Ripped from the pages of an age-yellowed penny blood, the page stained and smeared, the cover lost and the author dead to time, yet from these half-writ fragments forms a story in the mind…
“Peter,” said Manuel, returning to the tomb and standing opposite. “I’m going to need you to cut off her head.”
Slowly, Peter shook his head. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and grave dust stung his eyes. “This is impossible,” he said. “Impossible.”
He looked away from Lucille, past Father McCafferty to the boy outside. “How did you know? What part have you to play in this depravