy, done with your little snog, mate?

Victor: Crissakes, Johnny. And here you’re yelling at me!

Johnny: If we’re going to interrupt him, why not do it in style?

Victor: (rolls his eyes) Shit. Wolf!

(They continue to approach the driver’s side of the van. There is still no noise and no movement, though there is an indistinct shape on the other side of the van, visible just through the wheels. Victor moves up around the front of the van, then cautiously peeks around the side.)

Victor: (stumbling back) Fuck me. Oh fuck! Fuck. Me.

Johnny: (giggles) I thought she was fucking Wolfie.

Victor: Stuff it, Johnny. This isn't funny.

(Johnny leads Livia up to where Victor stands. Johnny is still giggling at his joke. As he turns the corner and looks around, he is suddenly sober. Livia is the last to look. There is a slight lift of her eyebrows, but she does not appear as shocked or upset as either of the men. The other side of the van has a big smear of blood arcing down. It goes right across the “Falling Darkness” logo. The body of the bartender lies on the ground beside the van. Her eyes are open and glazed. Her throat has been torn out.)

Johnny: Bloody hell, she’s fucking dead.

Victor: (worried) Wolf?

(The back doors of the van are ajar. A booted foot is visible just beneath the door.)

Victor: Wolf? Don’t you be dead, too, Wolf. Goddamnit, don’t you be dead.

(Johnny stares at the dead bartender, clinging to Livia. Victor moves cautiously to the back door. When he finally rounds the corner of the open door, his face falls.)

Victor: Oh, shit.

Johnny: Don’t fuck with me, Victor.

Victor: Wolf’s dead, Johnny.

Johnny: I said don’t fuck with me, Victor!

Victor: On my mother’s grave, I’m not fucking with you, Johnny. Wolf’s dead. He’s got his pants around his ankles and he’s fucking dead!

Livia: He look the same as the bartender?

(Victor comes around from the end of the van, shaken. He almost trips over the bartender’s foot. He shudders.)

Victor: Yeah, he looks the same. Something ate his fucking throat.

Livia: We need to go back inside. Now.

Johnny: What the fuck? My keyboardist? My fucking keyboardist?

Livia: Johnny, really. We need to go back inside.

Victor: You know something about this?

Livia: I have enough sense to know that two people are dead and standing around in the dark is not going to improve our chances of survival.

Victor: Point. And we need to tell someone.

(Victor pulls a knife from his boot. Together, they head back toward the hotel but are startled by headlights coming back up the road. There are two sets now, the Jeep and one of the local police vehicles. Both vehicles stop in front of the hotel. Griffin is riding with Alex and Thompson, and they all get out. Alex has Griffin hand her a backpack out of the Jeep, and she hefts this over her shoulder. Three local law enforcement officers get out of the vehicle behind them. They look unhappy to be disturbed at this hour. Victor quickly stows the knife and waves the officers over.)

Victor: Hey! Hey! You guys speak English?

Alex: I speak enough Romanian to translate. What’s the matter?

Victor: We’ve got two people dead over there.

(Alex and Thompson exchange glances.)

Alex: Did I hear you right? Dead? What happened?

Victor: Something ate their fucking throats, that’s what happened.

Thompson: Where are they?

Johnny: Over by our touring van. A bartender and my fucking keyboardist.

Griffin: You’re shitting me. Wolf? Wolf’s dead?

(Alex relays the message to the officers. They exchange suspicious glances. But one heads over toward the van.)

Victor: I hope you have a gun, man.

Livia: (in Romanian) Don’t go alone.

(The officer makes a disparaging noise and continues.)

Griffin: What’s going on here, guys?

Johnny: How the fuck should I know?

Livia: Alex, why did you get the police?

Alex: Uh –

Thompson: There was an accident up at the camp. We had to report it. They came along to talk to the hotel staff. They’ve got to put us up for the night.

Livia: What happened to everyone else?

(The officer screams in the distance. Several shots are fired. Everyone jumps, staring. The remaining officers glance suspiciously at everyone, but they pull their guns.)

Officer 2: (in Romanian) What have you brought into my town?

Johnny: Maybe we should get inside, let the nice officers take care of whatever the fuck is back there.

Livia: They’re not going to be able to do it by themselves. They have no idea what they’re fighting.

Alex: And you do? Weren’t you in the bar earlier? Who are you?

Griffin: Let’s get inside. If they don’t give you a room, you can stay with me tonight, Alex.

Alex: I want to know what her problem is!

Livia: My problem is that people are dying, and if we stay on the street yapping, we’re probably going to die, too. So why don’t we all get inside, close the doors, and try to survive until morning?

Alex: Who made you the boss?

(Livia shoots her a look and strides into the hotel. The others are left staring out into the night, listening for more screams or gunshots. The town is silent.)

Act II Scene VI

(The camera cuts to the lobby. Mara is there, just exiting The Impaler. When she sees Livia, she waves her over.)

Mara: I was just going to go look for you.

Livia: Something’s killing people outside in the town.

Mara: What?

Livia: I was trying to get the band to take me up to the dig when we heard screaming. A bartender and their keyboardist both had their throats torn out. A couple of cops from the town went to investigate, but I’m pretty sure they’re as good as dead.

Mara: Did it look like –

Livia: Yes, yes it did. But it was really messy.

Mara: Well, obviously. It killed them.

Livia: I get the feeling it wanted to kill them.

Mara: We should go wait this out in our room.

(Alex, Thompson, and Griffin enter, followed by Victor and Johnny. Alex clutches her backpack. Thompson and Griffin head for the front desk. Alex looks over at Livia, then locks eyes with Mara. Alex’s eyes flick to Mara’s necklace, then back to Mara’s eyes. The two engage in a silent staring contest for a few moments. Alex looks away.)

Mara: Who’s that?

Livia: The dig assistant, Alex.

Mara: I don’t like her.

Livia: You and me both. But if anyone knows where the book is, I’m betting that it’s her.

Mara: This is getting complicated. And I can feel that other one very close now. I think we should retreat for now, watch how the night plays out.

Act II Scene VII

(Cut back to a window outside the hotel. Vlad and Marica stand to one side in the shadows. The window looks into the lobby. The previous scene replays now from this outside perspective. Livia and Mara conversing to one side, Alex, Thompson, and Griffin standing at the front desk to the other.)

Marica: Thompson is the dark-skinned man. See him with that woman? If anyone has your book, it will be them.

Vlad: Be sure to thank our Dr. Morgan for pursuing them here.

(Mara and Livia talk, then Mara turns to lead Livia to their room. As Livia turns toward the stairs, the brand on the back of her neck is clearly visible.)

Vlad: Wait a moment. I know that mark.

Marica: What mark, voivode?

Vlad: That little one with the crimson hair. She bears the mark of the alchemist. All his people bore that brand.

Marica: Brand?

Vlad: There was power in their blood. They slaked my thirst like nothing I had ever known. You will get that woman for me, Marica. She can help me regain control.

(In the lobby, Mara stops suddenly at the foot of the stairs. She turns and stares directly out the window at Vlad. There is a faint glow to her eyes, then a ghostly mist shines faintly from within her face. This is looks as if a second face, a man’s face, is trying to manifest through her skin. Vlad draws back in shock.)

Vlad: By all the hells …

Marica: What is it voivode?

Vlad: That other one, pale and tall. Who is that? She sees me here. I can almost feel her in my mind. (pinches the bridge of his nose and withdraws from the window). There is more going on here than I suspected. We must regroup. I need more soldiers to lay siege to this building. Everything I desire lies within.

Act II Scene VIII:

(Inside the front lobby. Mara and Livia at the foot of the stairs. Mara is still staring piercingly out the window. The glow has faded from her face but not her eyes. The others still stand at the front desk. Alex argues with the clerk in Romanian, nearly shouting. The party is in full swing beyond the doors to The Impaler.)

Livia: Mara?

Mara: He’s out there. He’s right outside that window. I would challenge him now if there weren’t so many people around.

Livia: Let’s just go up to the room.

Mara: It's going to be a long night.

Act II Scene IX

(Inside The Impaler. The tour group is over on one end, getting loud, drunk, and silly. Alex, Thompson, Griffin, Victor, and Johnny are in their own little corner looking jumpy and shell-shocked. They have a bottle on the table in front of them, and several of them have downed a shot or two apiece. Alex has her backpack on the floor beside her, leaning up against her chair.)

Victor: No shit. All that happened up at the camp?

Thompson: Yeah. They broke through to this crypt, then everyone went missing. We got the pictures –

Alex: (clutching her head and rocking a little) Ugh. Those were fucked up. Those were so fucked up.

Thompson: And then someone cut the generator.

Griffin: All the work I put into that thing!

Thompson: Yeah, well, I don’t think anybody up there’s going to be using it right now.

Alex: There was all this screaming. Someone had a gun. And then there was Dr. Morgan.

Thompson: I can’t believe you just plowed right through him.

Alex: What the fuck was I supposed to do? It was pitch black and people were grabbing at us from the shadows and I’ll be damned if I die on some god-forsaken mountain in the middle of nowhere!

Griffin: Hey. Chill out a bit, Alex. And maybe ease back on the vodka. You’re going to make yourself sick.

Alex: Like it matters right now? We don’t even know what the fuck is out there!

Thompson: Are you sure we don’t?

Johnny: Don’t start with that again, man. I’m the biggest fucking Goth here and I don't fucking believe in vampires. Were they all sparkly and lovestruck?

Griffin: (smacks Johnny on the shoulder) Shut the fuck up, man. People are dead.

Victor: Something's killing people.

Griffin: Wolfram. The bartender. And probably that cop, from the sound of it.

Victor: All the cops. Have any of them come back in yet?

Thompson: No.

Johnny: But come on, guys. Listen to yourselves. Vampires?

Victor: Look, Johnny, it wasn’t a bear and it wasn’t a wolf and it wasn’t the bloody toothfairy. The serial killer of your worst nightmares couldn’t do that kind of damage to a person in that short a time. No human killer, at any rate.

Alex: You know, I could have gone to Egypt. Egypt! But how silly, I thought, ‘I’m an American woman and that just won’t be safe.’ So I come to Romania and – and –

(Alex breaks down into tears. Griffin comforts her.)

Victor: I can’t believe those people are just dancing around like there’s nothing wrong.

Thompson: We tried to tell the people at the front desk. Do you blame them for laughing at us? They thought it was a great American joke. Vampires. Ha fucking ha.

Johnny: Fuckin’ quit it with the vampires already.

Thompson: Can you think of anything else that fits the facts?

(The tour group gets loud for a moment. The tour guide has fake fangs and is pretending to bite the ladies on the neck. A lot of the tour people are really getting into it.)

Johnny: Fuck it. I’m going upstairs. If I have to watch those people and their fake vampire bullshit for five more minutes, I’m going to be sick.

Victor: Someone has to tell Briggs about Wolfie.

Johnny: Shit. I forgot about Briggs.

Victor: They’re like brothers, man. How could you forget?

(Johnny scowls, glaring at the tourists)

Griffin: I’ll go with you. I think Alex needs to lie down. That is, if you don’t mind having her in the room?

Johnny: Just don’t fuck her in my bed.

Griffin: That’s harsh. She just needs to sleep, man.

Johnny: Whatever. Let’s go.

Victor: Hey guys – don’t get separated. I mean, don’t go anywhere in this hotel or outside of it alone. OK? Especially outside. For fuck’s sake, don’t go outside.

Johnny: Hope they don’t mind me smoking in the room.

Griffin: See you in the morning.

Victor: If we’re lucky.

--M. Belanger

1 Comment

1 Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act II 3-4)

Author's Note: Tourists on a cheesy vampire tour get a big surprise: real vampires. And these aren't the dreamy Twilight sort!  

Act II Scene III

(A chamber in the excavated castle. Marica stands in the doorway. One oil lamp, looted from the camp, is the sole source of illumination. A hallway, shored up with wooden supports, leads into darkness. Kyle emerges from this. He is pale and has streaks of blood and dirt on his face. His eyes look strange, like he’s been drugged.)

Kyle: We can’t find the book anywhere.

Marica: He’s not going to like hearing that.

Kyle: We looked everywhere.

Marica: Then I suggest you get out and look again.

Kyle: I’m telling you it’s not there. It should have been right in the main tent, and it’s gone. I think Thompson took it.

Marica: You told me no one got away. Did you not tell me this yourself?

Kyle: Dr. Morgan is missing and there are tracks – someone took a Jeep back to the town.

Marica: Do you know the man you are disappointing? Do you know anything about what he does to people who disappoint him?

(Kyle looks at the ground. Vlad speaks from off-camera in Romanian. Just the sound of his voice, deep and resonant, causes Kyle to freeze with fear.)

Vlad: (in Romanian) They have not found it, Marica?

Marica: (in Romanian) Nu, voivode.

Vlad: (in Romanian) Tell them they must find it, or establish that it is absolutely not here. I would prefer not to have to invade the town. We do not have the numbers to safely invade the town. Not yet.

Marica: (In Romanian) Da, voivode.

Marica: (in English, turning to Kyle) You will look again. You will turn the entire campsite upside-down if you have to. Insure that the book is nowhere to be found. We do not have the numbers to risk a foray into town.

Kyle: All right, Dr. Antonescu.

(Kyle leaves. Marica watches him go, hugging herself a little. Her white blouse is stained in places with blood and dirt. Her hair has come undone and now falls around her face. From behind Marica, Dracula steps in from the shadows. He is wearing dusty clothes rotten from the tomb. He moves with the languid grace of a predator. He stands behind her for a moment as if scenting her, then wraps his arms around her, drawing her against his chest. She leans into him a little stiffly.)

Vlad: Marica, Marica. These people are undisciplined. What a sorry state they’re in.

Marica: My apologies, voivode.

Vlad: They are not your workers. I do not hold you responsible. They are – what was the word? American.

Marica: Yes, voivode. They are Americans, pillaging Romanian soil.

Vlad: I have lost much in the intervening years. This very castle – just dust around me. I almost cannot bear to look on it.

Marica: A great deal of time has passed, voivode. The world has changed around you.

(Vlad is making a slow seduction of touching Marica. She trembles at his touch, fearful but also eager. He gradually turns her around to face him, lifting up her chin so she must meet his eyes.)

Vlad: You tell me in the years that have passed my country has become a weak land. Impoverished. Diminished. This I swear to change.

Marica: It is not the world you remember, voivode.

Vlad: Ah, but no world is so different that it will not respond to power, and to pain. I am good at both of those things. Is there something wrong, Marica? You tremble. It is wise to be frightened of me, but I do not want you to be frightened.

Marica: Forgive me, but I do not understand how –

Vlad: How I live, after so many years imprisoned? I have told you. I am immortal. This is why I need the book. The book is how I became what I am. Long ago, there was an alchemist on my land. There were rumors about him. He attracted my attention because his tower bore the sign of the crescent moon.

Marica: A Muslim sign.

Vlad: I believed him a Turk, practicing his wickedness underneath my very nose. So I took a force of able men and we stormed his tower. But whatever he was, he was already dead. Withered and cold, he still sat among his books. And such books he had! I am a warrior, but I am not a fool. And so I knew there was value in that book. I took the book. I took his notes. I took his women, though I killed those who resisted. Then I studied. It was a long process, but I came to read the book, and such secrets it held!

Marica: And that book, it made you what you are now?

Vlad: It contains a ritual. When I performed it on myself, I could no longer die. But I thirsted. The book spoke of that, but it gave no warning of how terrible a thirst it was. Always blood, more and more blood. There was no slaking it. I had to put my brother in my place. Not that weakling Radu, but my father’s bastard, Lazar. He ruled as me while I strove to overcome it. But I could not.

Marica: And you had yourself imprisoned?

Vlad: What else could I do? I would not prey upon my own people! I was their protector, their voivode. Criminals, traitors, these I feasted upon. But there was no controlling it! My understanding of the book perhaps was incomplete. I had them bind me, wall me in the tomb.

Marica: And now that you are out?

Vlad: You have seen what a terrible thing my hunger is, have you not?

(Marica lowers her eyes and shudders. Tenderly, he reaches out and lifts her chin once more to meet his eyes)

Vlad: This is a new time. There is more knowledge. I know there was simply some error. We get the book and we solve the puzzle. I retain my power, and I take back my throne. Under me, this country will be great once again.

Marica: I almost want to believe you.

Vlad: Almost? Almost?

(Vlad squeezes her face in his hand, his eyes ablaze with fury. Marica winces against the pain.)

Marica: Voivode, you’re hurting me.

Vlad: You would do well to believe in me. You are a beautiful woman, Marica. Too beautiful to waste yourself huddled over books. Be loyal to me. Speak to these American rabble for me. Help me regain the book and my power, and you will be richly rewarded.

(He leans in to her, brushes his lips against her neck. She whimpers. With more force, he pulls her to him, his features predatory, aggressive. The camera fades as the two are locked in an embrace, Marica’s head thrown back, Vlad descending upon her neck.)

 

Act II Scene IV:

(The Impaler. The bar has been decorated with more vampire-themed party favors. The tour group, dressed in their finest, dine at sets of tables at one end of the bar. The tour guide is dressed in full vampire gear, complete with whiteface and a red-lined cape. Rather campy, spooky music plays over the speakers. Mara and Livia dine with the others. Most of the tourists are middle-aged and older couples, so Mara and Livia stand out. Livia is having a good time. Mara is somber, but making an effort to be sociable.

The tour group dines. Several of the tourists get drunk. As dinner winds down, the tour guide has the music changed to a waltz and he whisks one of the older ladies onto the dance floor. She giggles, waltzing clumsily with him. A few other couples join them. Waltzes continue and the tour guide returns the lady to her husband, then approaches Mara. She silently shakes her head, so he moves to Livia. She accepts and waltzes surprisingly well. Her hair is up, and as she dances, a strange mark on the back of her neck is visible. It is a scar or brand, shaped like an upturned crescent. Merriment continues, with many of the middle-aged tourists getting raucous and drunk.)

 

--M. Belanger

1 Comment

Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return (Act II 1-2)

Author's Note: A vampire tour. An archaeological dig. A mysterious book. And the tomb of Dracula. Maybe. Here's the next installment of my screenplay, Immortal.  Act II Scene I

(Alex riding on a dirt road in the Jeep. The sun is low over the mountains. She pulls up to the site. There’s a good deal of activity with an undercurrent of tension. Morgan is nowhere in sight. Alex, looking troubled, heads over to the main tent. David Thompson is bent over the computer, downloading something.)

Alex: Hey, David. What’s going on?

Thompson: Jesus, Alex! Don’t sneak up on me like that.

Alex: Jumpy much? What’s that on the computer?

Thompson: You seen Morgan lately?

Alex: Not since I left here. Why? You sound like something’s wrong.

Thompson: I was hoping they were in town. They’re missing.

Alex: What do you mean, missing?

Thompson: They went with Kyle and Anders over to that new room and we haven’t seen any of them since. Dr. Morgan had a call on the cellphone, and when Kristof went to get him, the room was empty.

Alex: You’re not making any sense, Thompson. How could they be missing? Where would they go?

Thompson: How would I know? (sighs) Let me start from the beginning. Dr. Morgan and Dr. Antonescu went to open a new room.  You remember that, don’t you?

Alex: How could I forget? He sent me off on another dumb errand, remember?

Thompson: All right, well the room was bricked up or something, and from what we’ve seen, they knocked the wall in. It’s a crypt like with all these statues of saints and a big stone sarcophagus in the center.

Alex: You’re shitting me.

Thompson: Not one bit. Kristof went in there looking for Dr. Morgan. But there was no one in the room. Kris thought he saw blood on the floor and some on the sarcophagus.

Alex: This is a joke, right?

Thompson: Well he got some help and opened the sarcophagus lid. It was chipped on one side, and the damage looked fresh, so we figured they had opened it before.

Alex: If you even tell me one of them was dead inside of there, I swear I’ll kick your ass.

Thompson: No. What we found were these really old chains. And bits of what used to be a crucifix. And Anders’ camera. In pieces. That’s what I’m working on. I’m trying to retrieve the pictures off the memory card.

Alex: I so don’t believe any of this. I go away for like three hours and all hell breaks loose?

Thompson: We were really hoping they were in town with you. We sent someone off with one of the other Jeeps to check and see, but he hasn’t gotten back yet.

Alex: So what does all this mean?

Thompson: I have no effing clue. (computer beeps) Looks like it’s done loading. Let’s see what we can see.

(Thompson opens the first picture. We see the stone wall with the bricked in section. Thompson clicks quickly passed two more pictures of this. Then there’s a picture of Marica’s hand grabbing for the camera. They take a little time to figure out what they’re looking at, then scroll to the next one.)

Thompson: So far nothing freaky. Maybe I just watched too many horror flicks as a kid.

(he clicks to the next picture)

Alex: Oh my God.

(the picture is grainy and shadowed, it is a shot of Anders’ arm, clearly taken while the camera was still hanging around his neck. His shirt sleeve has been ripped open and there are three bloody gouges on his wrist.)

Thompson: What the fuck did that?

Alex: (holding her temples, shaking her head) This is some sick joke, this is not real.

(the next picture comes up. It’s almost completely black and impossible to see anything. There seems to be an image in one corner, so Thompson plays around with the computer, zooming in. A strange, ghostly face comes into resolution. Thompson and Alex are both on the edge of their seats.)

Alex: Oh shit, it’s just a statue.

Thompson: (relieved) One of the Saints. OK. Next picture.

(this one is blank, just a photo of darkness. The next one is the same. When they scroll to the one after that, they both jump back from the screen. This is a partial face-shot of Marica. You can only see the lower left half of her face. She’s screaming, and there’s a spatter of blood across her cheek.)

Alex: That’s Marica.

Thompson: Is that blood on her face?

Alex: What happened in there? A cave-in?

Thompson: I told you, the chamber was clean. Spotless even. Everything was packed into that sarcophagus.

(they scroll to the next and last photo. Alex looks like she’s going to faint.)

Alex: No. Oh no. This is a joke. That bastard Morgan is just fucking around with us – maybe he did it for that uppity Romanian bitch –

Thompson: I can’t tell what we’re looking at here.

Alex: Can’t you see it? That face?

Thompson: It’s just another Saint.

Alex: The fuck that’s a Saint.

Thompson: I’ll clean it up and prove it to you.

(He fiddles with the program. We see, deep in shadow, the face of Dracula, eyes glimmering with their own light, mouth crimson with blood. Alex and Thompson look in silence at the computer screen, then turn wide eyes to one another. Throughout all this, it has been growing darker and darker around the tent.)

Alex: This can’t be. It’s got to be a joke. Morgan’s a sick fuck and this is just something he’s rigged –

(The power goes out. It is completely dark.)

Alex: Jesus fucking Christ!

Thompson: Kristof! Garrett! What’s with the generator?

Alex: If someone tripped over it again, I swear to God –

(They hear screams come from the rest of the camp. Yelling, in American and Romanian. Someone fires a gun.)

Alex: David?

Thompson: I hope you still have the keys to the Jeep because we are getting the hell out of here.

Alex: Grab the book.

Thompson: What?

Alex: I mean it. That thing’s a career-maker. We can’t leave it behind.

(Alex and Thompson dash out of the main tent, running toward the Jeep. The camp is in chaos. One of the Romanian workers crashes headlong into Thompson, nearly knocking him to the ground. Alex helps him up. Thompson notices blood on his hands – it’s not his. In the midst of all the chaos, they make it to the Jeep. Alex gets it to turn over. The headlights cut through the night. Just as she gets the Jeep in gear, the headlights illumine a lunging figure. It is Dr. Morgan. His eyes are wild and he is snarling like an animal. His eyeteeth have become fangs.)

Thompson: Dr. Morgan?

Alex: Fuck that.

(She floors it, driving straight at Dr. Morgan. He bares fangs, squinting, but does not move. Alex drives straight into him. He’s thrown onto the hood, rolling off to one side.)

Thompson: Shit, woman!

Alex: Just hold on!

(Tires screech as they careen along the dirt road, back toward town.)

Act II Scene II

(A richly appointed hotel room with a four poster bed. The furniture is large, heavy, and all wood. Livia walks in, quietly shutting the door. The lighting in the room is dim. Mara lays stretched on top of the comforter, apparently sleeping. Reverently, Livia goes to touch her arm. Mara’s eyes snap open before Livia makes actual contact.)

Mara: There’s another one here.

Livia: What?

Mara: Another immortal. I can feel him, but something’s not right. It’s all jumbled.

Livia: Did you leave someone behind last time you were here?

(Mara sits up and stretches.)

Mara: No. I don’t remember. It all happened too fast. The council was right to send me here the minute images of the book turned up. This could get ugly fast.

(Mara falls silent, her eyes focused far away. Livia waits, fidgeting, then tries to be cheerful.)

Livia: I have news about the site.

Mara: Tell me.

Livia: It’s several miles away from the town. There’s a road, but it’s mostly dirt and rocks. The only vehicles that will handle it are the Jeeps. They’ve been excavating most of the summer. A few weeks ago they found a library.

Mara: Go on.

Livia: The book was there.

(Mara sighs. She doesn’t look happy.)

Livia: They haven’t deciphered any of it.

Mara: Who did you talk to?

Livia: A nice British rock band. And the head archaeologist’s assistant, Alexandra Richards.

Mara: A rock band?

Livia: You wanted me to talk to people. They were more than happy to talk – and buy me a couple of beers while they were at it. One of them has been up to the site. I think the Richards girl has a thing for him. She’s not in the mood to give guided tours, but I might be able to convince the guy to take me up there later tonight.

Mara: There’s no telling where they have the book.

Livia: So we leave the tour and stay behind. It should only take a couple days. And I’ve got a perfect excuse. The band’s filming a video. They’ve already asked me to be in it. Though to be honest I think the lead singer just wants in my pants.

Mara: We can make use of that.

Livia: Don’t we always?

(Mara gets up and starts pacing.)

Mara: Well, that’s a start, at least. I don’t know what I’m going to do about this other one, though. I’m having trouble focusing on him – it’s definitely a him. That much I can tell. But his presence here – it’s unexpected.

Livia: Could it be connected to the book?

Mara: There’s no avoiding it. The question is how is he connected? Does he go all the way back to when we lost it? That’s something I don’t want to consider just yet.

Livia: Come on. Let’s not worry about it for now. They’re having a banquet. Full formal attire. Let’s have a little fun while we’re here.

Mara: You enjoy all this commercialism? I feel like an Indian in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Livia: They don’t know what they’re exploiting, Mara. Besides, if we don’t have fun, people might ask questions.

Mara: Fine. I’ll put my game face on. But I haven’t gotten used to wearing dresses yet.

Livia: I haven’t gotten used to a lot of things since you died. But I picked out an outfit you’ll look really good in. Let’s just relax for a few hours. We can worry about everything else afterwards.

--M. Belanger

Comment

1 Comment

Immortal: Dracula's Return

Author's Note: Every author of vampire fiction is keenly conscious of the long shadow cast by Stoker's character Dracula. Whether they acknowledge it or not, anyone who takes up a pen in this genre is contending with the immortal Count, either by redefining their vampires in order to set them apart from Stoker's work or by re-interpreting vampirism in some kind of homage. Few ignore him completely, and even those who try can't really dodge the comparison. So it should come as no surprise that I have indulgently played with the figure of Dracula. Not in a novel, precisely, but in a screenplay, because Dracula really is more comfortable on the stage. The story came to me in a dream and the screenplay poured out of me in the space of a couple of weeks. It's serious and comical by turns, and in my head it's not high budget, but it's fun. It is a B Movie, no more, no less. As much as I've tried to rewrite it in novel format, it resists and stubbornly continues as a screenplay. The beginning of it appears below. If you find yourself intrigued, the whole thing is available in electronic format here: Immortal.

Additional Note: This work has the single highest incidence of profanity of anything I think I've written. Be prepared for some F-bombs.

Immortal: Dracula's Return

Act I Scene I

(The Carpathians. An archaeological dig in progress. A little distance from the tents, it is possible to see the remnants of a castle or fortification. All that is left is the outline of the foundation. A Jeep pulls up to the dig. Dr. Marica Antonescu, an elegant Eastern European woman in her late thirties, gets out. She surveys the surroundings wit an air of distaste. Most of the folks involved in the dig are in the main tent, huddled around a new find. They are led by Dr. Morgan, a fit and tanned American in his mid-fifties. Alex, Dr. Morgan’s fiery young assistant, is among the people in the tent. Dr. Morgan notices Marica standing outside in the afternoon sun. He quickly removes his hat, goes out to greet her.)

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu. Good to see you. I’m Dr. William Morgan. Welcome to my dig.

(He extends his hand. She takes it, grudgingly.)

Marica: Dr. Morgan. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to visit the site. At the University, when we hear that another American is looking for the burial place of Dracula, we grow a little skeptical.

Morgan: If you read my proposal, then you know we’re serious historians here.

Marica: Well, you cannot blame us for our hesitation. To you, Dracula was a story-book monster. To us, he was a national hero. It is tiring, hearing about vampires all the time.

(Dr. Morgan guides Marica over to an open part of the dig. The foundation has been exposed, and several objects are marked in the exposed dirt. They walk together as Morgan describes the site.)

Morgan: Last winter I was headed up to the resort in the Fargaras Mountains. I do a bit of skiing now and then and that’s just a perfect place. It was purely by chance that I looked down from the plane when I did. Passing over, I could see a pattern here in the snow, and I was certain that what I was looking at was an old foundation. But such a big one – as you can see for yourself. At that moment, I knew it had to be a castle of some sort, something lost over the years.

Marica: And you are convinced that this was the final resting place of our Wallachian prince?

Morgan: To the tourists, that will always be Snagov Monastery, but you and I both know that when the body there was exhumed in the thirties, it was shown to be nothing more than some richly dressed animal bones. The correspondence they found between Vlad and Stefan Bathory a few years ago seems to suggest that he had a private chapel and thus a private tomb. I believe we will find both of them here.

Marica: And not the ruined palace in Targovist?

Morgan: No, not at all. Your Vlad was a warlord, a master-strategist.  He liked to mislead his enemies, often using their expectations against them. I can’t see a man like Vlad spending much time in the palace at Targovist – it was too much of a target. I’m suggesting a private residence, well-defended, central to his most crucial lands. His citadel at Brasov is little more than thirty miles away. I believe that this site is where the man really lived and this is where he was buried.

(Morgan gets down into an excavated part of the dig, and offers his hand to help Marica. She declines. We can see portions of a stone wall exposed here and further along, a tarp covers parts of the dig that start to go underground.)

Marica: I’m still very skeptical of all this, and frankly, so is the University. Vlad Tepes was a hero of the Romanian people. Don’t you think we would have found such a place, assuming it was there to be found?

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu, this was hidden in plain sight. And not only was it a secret residence, its existence was actively obscured. Look at the evidence around you! This castle was not lost. It was destroyed. If you look at the striations here, and here, you can see that it was carried away stone by stone. Someone intentionally dismantled it. In my report, I demonstrated that the striations are all weathered equally – so this was not a case of local peasants carrying away a stone here and there. This was an organized project, probably carried out in under a year. That fact alone makes this site unique.

Marica: And you are quite certain you are not looking for vampires, Dr. Morgan? Because I would be heartily disappointed to learn that you are merely another American publicity-seeker.

(Alex runs up excitedly.)

Alex: Dr. Morgan, we have some more information on the book!

Marica: Book? Your report said nothing about a book.

(Dr. Morgan does not meet Marica’s eyes. Alex looks uncomfortable.. With a shrug of his shoulders, Morgan makes a decision. He starts to climb back out of the dig, again offering Marica his hand. This time she takes it. They speak as they start heading back to the main tent.)

Morgan: A little while ago, my workers exposed the first subterranean chamber of note. A lot of them have been empty, and of course all show signs of weathering and collapse from when the castle was dismantled.

Marica: And there was a book?

Morgan: Dr. Antonescu, believe me when I say that like you, I do not want this dig connected in any way to the occult.

Marica (suspicious now): But … ?

Morgan: But we found a library. Or what was left of one. Most of the texts were decayed beyond any hope of salvage.

(They arrive in the main tent. Dr. Morgan waves people away from the object they’ve been studying.)

Morgan: And then, we found this.

(The book is a collection of metal plates loosely bound together in the style of an ancient tome. The binding itself it rotting and worn. The plates are in excellent condition. The first page is surmounted by the symbol of a crescent moon over a lemniscate, the symbol of eternity. The rest of the raised symbols could be letters, but of no recognizable alphabet. Marica peers down at the book with genuine interest.)

Marica: What is the metal?

Thompson: Bronze, Dr. Antonescu. That’s what we called Dr. Morgan in for.

(Thompson, a young African American man, has been sitting at a computer located next to the book. He rotates in his chair to face Dr. Morgan.)

Thompson: I sent some images of one of the plates to my sister. She’s a professor of art history atBrownUniversity. Before you yell at me, I didn’t tell her where I got it or what it was. I just wanted to know her opinion on how it was made.

Morgan: I told you to give me a date on that script, not –

Thompson: Don’t blow your top, Dr. Morgan, just listen. I had to wonder why anyone would make a book of bronze plates, especially in Vlad Tepes’ time when it was a whole lot easier to just produce a regular manuscript. So I was curious. And I had a hunch. My sister confirmed it.

(Thompson carefully flips one of the “pages” to the reverse side. He points at the obverse impression of the “letters” with a probe.)

Thompson: You see these marks here? And here? They’re cut marks. Chisel-marks, actually. These plates were made using a method called the lost wax technique. My sister says it’s very common for producing sculpture in bronze.

Marica: Yes, the original is carved of wax, and then a mold is made. The hot bronze melts the wax and takes its shape.

Thompson: Exactly. Now, typically the wax image is an original, some piece of artwork someone has carved. The wax here, it was an impression.

Morgan: So what exactly does that mean, Mr. Thompson?

Thompson: It means that the plates are reproductions of a pre-existing work. Judging by the cut marks preserved in the bronze, my sister thinks the first copy was a stone carving.

Alex: So there’s no telling how old that script really is.

Thompson: We can still date the plates, but all that’s going to tell us is when this copy was made.

Morgan: I’m still going with my original assessment. That language is proto-Sumerian. This explains how it could have made it all the way to the Carpathians.

Marica: You Americans! Why does anything old have to come from the Middle East? You are aware, are you not, that there was evidence of a script similar to this unearthed right here inRomania?

Thompson: With all due respect, Dr. Antonescu, most scholars don’t even accept that as a real script. It’s just too old. And the symbol on the first plate, that doesn’t look like anything that’s turned up here in the Carpathians. It almost looks Egyptian.

Marica: Egypt. Sumeria. The sacred canon of ancient civilizations! Because of course civilized things like writing could never have started here in primitive Europe. Because we were all Neanderthals freezing in glaciers!

(Anders, a digger, comes pelting up to the tent)

Anders: Dr. Morgan! We’ve found another room!

Morgan: You haven’t touched anything yet, I hope?

Anders: No. The entrance is all bricked up. Very Cask of Amontillado. We’re waiting for you to break through.

Alex: Oh, cool. Let’s go!

(Morgan frowns and picks up a packet of papers and samples, shoves this into Alex’s hands)

Morgan: These need to go into town immediately. I want you to find the public offices and have them notarized, then store them in my safe deposit box.

Alex: But –

Morgan: No buts. Since Mr. Thompson here took it upon himself to leak our find, we need to take every measure to protect our rights. I need you to do this now. No delays.

Alex: But Doctor!

Morgan: Now, Miss Richards. Here are my keys. Take one of the Jeeps into town. Now, Marica, would you like to join me in unveiling this new find?

Marica: Very well. Let’s go.

(Alex, frowns & shoves Thompson unhappily, then reluctantly heads over to the waiting Jeep. Dr. Morgan, Marica, and the digger exit the tent and head over to the dig.)

Act I Scene II

(The underground works of the dig. Dr. Morgan, Dr. Antonescu are huddled near a plain stone facing at the end of a hall. Two workers flank them, holding lights. The space is tight, dark and cramped.)

Anders: As you know, we’ve been clearing out this hallway for the better part of a week. According to all expectations, it should end in another room. It was a few hours ago when Kyle’s shovel hit stone.

Kyle: If you look here, and here, they’re two different types of stone. As we exposed more of the facing, it became obvious that someone had bricked the doorway in.

Marica: They did that to the Blood Countess, bricked her into her room.

Anders: It wasn’t an uncommon punishment, and we’re fairly certain we’re near the dungeons. No telling what we’ll find on the other side.

Kyle: Well, we know there’s a room. We’ve made all the preparations to break through – we’re just waiting for your go ahead.

Morgan: You have the camera? I want this documented every step of the way.

(Anders reaches down into a pack and produces a digital camera. He takes a couple pictures of the bricked-in door, then puts the strap around his neck and leaves the camera dangling against his chest.)

Morgan: All right. Let’s do it.

Kyle: Stand back and watch your heads. The ceiling’s a bit loose.

(Kyle heaves back the shovel and breaks a hole in the stones. Dust and small chunks of dirt filter down from the ceiling. Stale air rushes out. Anders snaps a few more photos with the camera. Kyle grabs his light and shines it around the interior of the chamber. The light first falls upon a statue standing against the far wall. It looks as if there’s a person standing there in the gloom. Marica lets out a startled yelp.)

Kyle: Just a saint. (he whistles) Look at the workmanship!

(They shine the lights around the rest of the room. Nearly life-sized statues of saints stand in niches located centrally in all four walls. They are all facing the center of the room.)

Morgan: Very nice. Wait – What’s that?

(Anders guides the light to the center of the room. We see a large stone sarcophagus wrapped in thick, rusted chains. An ornate Orthodox cross, all enamel and precious stones, is wrapped upon the top of the sarcophagus.)

Marica: Give me that. (she takes a light and shines it on the sarcophagus) Is this some kind of joke?

Morgan: I swear Dr. Antonescu, this chamber was unopened until just a moment ago. I’m as surprised by its contents as you.

(Anders goes to take more digital photos. Marica puts her hand over the camera lens.)

Marica: No photos!

(Anders looks to Dr. Morgan)

Morgan: Do as she says, Anders -- for the moment. Get this clear so we can go have a closer look.

(Kyle and Anders knock the rest of the bricks out of the doorway. When the dust clears, the party moves forward cautiously. Morgan is first to reach the sarcophagus. There is writing etched into the side. Morgan produces a brush and cleans off the dust and cobwebs.)

Morgan: (reading) The heroic Vlad Tepes, son of the Dragon. May God watch over his restless soul.

(He looks up at Marica and the others)

Marica: I don’t believe it.

Morgan: See for yourself. Do you recognize the dialect?

(Marica picks her way over, frowning. Gingerly, she runs her hand over the ornate Eastern Orthodox cross that is held against the lid with heavy chains.)

Marica: If this gets out …

Morgan: (standing, authoritative) Kyle, Anders, I want this open.

Workers: Sure thing, Dr. Morgan.

(Anders raises his shovel to strike at the chains. Dr. Morgan stops him)

Morgan: Not like that! Don’t damage the sarcophagus!

Kyle: Ever hear of bolt-cutters, Anders? I’ll be right back.

(Kyle sets his light down and retrieves the bolt-cutters. Everyone stands back as he goes to work on the chains. The cross remains on the lid of the sarcophagus)

Kyle: You got that crowbar?

Anders: Sure.

Kyle: Then give me a hand here.

(They wrestle with the lid. The cross, which is not affixed directly to the lid totters and threatens to slide off.)

Marica: Careful!

Kyle: It’s not as heavy as it looks. Grab the other end.

(Morgan and Marica crane their necks, getting closer and closer. With the sound of stone grating against stone, the lid slides open, causing the cross to totter even more.)

Kyle (scrambling out of the way): Shit!

(The lid overbalances and falls heavily to the ground. The cross slides to the stone floor, enamel shattering.)

Anders: Fucker! That was almost my foot.

(Kyle grabs his light and shines it into the coffin. He’s shaking from the strain of moving the lid, so he fumbles with it, getting a corner here, a corner there. Then the light falls full on a person’s face. Long dark hair, a heavy goatee, a chiseled face with prominent cheekbones, it is the traditional woodcut of Vlad Tepes in the flesh.)

Kyle: (jumping back) Jesus Christ!

(He drops the light and it shatters.)

Morgan: What? What did you see?

(something unseen emits an animal growl)

Anders: (leans in with his light then recoils) Oh fuck!

(A hand reaches out of the coffin, knocking the light out and Anders’ hand. Anders is screaming and the camera at his neck starts going off. In the flashes, we see a series of images:

a partial face, close-up, male with a goatee

the hand crushing Anders’ throat, long nails drawing blood

a close-up of a mouth, opening, with fangs

Kyle screaming

Morgan screaming, hands thrown up to defend himself

Marica, blood on her face, pleading for her life in Romanian.

Anders’ camera goes off one last time; we see it illuminated in the flash just as it drops to the floor and shatters. The strap is shredded and bloody. Darkness and silence follow the final flash.)

--M. Belanger

1 Comment

Comment

Pills and Potions

Author's Note: Another fractured fairy tale (remember that cartoon?), the moral of which says essentially that there is no such thing as a quick and easy cure -- especially to this terminal condition we call life.

 

Pills and Potions, or:

The Savior from Over the Sea

Long ago in a far distant land nestled on the coast of the great ocean lived a race of simple people. They were artists and crafters, writers and dreamers, and they lived together in a city made beautiful by their art. Much like the folk of our own land, the people in this distant city were not perfect. They had good days and they had bad days, but on the whole they were content.

And then one day a stranger came from over the sea. She was tall and pale and wore a long coat of sparkling white. She carried herself proudly, her clear gray eyes shining with a keen intellect. The people of the beautiful city immediately took her for a magician or sorceress for not only did she seem to possess great wisdom, but she also brought with her trunk after trunk of curious potions.

The stranger called a meeting of all the wisest folk of the beautiful city. She pulled out bottle after bottle, each shining a different color under the noonday sun. She told the people that she had come from a faraway land that was greatly advanced compared to their own. She had been sent by her own people to help the people of the beautiful city. The city leaders were naturally puzzled. Their lives were comfortable. Their city was attractive and well-maintained. By their reckoning, they didn't think that they needed any help.

“Oh, but you are wrong,” said the stranger. “My people have developed powerful magic that can drive away all of your suffering, sadness, and pain. Just one drink a day from one of these little potions and you can be free from all of your problems. No one will ever be unhappy again. ”

The people were eager to accept her offer, for who wouldn't want all of their cares and complaints erased so easily? So the stranger met with each of them, and if they said that they were sad, she gave them one sort of potion. And if they said they were anxious she gave them another. And for those who said that they didn't have any problems at all, she gave another potion still.

“But I don't really have a problem,” one lady protested. “I’m unhappy, but only because my husband died recently. That’s natural. Why should I take something like this when nothing is really wrong?”

“Just take it and see if it doesn't make you feel better,” said the stranger. “If you feel better after taking it, then you really did have a problem. You just didn't know.”

She told them to take just one sip a day, but if that didn't seem to be working, they were to return to her, and she would give them something stronger. They trusted her because she assured them that the potions always worked to take care of every problem. It was just a matter of finding the right potion for each complaint.

Weeks passed and the citizens of the beautiful city dutifully took their daily potions. And when something terrible happened in their lives that would ordinarily make them sad, they didn't cry because the potion was working. And when something happened that would ordinarily make them anxious, they didn't worry because the potion was doing its job. All of their cares and concerns were erased just as promised. While the potions didn't solve any of the problems themselves, the people found that they simply didn't care enough anymore to get upset.

As the weeks became months, things began to change in the beautiful city. The great structures of marble looked gray and dull because no one worried about cleaning them anymore. The painters and the artists and the sculptors stopped creating any new works because they no longer felt inspired. Once, the lush parks of the beautiful city were filled with young couples engaged in amorous pursuits. Now, husband and wife didn't even share the same bed because no one was interested in having sex anymore. No one was really happy, but not a single one of them was unhappy either. It was just as the stranger had promised.

And then one day, something snapped. Some shred of the former glory of the once-beautiful city rose up in the minds of its citizens. They dragged themselves out of their dull, shuffling complacency long enough to realize that they had become fat and flaccid, and all the joy had been drained from their lives. On that day, every citizen of the once-beautiful city took up his or her vial of potion and cast it into the sea.

The stranger railed and screamed at this, telling them what a mistake they were making. They were trading contentment for all of their old worries and cares. When people still refused to restart her regimen of potions, she began to threaten them. She was responsible for their well-being! If they wouldn’t listen to her good advice, then she would summon her own countrymen from across the sea, and they would descend upon the backward and ungrateful city, making certain that everyone took the potions for their own good.

The citizens refused to listen to her threats. Instead, moving as one, they seized her and tossed her into the sea after her precious potions. Then they walked back to their once-beautiful city. There, they picked up the pieces of lives that had never been perfect, but at least had possessed some measure of joy for every counted sorrow.

--M. Belanger

Comment

The Vampire's Christmas

12 Comments

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

12 Comments

1 Comment

Consuming Passion

Author's Note: First warning - this is long. Second warning - this is not only a fragment. It is a lost shard of story from a novel I first wrote in 1998 and rewrote to death thereafter. The whole can never be recaptured. Although parts of it come together in my novel This Heart of Flame, that novel bears very little resemblance to the original, which is a kind of dreamy paranormal romance between the demon-lover Matthew and artist Halaina. There's parts I like. There's parts I hate. And you can tell this is some of my older work because the writing is very densely packed. I've learned to streamline a bit since this time (though I still love my language, perhaps a little too much). Nevertheless, there are moments here I think are beautiful, even though the story as a whole is lost. A little backstory: The two characters here have just come from a theater presentation of Dracula, arranged by Halaina's one-time lover, Darius del Reginas (renamed Angelo in this version). The play was an attempt to break the ice regarding the topic of the supernatural between Halaina and Matthew, as she suspects there's something up with her favorite youthful model.

The Studio. Revelation.

It was nearly two in the morning when we arrived back at the Radenthall.  Robert had left the lights on in Halaina's studio, and an easel and sketchpad were already set up.  Huge windows lined the eastern wall, built to catch as much light as possible.  There were heavy curtains drawn across them now to keep out the unseasonable chill.  Canvases of various dimensions and states of completion leaned up against one wall and a number of other projects in process lay scattered throughout the room.   Halaina worked in a wide variety of mediums, her talent shining through in virtually anything she turned her hand to.

Near to the easel, in roughly the center of the studio, there was a long chaise-lounge surrounded by two Greek-style columns, each fashioned to look broken-off at about waist level.  A familiar length of white silk had been thrown over the back of the couch.  Halaina went over to a stand and selected a number of pencils and rubber erasers.  She set these down on the tray of the easel.  Satisfied with the arrangements, she approached me, cocking her head back a bit to meet my eyes.

"First of all, I'm going to get out of this dress,"  she told me, already pulling the pins from her hair.  She ran her hand lightly over the front of my tuxedo.  "I suggest you do the same.  If you want anything, just call for Robert.  There's wine or tea if you're thirsty, and I'm certain we have some cheese or some sweets if you're hungry."

I shook my head, saying,  "Not right now, anyway.  I'll wait here."

"Are you sure?"  she called back over her shoulder as she left the room.  "You barely picked at your dinner tonight.  You should be starving."

"Maybe later,"  I called after her.

She glided from the room.  I went over to the couch and stretched out on it.  My fingers strayed to the white length of silk, idly stroking it.  I thought back to our previous two sittings.  There was something intoxicating about Halaina.  My extreme reaction to our intimacy that first night still unsettled me.  It had almost been too much to bear.  I had wanted to ravish her, but could not.  Instead, I took my hunger out on Elizabeth.   I could see that now.  So much of what had happened between Elizabeth and me had been my fault.  I wished there was some way I could fix things, but at the same time I was happy just having Halaina.  Perhaps that should have made me feel guiltier.

I was uncertain what this night would yet hold.  Things between us thus far had been so complex, careening from one extreme of emotion to the other:  Tiberius and Endymion Wingate, Wesley Masterson, whispered intimacies in the theater box, Angelo D'Augustino, Dracula, and all the anxieties he conjured up.  I was exhausted from it already, and I knew the most crucial moments were yet to come.

After some time, Halaina returned, this time wearing a flowing dressing gown of dark red silk.  She looked over at me, her features a mixture of impatience and amusement.

"Didn't I tell you to get undressed?"

"I completely forgot,"  I said.  I still clutched the length of white silk, my fingers idly caressing it in time to my thoughts.

"I suppose I'll have to do it for you,"  she smiled.  "Stand up.  I know you said you weren't hungry,"  she added, "but I've asked Robert to put together some light snacks.  I know I'll want something to eat soon, and I can't keep him standing around waiting to play cook for me.  I understand there's quite a crowd downstairs now that the theater's let out."

She proceeded to quickly and efficiently disrobe me, folding my clothes in a neat pile and setting them aside.  Naked, I stood before her, my arms held loosely at my sides.

"Has anyone else found it strange that you don't sweat?"  she asked, holding my shirt up to the light, then setting it aside with my other clothes.

The clenching that I felt in my chest.  Was it fear or excitement? "I beg your pardon?"  I asked.

"Oh, don't give me that,"  she teased.  "That theater was positively stifling.  I had my fan, little good that it did, but you sat all the way through it and didn't even take your jacket off."

Once again, Halaina's perceptiveness astounded me.  And caught me off guard. "Heat doesn't really bother me,"  I ventured.

If Halaina found this answer inadequate, she did not say.  Instead, she moved in front of me, studying the lines of my body.  She walked back to the gas switch once or twice, adjusting the level of lighting until she had things just right.  She turned me this way and that, still making a show of studying the play of light and shadows on my flesh.  Her eyes were intense, probing, and amused all at once.

"What?"  I asked when I could stand it no more.

She stepped right up to me, so we were almost nose to nose. "There are secrets about you, Matthew,"  she said.  "And I told you before, I will find them out."

She leaned tremulously closer, and our lips almost met.  I could feel that strangeness on the air between us, like the lightening of a breaking storm.  Then she stepped away and was suddenly all business.  She took up the piece of white silk and smoothed out the cushions on the couch.

"I want you to lie supine,"  she told me.  "Lean your back here and lay one arm along the back of the couch."

There was little else I could do but obey.  The secret territory she had hinted at just moments before was still forbidding to me.  As much as I wanted to confide in her, the prospect frightened me.  I could not banish the last images of the play from my mind.  Dracula, paying with his life for not being human.  Mutely, I sat down and allowed her to position me.

"One leg raised,"  she said, bending the aforementioned limb at the knee.  "The other stretched out.  Like that.  Good."

She moved her hands all over me, nudging here, guiding there.  Her fingers were cool but not cold, and they felt delightful against my warm flesh.  I felt the first thrill of hunger begin to rise.  I shivered with the intensity of it, fearful lest it grow to become as overwhelming as that first time.

"Your skin color is extraordinary,"  she mused, laying her cool hand on my chest and comparing her pale flesh to my own.   "Golden. So exotic. I wish you knew your parentage,"  she went on, experimenting with laying the silk across my supine form.  "I'd be curious to know what countries came together to make you."

"British, I suppose,"  I replied.  The silk was cooler than her hands and the liquid folds tingled along my flesh wherever they touched.  I wanted to reach out and touch Halaina, but I held the pose she had put me in.  It was comfortable enough on the couch, and I thought the less I touched her, perhaps the less I'd yearn to touch her more deeply.

"So you said,"  Halaina replied.  She took special care when laying the silk over my sex, making certain that a hint of my shape showed in the lines of the cloth.  Then she reached up and undid the ribbon in my hair, twining her fingers through my loose curls and spreading them out on my shoulders and neck.  She pulled a few short locks into my face, a technique I knew heightened my boyish, playful appearance.

"There's something a bit too exotic about you for England,"  she said, her fingers lingering on a curl.  She turned the hair this way and that, letting the gaslight glint off the reddish-gold highlights.  "You always remind me of Greece when I look at you, but the Greeks had those dark eyes and hyacinth hair."

I shook my head. "Not so.  Sappho's daughter was a blond.  She mentions it in one of her poems.  A lot of the Greeks and the Romans for that matter were fair,"  I said.  "It's a common misconception to assume that the people in those countries today are perfect representatives of their ancient predecessors."

"I suppose you're right,"  Halaina allowed, stepping back to observe the way the silk draped over my hips and thighs.  "But don't tell Angelo.  He prides himself on his Roman heritage.  He hates being called Italian.  Speaking of which ... "

She turned and retrieved the bouquet from where she had left it near the door. "Roses and lilies,"  she muttered to herself, picking at some of the most prominent blooms.  "My, but he's getting deep.  Roses for passion.  Lilies for chastity.  Ugh."

She slid a few of the long-stemmed roses out of the bouquet and set them on the silk.  The blooms lay upon my hip, while the stems curved gracefully along my thigh.

"That's all for now,"  she said, poking once more among the white and scarlet blooms.  "I wonder if I could make a garland for your hair out of these?  Perhaps later,"  she decided, and set the bundle down near her easel.

I lay on the couch, content to just watch her.  I was a little relieved we had changed the subject, even if it had meant discussing Angelo.  But that was not to last.

"You have such ancient eyes, Matthew,"  Halaina observed, taking her seat at the easel.

"They've seen a lot."

"Yet you're so young,"  she continued, picking out a pencil and beginning a few preliminary strokes.  "You say you're only twenty-five.  I'm thirteen years older than you.  Does that bother you?"

"Age has never meant much to me,"  I replied, trying to keep my face neutral for the picture.

She focused her attention on the paper in front of her and remained intent on her pencil-strokes for some time. "Tell me,"  she said at length.  "What did you think about the play?  You seemed quite agitated toward the end."

My response was immediate. "It was terrible, the way he died!" The emotions that final scene had inspired threatened to overwhelm me.  Loneliness.  Alienation.  Fear.  I had to hold very still to keep from breaking my pose.

"But I thought you didn't like vampires,"  she teased.  "Silly nonsense, isn't that what you said? Why so sympathetic all of a sudden?"

"Did he really deserve to die like that?"  I asked in a plaintive tone.  "Everything he did was natural to him.  Yet they needed him to die because he broke their rules.  It's not fair."

I realized that the sound of Halaina's pencil had stopped.  She was staring at me, those emerald eyes keener than any I had known.  I wondered if she had realized I couldn't really lie to her.  She had stopped asking direct questions quite some time ago.  Everything was phrased so I could dodge, if I really wanted to.  And she seemed able to read a great deal into what was left unsaid.

"Halaina,"  I asked, wishing once more there was not this distance between us enforced by her ritual of art.  "What attracts you to me?"

She set her pencil down completely and stood to stretch.  She paced the room for a bit walking over to the windows and opening the curtains.  Night still reigned outside, deep and velvet black.  A few lights from the city shone in the gloom.  The sky was void of stars.

"I like youth, Matthew,"  she began.  "You've seen my work, so you know this already.  But you aren't just a pretty boy who models for me.  There is something very complex about you."  She turned and stood before the windows.  The blackness of the night behind them turned them into mirrors.  Her reflection hovered over the city like a ghost.  She lay her hand against the glass, peering thoughtfully into the night. She said,  "You are youthful in appearance, but you have those brilliant, ancient eyes."

She stepped over to the couch and ran her fingers up my torso, lingering at my cheek.  Her hands held the chill of the windows, and it clung from her to my flesh.  Then she drifted away, continuing her circuit of the room.

"There is a sense of innocence about you, yet you seem replete with all the carnal knowledge of the world.  You dress like a dandy,"  she said, pausing the run a hand over my discarded clothes, "yet you are a professor of Classics at a prestigious university.  How many extremes can come together like that in one person?  You're mysterious.  I want to understand you."

There was a polite rap on the doorframe.  Robert stood there in his uniform, holding a tray out in front of him. "I apologize for the delay, Halaina,"  he said, walking the tray over to a sideboard located against the near wall.  "But I got a bit more elaborate than you requested.  You haven't been eating regularly of late."

Steam rose from a pot of tea set to one side of the tray.  Steam likewise rose from two of the three plates of food he had prepared.  Halaina strode over to investigate, drawn by the savory scent carried on the steam.

"You really didn't need to go to this much trouble,"  she said, picking up a little wedge of pastry and biting into it.  After savoring the first hot mouthful, she changed her mind.  "Thank you.  It's wonderful.  What would I do without you, Robert?"

"The least would be to starve,"  he said with a hint of a smile.  His brown eyes, always so observant and calculating, were warm when they fixed upon her.  "It is always a pleasure to serve you, Halaina,"  he continued, punctuating his words with a little bow.  "If you need anything else, I shall be downstairs."

He turned and glided from the room.

"Are you sure you don't want to sample any of these?"  Halaina asked, taking up a second pastry.  "No.  Wait.  Stay right there.  I wouldn't want to ruin the pose, after all."

Smiling, she lifted the tray and carried it over to the couch.  She set it down on the floor beside her and knelt in front of me.  Little meat pastries were piled on one plate while fruit pastries filled the other.  The third plate had an assortment of fresh fruit: chunks of apples, pears, melons, and a bunch of grapes.  Halaina took the bunch of grapes in her hand and dangled them over my mouth.  I caught one with my lips and tongue and pulled it from the stem.  Juice flooded over my tongue as I crushed the soft pulp of the fruit between my teeth.

"What do you like to eat?"  Halaina asked, offering me another grape.  I took this one, displaying the same deftness of lips and tongue, but declined any more.  "All you do is pick at the food at Starry Night.  Isn't it to your tastes?"

"It's marvelous,"  I said, licking the final sweetness of the juice from my lips.

"Do you ever eat because you're hungry?"  she inquired.  "Mr. Epicurean?"

I smiled at that last bit.  She remembered everything I said. "You've found me out.  I'm a glutton for sensation,"  I admitted, adding,  "There's nourishment in pleasure."

Halaina leaned onto the edge of the couch.  Our arms touched, and even that ordinary expanse of flesh thrilled me, filled me with yearning.

"Halaina,"  I breathed, inclining my head close to hers.  "You move me in ways I hardly understand."

"Tell me about yourself, Matthew,"  she asked.  Her tone was gentle, almost pleading.  She lay her head against my chest and looked up into my face.  "Tell me the truth."

Her hair spilled down my belly, the little curled ends tickling my side.  I broke my pose to cradle her, caressing her cheek and her smooth, auburn hair.

"Halaina, there is nothing I want to do more right now,"  I whispered.  "But I'm afraid."

"Do you think I'll treat you any differently if I know about you?"  she asked.  "I, of all people?" She smiled ruefully, trying to cover the expression up by burying her face in my chest.  Her breath was slow and even, each exhalation caressing the flesh nearest my nipple. "That first night,"  she murmured into me without looking up.  "When you were still a guest and you had no idea who I even was, you were ready to tell me right then, weren't you?  I saw it in you.  You wore it all over.  I've spoken to people since then.  I've heard things.  I own The Place,"  she said, fixing her eyes on mine,  "I know everything that goes on there.  I'm at heart a voyeur.  That's the only thing I require from my patrons.  I know all their secrets."

"Halaina,"  I said, and her nearness put a tremor in my voice.  "Have you ever had a secret so huge that it separates you from everyone else around you?"

She sat up and arranged herself more comfortably on the floor.  She pushed the tray a little further to one side.  The tea and pastries were cooling even as we spoke, but her hunger seemed forgotten.  I wished I could say the same for mine.

"Let me tell you about myself,"  she began.  "Almost nobody else knows.  My parents had no intention of sending me off to Europe to study art.  What they really wanted to do was marry me off to Charles.  Our two families thought it would be a perfect merger of interests.  We owned hotels.  They owned restaurants."

Her eyes grew distant as she looked back on those days.

"I liked Charles.  I really did,"  she told me.  "He was genteel and intelligent and one of the most tender men I had ever met.  We liked one another so much, in fact, that we told each other the truth.  He had a lover.  His name was Wayland.  I had a lover, too.  He was an artist who was visiting fromFrance.  His name was Georges.

"Charles and I were almost ready to get married anyway.  We could live with one another, and we each trusted the other to allow us our lives.  But I got pregnant."

I blinked.  I usually had trouble connecting sexual pursuits with the generative function.  It didn't work that way for me.  And it was always a shock to perceive one of my lovers as a parent.  With Halaina, it was impossible.  She saw my expression and almost smiled.  Her face was suffused with something bittersweet.

"My parents took the news better than I had expected,"  she said.  "They were horrified, of course, but they made the best of it.  My artistic talents were already widely known, and I had begged them to send me overseas to study.  Now they did.  Georges was a dear.  He gave me the names and addresses of all his friends and connections.  The only stipulation my parents put on me was that I stay out of society until the baby was born.  Then I was to send her to a convent to be raised."

Halaina paused and suddenly remembered the tray of food nearby.  She poured herself some tea and sat staring into the depths of the tea cup as if seeking a fortune there.

Distantly, she said, "Little Miette never made it to the convent, I'm afraid.  It was a very difficult birth.  She lasted only a few days.  I was almost too sick to see her, but I insisted.  I was holding her when she died."

Something splashed into the cup of tea, sending ripples across the golden brown depths.  When Halaina looked up again, her eyes were an unearthly color, the vivid green having been heightened by the tears which she wept.  Her lips twisted into that rueful smile again, and she dashed the tears away with the back of her hand.  I was utterly silent through all of this.  I felt paralyzed by the enormity of her revelation.

"The irony,"  she went on, after a tremulous exhalation, "was that after having one baby, I could never hope for more.  Miette tore me open.  It was a miracle I didn't die.  Oh, Matthew. There was so much blood." She trailed off, eyes distant. I knew in that moment she was seeing not merely the blood, but the face of the lost infant. I remained silent for a long while, giving her some time.

"Halaina,"  I finally said.  My throat felt tight.  I was so upset, I'd forgotten to breathe, and so her name was barely audible.

She turned to me and lifted her head.  Her look was one of triumph:  proud, undaunted. "The doctors forbade me from having sex any more because of it,"  she told me.  Her tone was more amused than lamenting.  "And I can't, really. Not that anyone in the club would believe that, except for the people who know first hand.  It was tragic, but I survived.  And when I was well again, I did what I had always wanted to do. Paris, Florence, Rome, Athens, everywhere there was something to learn, I went.  I am married to my art, and that was a wondrous honeymoon."

She looked down and sipped her tea.  I ached to touch her, ached from almost touching all that she carried within her.  I felt poured out, like everything in me had been consumed by that intimate revelation.

"Halaina,"  I said again.  Her name was all I could comprehend at the moment.

"Don't look so tragic, Matthew,"  she said, cupping her tea in her hands.  "It was terrible then when I was in the midst of it, but I survived.  Terrible things grow bearable with time."

I slid from the couch and knelt beside her on the floor, suddenly and very acutely aware of how absurd the male body looks when naked.  I took her face in my hands and pressed my forehead against hers.

"Halaina, you are the most remarkable woman I have ever touched with these two hands.  Your strength, your power, your vision, everything that I admire about you ... It is almost painful to be in your presence and not reach out to touch you,"  I said, trembling against her.  Ardently, I whispered,  "I want to give myself to you.  I want you to know."

I did not cry, but I ardently wished that I could.  Tears would have shone in my eyes when next I looked at her.  Not tears of grief, but those tears that people cry when there is no other way to express their emotion.

"Your skin is flawless,"  she whispered.  "Perfect as a statue.  More perfect, even, for statues have their flaws.  You aren't a mortal man, Matthew.  That much I've guessed.  You look too young yet everything about you speaks of great antiquity.  I can't tell you how I can tell.  Sometimes it's in your eyes, sometimes in the way you carry yourself.  But it's there, if you're looking for it.  You are a being of possibility,"  she concluded, her face pressed against mine.  "Tell me you are something wondrous, Matthew."

I could not deny her.  I knew at that moment, that everything would change.  My life would change.  Others had known before, but not this way.  This was a sharing, a communion.  Halaina had given something of herself to me.  Something rare and terrible and precious.  I could only give her something back in kind.

Suddenly restless, I kissed her briefly on the forehead and rose swiftly to my feet.  I caught up the silk from the floor and wrapped it around myself, tying it off at the waist.  It was now my turn to pace the room and gaze out the windows into the limitless night.

"This is not easy to explain,"  I began.  Then laughed at how absurd that sounded.

I paused at the windows.  My reflection stood before me in the mirror of the night, the pretty golden boy of someone else's desires.  Closing my eyes, I said,  "There are parts about it that I don't like, but I cannot change."

Halaina watched me with those intense green eyes.  I could see her reflection sitting on the floor behind my own.  I lay one arm against the glass.  The chill was sharp, and the window immediately misted over around my flesh.  I thought of all the words I could use, and I thought of the word that was the truth.  I turned around and leaned against the window, then thought better of it.  The cold outside coupled with my natural heat might be enough to shatter the glass.  I stepped a few feet away.

"There is a realm that exists alongside this one,"  I started, knowing exactly how this could sound, but too far in to go back.  "It is a space between spaces, a realm of spirit and energy that is woven throughout the world of matter."

I walked over to a collection of canvases that stood up against one wall.  I idly ran my hands over their edges, letting the rough cloth and splinters of wood catch on my flesh.

I said,  "It is a realm of shadows and ghosts.  Some people have called it Hell, but it is not that.  In the Hell people speak of, there is suffering and pain.  This realm cannot be Hell for there is no sensation.  Even suffering would be something you could feel,"  I reflected, recalling that terrible sense of disconnectedness.  Empty.  Aching.  Yearning.  Never touching, even though the minds there are legion.

"This realm is peopled with beings who have existence but no form.  They are like smoke.  They are less than smoke.  Some of them are ghosts.  Once they were human, but they got caught on this otherside.  They're bitter because without a body they can no longer feel.  They remember what it was like to be human, and their hunger for that former life keeps them lingering close to the physical realm, but never quite able to touch it."

I walked over to the couch, but stood behind it, so it separated me from Halaina.  I bent forward and picked up one of the roses.  It was wilted from being so close to me, and a little crushed.  I pressed its petals to my lips, and I could taste its rich scent lingering upon my mouth even after I drew it away.

"Some of the spirits were never human at all,"  I continued.  "They have always been a part of that realm.  They have no bodies.  They cannot feel, not in any physical sense of the word.   But they have hungers and they desire.  They hover close to this world we are in, feeding upon the shadows of our sensations.   They -- we,"  I corrected significantly, watching Halaina for her reaction.  She had not shifted position on the floor at all.  Everything about her was attentive and intense.  I felt she was memorizing my words and even how I said them.  I felt no fear from her as yet, and no disbelief.  I went on. "We cross over when we can.  There are ways people can bring us across, give us form.  Most often these people make slaves of us.  We can be bound and trapped by substance just as easily as we can be set free by it.  But we want nothing more than physical form, for with that we can feel.  Feeling sustains us.  Passion, ecstasy, desire.  For these things, we endure enslavement."

Carefully, Halaina said,  "I think I know the word we have for what you are describing."

I didn't dare look at her.  The studio seemed suddenly cavernous around me, and her voice was huge.   I was afraid she would say it.  Somehow, it frightened me to think of that word coming from her lips.  I put half a room's worth of distance between us, my restless hands tracing the lines of a sculpture in progress.  It was wax, but would soon become bronze.

"In the age of the witch trials,"  I said from the other side of the statue.  "They called me incubus.  The Muslims called me efreet, a spirit of fire.  That term captures me best, I think.  I am living flame.  Whatever this body, I am fire in my heart, and those things related to flame:  passion, lust, desire, consummation.  These things sustain me, and these things define me,"  I explained.  "That is all."

I stood with the statue interposed between us.  It was a young girl dancing, naked.  The lines of the statue were fluid and free.  The girl moved on the very threshold of womanhood, and there was something of that threshold, that ancient blood-knowledge, captured in her pose.

"No wonder you are so youthful, so perfect,"  she murmured.  "How I would look if I could choose the form I appeared in."

"We cannot choose our forms,"  I corrected somewhat bitterly.  "That is chosen for us, by those who call us here."

"And you cannot change it?"  she asked.

"Not unless I want to risk loosing it,"  I told her.   "I can let go, if I wish.  But I cannot cross back on my own."

She took a mouthful of tea while she pondered this.  Then she made a face.  The tea had gone cold.

"You lied to me after all,"  she said.  She got to her feet and walked over to stand on the other side of the statue.  I experienced a sudden jolt of fear, but was confused.  Her tone was more playful than reproaching.

"This is no lie -- "

"No,"  she said, holding up a hand to stop me.  "Not this.  That first night.  You told me about your childhood in England and about Thomas White, your guardian.  But you never had a childhood."

I tried not to visibly shake at the mention of that name.  I felt myself grow hot, hotter than I had been all night.  I quickly moved away from the statue.

"That wasn't a lie, either,"  I said miserably.  "It was only a partial truth.  Thomas White was a sorcerer.  He dabbled in the black arts.  Most of what he practiced was vile nonsense, but he knew enough to call me.  And he bound me in the form you see right now."

I turned and struck the pose he had held while conjuring.  I twisted my face, expressing all of the hate and anger and misery left over from that dark time.

"I command thee,"  I quoted,  "To take the form of a youth, golden-haired and pleasing to my eye."

His voice echoed in my mind.  I could never forget the sound of it, how it rasped against the blank stone walls.  I could smell the cellar around me, dank and musty.  Acrid incense clogged the air with greasy smoke.  The scent of blood and feces overpowered everything.

I let my hands drop to my sides.  I tried to force the images from my mind, but the memories were persistent.  Finally, I forced the buried emotions back into the darkness.  The effort left me feeling spent.

"What did he do that for?"  Halaina asked.  "Why?"

"He wanted a servant,"  I said darkly, not meeting her gaze.  "He had me do things for him.  He made me hurt people.  It was terrible,"  I said, echoing her statement earlier.  "But it's over.  I'd rather not talk about it in detail.  I want to forget I was part of those things."

"And when he died, you were free?"  she asked.

I did not answer immediately.  Finally, I nodded.

"When he died, I left,"  I responded carefully.  "And I have been free since then."

Again, silence between us.  Then Halaina, tremulous:  "How long?"

"Years,"  I said hollowly.  "Years and years.  Two hundred?"  I thought out loud.  "Maybe more.  Not much more."

"You must be terribly alone,"  she whispered.

I sat down on the floor near the statue.  My legs seemed suddenly too thin to bear my weight.  I held my face in my hands, and stared down at my perfect, flawless toes.

"Never,"  I said,  "And always.  I always have people around me.  I can never go without a lover for very long.  That's what sustains me.  But it can be so ephemeral.  It's strange how, when two bodies are their closest, the individuals can be so very far apart.  It was like that with Elizabeth.  I think I might have hurt her.  I didn't even know her.  I knew her body, but I never touched the woman."

Halaina was kneeling before me.  She took my face in her hands, held it up to look at her.  Her eyes had never been more loving, more accepting of me than in that moment.  She was all tenderness and compassion.

"Everything you've said in the past few weeks makes sense now,"  she said.  Then, "Matthew, you are so charming, so beautiful.  And it's not this outer beauty,"  she added, touching my face.  "It's you.  You are precious to me."

She took me by the hands and stood me up.  Then she leaned into me, and we embraced in a way that was intimate, and companionable, and electrifying all at once.

"Halaina,"  I whispered into her hair.

"Mmm?"  she responded, her arms hooked tightly around me.

"I have something I need to say,"  I started, realizing that this would be the most difficult statement of the past hour.  Yet it was there, tangible between us.  I could feel it in the way every part of me ached and thrilled at the same time when she was near.

She pulled far enough away from me to tilt her head up and look me in the eyes.

"Say it,"  she urged.  "Whatever it is."

"I think -- I mean, I feel ... "  I drew breath and knitted my brows with effort.  "I don't think I have ever loved anyone,"  I said after a pause.  "Not as others know love.  But I feel something I cannot name when I think of you."

"I don't have to worry about you proposing to me?"  she inquired.  Her eyes danced as she met my gaze.

Despite myself, I laughed.

"No.  I'm not the marrying type,"  I told her.  "But I want to do something for you.  I want to share it with you."

"What?"  she asked.

I shivered and grew warm at the same time.  I lay my hands upon her shoulders, then ran them down the lengths of her arms.

"Halaina, I have not touched you until this moment,"  I said.  I felt the tingling begin in my fingertips, and I let it bleed slowly out into her.  I imagined it soaking into her very pores.  She shivered against me, loosed a sussuration of breath.

"Let me touch you, Halaina,"  I said urgently.  Everything I had ever felt at her closeness rose up within me, doubled in force.  I felt swallowed by it.  "Let me touch you where no one can touch.  Let me taste your pleasure.  Let me drink it up.  Let me show you what I am, what I do.  Let me do this for you, Halaina."

When she met my gaze again, her eyes gleamed with desire.  I could feel her heart speeding up in her chest, feel her breath coming more rapidly.  Her white skin had a flush to it, yet as she regarded me, she seemed infinitely sad.

"I thought you understood,"  she said gently.  "I can't do that anymore."

"I don't mean sex, Halaina.  This is so much more than that.  I don't need to touch you there, not if you don't want.  This is what I can give you,"  I said, leaving shivering trails of pleasure wherever my fingers touched.  "I can touch you here,"  I told her, laying a finger against her lips, "and make your body sing."   I focused the merest fraction of my own fire into that touch and she moaned softly, her eyelids fluttering.  Then I focused on my entire body and everywhere our bodies met.  I felt the way that contact between us was charged, and I amplified it.  The space between us vibrated with unspoken potential.

"Matthew,"  she breathed, stepping away, but still rapt in it.

"Let me give this to you, Halaina,"  I said once more.

Silently, somberly, she took my hand and led me across the room to her bedchamber.

--M. Belanger

1 Comment

8 Comments

Blood Brothers (fragment)

Author's Note: Here's something no one's seen before. It's the start of a novel with the working title, Blood Brothers. I keep dragging it out now and then and rewriting it, but its topics -- psychics, serial murders, and vampires -- just seem trite to me. I've not yet come up with a twist I feel is really gripping or original. Still, there's some potential in it and I hope the real meat of the story leaps out at me one day. Enjoy this taste, for now:

Blood Brothers, Chapter One (partial)

           Madison’s phone went off right as the students started leaving her last class. She jumped at the unexpected sound, then furiously blushed, hoping no one noticed.  Normally she turned her phone off during lectures. She had a strict rule that her students do the same. She must have forgotten, but maybe it was for the best. It was hard to mistake detective Fazio’s ringtone. It wasn’t a call she should miss.

“I’ll be right with you,” she said to the small knot of students gathering to ask her questions. She still hadn’t gotten used to being center stage in an entire room full of young adults, and it was worse when half a dozen of them mobbed her at the end of a lecture. She tried not to look nervous, but still managed to fidget with her straight blonde hair, tucking a loose strand of it behind one ear. She smiled apologetically. “I have to take this call.”

She ducked quickly out of the classroom and tried to find some relative privacy a little ways down the hall. Snapping open her little phone, she said, “Hey, Joe. What’s up?”

“Maddy!” Fazio’s full-throated voice greeted her from the other end. “I got clearance to bring you in on a case. You got time for a trip to the Southside?”

Madison chewed her lip as she paced. “Well, I need to stop by my office and put a few things away,” she said. “But sure. I can make it. How soon do you need me?”

She heard Fazio cover the phone and say a few things to somebody else. The words were muffled, but the emotion still translated. Cases with Fazio were never good, but something about this one seemed to have ruffled him more than usual. After a moment, he took his hand away from the receiver and said, “How fast can you get here, kid?”

“It’s five-thirty on a Wednesday in Chicago, Joe,” Madison remarked. “What do you think? How far is it on the Southside?”

“A couple of streets over from the old Union Stockyards,” he replied. “Take the Pershing exit, then hang a right --”

“Hang on, Joe,” she said. “Let me grab a pen. Just give me the address and I’ll GPS it. I always get lost when you give me directions.”

“Now whose fault is that?” the detective teased. “No one else has trouble with my directions.”

“Well, no one else is me, Joe,” Madison replied. “Give me the address and I’ll get there faster than if you try to give me some kind of short cut.” She stepped back into the classroom as she spoke, going to the podium where she had left her notes. She rummaged through the papers there, trying to come up with a pen.

“Fine, fine,” Fazio grumbled. “Though I don’t know why you can’t pick it out of my head.”

Madison laughed. “You know it doesn’t work that way,” she said. “Not usually.” She made a frustrated sound as she gave up looking for a pen among the stack of papers. She bent down to her over-sized purse instead. Hair swinging forward, she pressed the phone to her ear with one hand and tried simultaneously to rummage for a writing utensil and keep the hair out of her eyes with the other. One of the students still waiting to talk with her figured out what she was looking for and helpfully offered his own pen. It took Madison a few heartbeats to realize that he was holding it out to her. She took it, smiled gratefully, and went back to the podium where she could jot down the address.

“You only got to deal with me and two uniforms once you get here,” Joe said. “Mike headed back to start the paperwork.”

“I don’t think your partner likes me very much,” Madison observed as she folded up the paper with the address and slipped it into the pocket of her slacks.

“Staunton?” Fazio laughed. “Don’t take it personal, kid. He doesn’t like anyone very much. Of course, another decade of doing this work, I don’t know how friendly I’ll be either.”

“I don’t want to think about it. You’re a barrel of sunshine already, and you’ve only been working homicide for three years,” she replied. “Look, I’ve got to finish up here before I hit the road. I’ll be there as fast as I can, Joe.”

She could almost hear his curt nod on the other end of the phone. “See you soon,” he said, then hung up.

She flipped shut the phone, then turned to the young man who had handed her the pen. Belatedly, she realized that all the other students had wandered off during her phone conversation. This guy was the only one left. He looked as nervous to want to talk to her as she often felt being the focus of so many questions.

“Brian Larson, right?” Madison asked.

He nodded, hugging a notebook to his chest. He had clear brown eyes and a complexion that suggested some sort of mixed ancestry, though she couldn’t guess what. Whatever it was, it didn’t help him with facial hair. He was trying, unsuccessfully, to grow a beard and goatee. Mostly, it looked like he had some dirt on his upper lip. She found the sheer awkwardness of it endearing.

Lightly, she said, “You wanted to know if I really meant for you to read all of The Power of Myth and the Huston Smith chapters between now and Friday." She didn't give him a chance to speak. “And the answer is yes.” In anticipation of his objection, Madison continued, “Moyer’s book is a really quick read. I promise you’ll enjoy it. There are even pictures.”

Brian Larson blinked. “But Miss Altmore,” he responded. “How did you know what I was going to ask you?”

Madison smiled, her green-flecked eyes dancing merrily. “Of course because I’m psychic,” she said. “And thanks for the pen.”

He took it as she held it out, then slipped it absently into a rear pocket of his jeans. He looked like he was going to ask something else, but she stopped him, tapping the faceplate of her phone.

“I’d love to chat some more,” she said, “But you’ll have to catch up with me during office hours tomorrow. Right now, I’ve got a date with a corpse.”

*                      *                      *

As it turned out, the corpse was long gone by the time Madison arrived at the crime scene. So were the guys from the coroner’s office, and so were all of the forensic techs. As Madison found parking and walked up to the run-down apartment building, the only official cars left were Fazio’s beat-up Ford Taurus and one lonely cop car, parked near a fire hydrant by the curb.

Madison was a little surprised to find an honest-to-goodness apartment building in this part of town. Most of the apartments in the area were converted houses, two or three stories at most with fenced-in entrances only a little ways from the street. The apartment building stood out from everything else, a dingy glass and concrete cube with stark lines that couldn’t be softened by any of the surrounding trees. A high metal fence with vertical bars surrounded the whole complex, making it seem more like a prison than a residence. Given the relative poverty of the area, Madison suspected that, for some who lived there, it was.

Unsurprisingly, the grounds weren’t well-kept. Sheets of old newspapers and tattered plastic bags had fetched up against the fence, tangling in the lower branches of the trees. The aluminum casing of a used whippet shone dully in the gutter and Madison stepped around what looked like the torn end of a used condom on a broken slab of sidewalk. She grimaced. Of course she had to wear her open-toed pumps today.

“Oh, Joe,” she muttered to herself, “the places you take a girl.”

She paused at the front entrance, trying to recall the apartment number so she could buzz to be let in. 531 was the number she’d scribbled down during her phone conversation over an hour before. Of course, most of the numbers on the wall were illegible. Belatedly, she realized that the security lock on the second set of doors had been busted out long ago. So she let herself in, striding past two residents who loitered in the downstairs hall. They eyed her suspiciously as she walked by, her crisp burgundy pantsuit in sharp contrast to their stained hoodies and sweatpants. She found the elevator and headed up to the fifth floor. Despite some colorful graffiti on its ceiling and walls, the elevator seemed well-maintained. It was the first sign that anyone cared about things in this apartment building at all. As the elevator trundled up past the other floors, Madison dug in her purse for her ID card. She slipped the lanyard around her neck, fidgeting with it as she waited for the doors to open.

The moment she stepped out onto the fifth floor hallway, she was assaulted by the smell. It wasn’t the usual grease-and-cigarette stench she might expect in a residence like this. This was the scent of death, pure and simple. A primal part of her brain reacted instantly, making her heart race and her stomach seize up in knots. She tried to breathe through her mouth to alleviate some of the stink, but that didn’t help very much. If anything, it made things worse, because now she could practically taste the sickly-sweet rot of the corpse.

Perhaps in response to the smell, the hallway was empty. Of course, given the neighborhood they were in, Madison suspected that the neighbors weren’t being curious more out of a desire to avoid any personal interactions with the police. She wondered how long it had taken them to report the murder. You didn’t get a stink like this from a body sitting over night.

A couple of uniformed officers stood at the far end of the hall, keeping watch over the only open door. Clutching the little ID badge she had for such occasions, Maddy cautiously approached the two uniforms. She didn’t recognize either of them. Before she could launch into any awkward introductions, Fazio stepped through the doorway and into the hall. He was chewing on a toothpick, a habit he’d picked up ever since he stopped smoking a few years back. He plucked the toothpick from his mouth and greeted her.

“Maddy! Glad you could make it on such short notice,” he said. “Sorry about the smell. Decomp like this, the stench pretty much soaks into the walls, not to mention to rugs and the floorboards,” he added cheerfully, fiddling with his toothpick. His tone was light-hearted, but his dark eyes were shadowed and worn.

Madison tried to repress a shudder. “Thanks,” she told him. “I get the picture. So what’s special about this one?”

Detective Fazio’s face grew serious. He glanced furtively at the two uniforms and said, “Well, we probably should have called you in on one of the others first.”

“Others?” Maddy asked. “You mean this isn’t the first one?”

Again, Fazio’s eyes flicked over to the two silent men standing near his side. Madison knew that look, and Fazio was going to have some serious explaining to do once they were away from the crime scene and out of earshot of the other cops. She hated it when he kept things from her.

“We had these other two murders with ritualistic elements,” Fazio began. “The first victim was a gay stripper. The second one was a transsexual. We figured the ritual elements were just window dressing and the murders were really sexually motivated. Hate crimes, maybe.” He stopped, cleared his throat, and shrugged. “After this one, we’re going to have to rethink that theory. This victim was a woman. By all accounts, straight. And she was black. The other two were white. I don’t need to tell you how unusual it is for serial types to switch the race or gender of their victims.”

“Three murders and you already think it’s a serial case?” she wondered. “What the hell’s past that door, Fazio?”

“Well,” he said, rocking back on his heels, “I was hoping you’d be able to tell me, Ms. Professor.”

Fazio stepped aside and motioned her into through the door. She could feel the eyes of the other two cops boring holes in her back the minute she entered the crime scene. She had been called in on cases with the Chicago police before, mainly because they didn’t bother employing an occult specialist of their own. It’s not as if they got a huge number of occult-oriented crimes in the city. Most of the cases Fazio pulled her in on involved teenagers who were using occult images like upside-down pentagrams to make their otherwise ordinary crimes seem weird and scary. But every once in a while, Fazio made an excuse to call her in on crimes that didn’t have such an obvious occult twist. From the way those two stone-faced cops were glaring at her, Maddy wondered how much the other officers had guessed of her real purpose at those investigations. Despite the image portrayed by a few New Agey TV shows, most cops resented having a psychic called in on their cases.

She needn’t have worried about the presence of an occult element at this particular crime scene, however. The minute she got far enough into the room to see past the couch, the circle was unmistakable...

--M. Belanger

8 Comments

3 Comments

The Truth in Their Eyes

Little known fact: I write fairy tales. Love reading them, too. My love of this genre started with an artbook my mother left behind when she moved away when I was in kindergarten. It was a collection of Arthur Rackham's works. Rackham's gorgeous illustrative art brought a number of fairy tales to life, as well as Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night's Dream, Wagner's Ring cycle, and Alice in Wonderland. The art book was all images, full-color, with a small caption on the back of each page that didn't explain the image so much as it tantalized. Beneath the caption was the book and author from whence the illustration came. I would sit for hours with this book, gazing at the images, telling myself stories about the actions and figures depicted there. When I grew older, I sought each of the books out and read them -- but of course, as these things go, few of the stories lived up to the dream-tales I had woven for myself throughout the years. Still, I owe my love of Shakespeare to this book as well as my discovery of Andrew Lang's extensive collections of fairy tales.

When I first tried my hand at writing tales,  naturally gravitated to fairy tales first. Myths, as well, because one of the other books left behind for me was D'Aulaires' illustrated Greek myths. I moved on to other things, aping the styles of writers I enjoyed reading, from Lovecraft to Bradbury, Asimov, Poe, Tolkien, McCaffrey, and the many other muses of my youth. I love horror and urban fantasy, but I also am drawn back to fairy tales every now and again (Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, & Neil Gaiman have all produced works to feed this passion). I have a whole book worth of these little tales kicking around. Sometimes light-hearted, but more often dark and moody, they always revolve around a lesson, as good fairy tales do. "The Truth in Their Eyes" is one of the darker ones, shared here:

The Truth in Their Eyes

Far away and over the sea, there is an island of people who have a strange and alarming custom.  Whenever a child is born among them, before it reaches the age of one, they heat up a poker and sear out its eyes.  This grisly process is accompanied by all manner of pomp and ceremony, and it is the fundamental rite of passage for the people of that place.  Needless to say, every single living person who inhabits this island is blind.  Yet the elders of the island avow that this willful handicap of their populace is preferable to the alternative, which is to suffer excruciating mental anguish as the result of a curse placed upon their entire race by a vengeful Faery maid.

As it is told at their ceremonies, just before the putting out of the eyes, a grand princess of Faerie had been sailing to meet her love when her ship was caught up in a storm.  Blown off course and tossed by the winds, the vessel was smashed on the rocks that ring the far side of the island.  That side of the island had long been the bane of passing ships.  But rather than erect a watchfire to warn sailors away, the islanders of that day allowed the ships to wreck so they could loot the remains.

It was a policy among the islanders to wait a night and a day before looting the wreckage of any beached ships. This, they felt, exonerated them from the deaths of any of the sailors. Very, very rarely one or two survivors would cling to life throughout the requisite night and day.  For these, there was a specially consecrated knife that would put an end to their misery.  For, while the religion of the islanders taught them that murder was wrong, their most recent theologians had developed conditions that excused certain opportunistic killing. Thus, as the blood poured out on the sand, the beachcombers would erect a pyre of driftwood and then, once the corpse was merrily burning, they were free to pick the goods from the wreck with a clear conscience.

But the Faery vessel changed things for them, for it was the source of the curse.

The first to see the proud white ship was a fisherman who often watched for vessels during the storms.  He stood on a high cliff over-looking the rocks, and as the storm rolled in, he saw the prow of the vessel gleaming like ivory in the evening light.  He had never seen a ship so tall and grand.  For a moment, he almost felt sorry that a thing of such beauty would soon be wrecked to splinters on the rocks below, but thoughts of that kind were quickly supplanted by dreams of what kind of treasure such a ship might bear in its glittering belly.

The wind dashed the ship upon the rocks sometime just before midnight.  Everyone in the town heard it, and every one of them rolled over and went back to sleep, visions of rich cloth and rare, fine spices sweetening their dreams.

Dawn came, and everyone listened to the morning breeze as it came off the beach.  No sounds came forth from the doomed vessel.  Still, the edicts said that they must wait a night and a day before they could safely loot and be exonerated from any obvious wrong-doing.  But they knew the sea to be a fickle mistress who would take just as easily as she gave.  The tide might shift, and then the chests of cloth and the casks of wine would be lost forever in the deep.

For the fisherman who had observed the ship when it was caught in the first grips of the storm, that flash of bone-white prow haunted him. The masts had gleamed with leaf-of-gold and the sails seemed spun from silver thread.  What riches were the waves carrying away even as he waited, breakfasting with his fellow islanders?

By noon, he could stand it no longer, and he was not alone.  All morning, he had spoken of the richness of what he had seen.  Every member of his audience had been enchanted by the images he painted of a treasure beyond their wildest dreams.  And so it was that a group of perhaps fifteen men trooped down to the rocky beach to gaze at the wreckage of the once-great ship.

As they rounded the hill, the first thing they saw was a thin curl of smoke.  This made them hurry, for if the vessel was burning, even more of the glorious treasures would be lost.  But, to their surprise, the ship – or what remained of it – was not ablaze.  Instead the smoke came from a fire of driftwood that had been set on the beach.  Beside this blaze huddled a figure in white, her fine gold hair spilling down to her waist.  When she saw the men, she jumped to her feet.  Waving her arms excitedly, she called in a language they did not understand, but seeing their looks soon changed to an accented version of the common tongue.

The men hesitated at the top of the beach.  They muttered among themselves, each looking to the other for some sign of guidance.  For it was obvious that this woman was nowhere near death.  True, her face was scratched and some blood was clotted near a bump on her head, but though the ship lay splintered around her, some miracle had protected her from all other harm.

The fisherman, who had dreamed all night of the riches that would be his, was the first to speak.  He smiled genially and strode down to where she had been drying out by the small fire.

“Greetings, lady,” he said in the sincerest of tones. “My companions and I live on the other side of this island, and we thought we heard some noise in the night.  We have traveled all morning to search for survivors.  Are you the only one?”

She wept at this and at first could not speak. But once the fit had passed, she nodded, saying, “Kind sirs, my ship was caught in a terrible storm.  The sails tore, the mast was split, and the wind threw us against the rocks.  Many of my brave sailors were washed into the sea as they struggled to keep us afloat.  Those who survived what the storm handed out sadly did not survive the rocks.  I alone escaped, and that with the help of my magic.  If only they had awakened me in the night, I may have averted the storm! But alas, I only awoke as we crashed against these harsh rocks.”

At this she began weeping bitterly again.  The fisherman glanced nervously at his companions.  Their own eyes widened at what they had heard.  They knew enough of magic to know it should be feared.

The fisherman turned back to the lady.  Tentatively, he spoke in the language of the islanders.  The lady looked up from her weeping, but her gaze was blank.  Just to be certain that she had no idea what he was saying, he insulted her and then attacked her parentage, smiling gently all the while.  She knit her brow and shook her head and motioned that she did not comprehend.  His smile widened, though he turned to his friends before the lady could see the glitter of greed in his eyes.

“What do you think?” he asked them.  “She has magic, but maybe enough to save her only once.”

“Too dangerous,” said one.

“We can’t do this,” said another.  “She’s not dead, not even near to it.”

A third looked down and shuffled his feet in the sand.  “This won’t be like the other ones,” he said.  “You know the rules. We can’t just murder her, and we can’t outright steal what’s left of her ship with her still breathing. ”

At this the fisherman frowned, but then the faery woman spoke, and he turned back to her, smiling with all the benevolence of the world.

“Could you use the common tongue?” she asked hesitantly, her own words thickly accented.  “I’m unfamiliar with the language of this place.”

“Certainly,” he said, stepping forward to take her arm.  “Now, you must tell me.  Who are you and where were you headed when you were caught up in that awful storm?”

“My name is Melissandra Orimunde and I am a princess of the Shining Host from across the Crystal Sea.  I was sailing with my dowry to meet my betrothed, Prince Ilhander who rules over the Islands of the Sun far to the West.”

Throughout all this, the fisherman nodded, lending support with a comforting arm. He kept his face a compassionate mask, but underneath it lay a calculated avarice more dangerous than the storm.

“Her dowry is here,” he called over to the others, using the tongue of the island.  They, torn by equal measures of guilt and greed, sat huddled around her campfire, uncertain what to do.  A few looked up, but they shrugged dejectedly.

“What does it matter?” one called. “She’s not dead.  I won’t risk punishment, not even for all this!”

Stroking her hair as she wept for her losses, the fisherman shot them a darkly triumphant look.

“She may not be dead,” he called, sounding just like he was discussing the weather.  “But she’s a witch, and she’s admitted it.  We can kill her for that without fear of sin. You know the laws demand death for a witch.”

There was a murmur from the others that made the princess look up from her grief.

“What is it you are discussing?” she asked, pale brows knitted together.

“You said you worked magic to save yourself from the storm?” he inquired, almost smug.

She nodded hesitantly, searching his eyes for his intent.  But all she saw was what he showed her, and this mask of compassion eased her growing fears.

“Could you show us some of this magic?  We’ve never seen faery magic before.”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she sighed.  “It took so much to survive the wreck.  If I work my magic so soon after that I risk illness or even death.”

With a grin, he said, “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”

Before she could react, he seized a fistful of her golden hair and unsheathed his sharp little knife.  With an upward thrust he pierced her heart, and never once did the pretended benevolence leave his face.

Her eyes grew wide as a gout of blood erupted from her mouth.  His features twisting in disgust, he shoved her to the sand.

"Lying!” she gasped.  “Lying?  For what?”

He had already turned back to the others.

“She’s as good as dead,” he said, wiping blood from his face.  “Let’s start hauling these chests before the waves take them out.”

“For … that?” she muttered.  “My death for that?”

And her lifesblood pumped out onto the sand.

Pressing her hand against the wound, she sang a spell with failing breath. For a moment, she seemed to revive: bolt upright she sat, her face ablaze with inner light.  She fixed them in her burning gaze, and with a voice that vibrated the very air, she cried:

“Forsake your greed and petty lies and see the truth within your eyes!”

With this, she expired.  For a moment, all stood frozen on the beach, expecting lightning bolts or tremendous waves to wreak her vengeance on one and all.  When minutes passed and no vengeance came, they went back to the looting of her wrecked ship.  Afraid to touch her bloody corpse, they left her for the seagulls and the rising tide.

Although some were shaken by this final display, when days went by and nothing came, they dismissed it as a spell gone wrong.  After all, she herself had declared her magic spent from the crash and the storm. But the curse was both powerful and insidious, and it took some time for those afflicted with it to even notice its effects.

The first one was a respected matron of the town.  She had worked most of her adult life to help the needy and the poor.  Her altruism was a point of pride, and she never tired of reminding people how selfless she was.  Yet one day, as she presented a shiny bangle to a woman less fortunate than herself, she happened to catch sight of her reflection in the bronze.  She gasped at what she saw in her reflection’s eyes: instead of selfless devotion, there was gloating pride.  In that moment, she realized that all her life had been a lie.  There was no denying it: she gave, not out of benevolence, but because she felt superior to everyone else. At no other time did she feel more superior than when giving little trifles to those less fortunate than herself.

Her voice failed her. The bangle dropped to the sand. The poor woman looked at her in confusion, but she turned and fled without saying another word. Later, she was seen in her home, smashing every mirror.

After her, it was one of the elders of the town.  He was an upstanding man who set the moral standard for everyone else.  As a town elder, it was his responsibility to judge the members of the community who had committed grievous crimes.  That day, he, along with his fellow elders, had to cast judgment upon a man found cohabiting with another man.  Before the trial, the elder practiced his speech at his bedroom mirror.  He loathed homosexual behavior, and he intended to convince all the others to sentence the criminal to death.  Yet as he met his own fervent gaze in the depths of mirror, he saw something that made him stop cold.  There, clearly written within his eyes, was the self-same lust for another man. The forbidden desire that he was seeking to condemn was a desire he felt himself.

With a strangled cry he smashed the mirror and used its shards to put out his eyes.

On and on it went.  Mirrors were smashed. Whole families leapt to their deaths from the cliffs.  People went mad as their darkest secrets could no longer be denied but instead stared back at them whenever they gazed upon their own face.

With the island in chaos, a meeting was held.  They had tried outlawing mirrors, but this did not end the workings of the curse.  One young man had gazed deep into his lover’s eyes, but saw only his own reflected there. What he saw inspired him to strangle his infant son, drown his wife, and then kill himself.  After that, no one could even meet the gaze of another for fear of what they might learn of themselves.  They were a society stripped of the protection afforded by comfortable lies.

In the end, the choice was clear: all the people of the island chose blindness rather than run the risk of gazing at their own ugly truths.

--M. Belanger

3 Comments

2 Comments

Newsclipping Prop: Wheatley's Legacy

Note to readers: this little blurb was mocked up as a newspaper clipping for players to discover if they thought to go looking for old articles on the haunted Wheatley mansion in-game. This clipping gave them the name of Roderick Kemp, which they could then follow up on to discover the memoir previously printed here. The mock newspaper, The Voice of Providence was a long-running prop in the game (I started the Providence game as a table-top adventure while still in college, then moved it to a Live Action game in 1994. The chronicle was featured at Origins 1995, 1996 and 2000. You've not GM'd till you've wrangled nearly 200 players for four long days. The game ran all night, and sometimes players would track us down to our hotel room to go over puzzles they were trying to solve in-game. Creating both characters and plots with enough depth to occupy people for that length of time engenders a special kind of madness. Still, I miss it some days).

(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.

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 Whately to manifest and drive them from his house of horrors.

 

 

2 Comments

Comment

Excerpt: The Wheatley Place

Note to Readers: a major outlet for my creative writing has always been gaming. I've been writing and running games since I was first introduced to D&D in fourth grade. The sword & sorcery worlds were fun and all, but what ended up really grabbing me was the urban fantasy setting of Vampire: the Masquerade. I liked the intersection of real world grit and supernatural elements. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Lovecraft's work, and for my long-running chronicle Providence, I freely mixed and mingled Lovecraftian elements with White Wolf's World of Darkness.  One thing that has always delighted me with writing and running games is designing props -- little clues and gimmes in the game that characters can explore to expand the plot threads. I've produced whole newspaper mock-ups just to have my players go digging through them for one salient article. Maps, journals, excerpts of books ... and it's all great fun. Attached here is one such game prop produced for the Providence reunion game I ran at Oberlin college a couple of years ago. It's a partial chapter from the memoirs of one of the town's law enforcement officers, and it expands upon the tale of a house characters encounter that is reputed to be haunted. As you read, you'll see why:

Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp

 Chapter Five: The Wheatley 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 Wheatley. 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 Wheatley 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 gory details. Well believe me, they're gory! If there are any ladies reading this, or folks with a delicate constitution, you all may want to just skip along. Still with me? Well, here goes:

Everyone knew that Old Man Wheatley 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 Wheatley 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 Wheatley. 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 Wheatley directly.

In the end, Wheatley's true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Wheatley 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 Wheatley house.

A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Wheatley 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 Wheatley'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. Wheatley (it could only have been Wheatley) 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. Wheatley'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 Wheatley 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 Wheatley 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.

*Author's Note: If you're up on your vampire folklore, you'll recognize this name as an homage to one of the first recorded cases of vampire attacks in Eastern Europe. Yay Easter eggs.

Comment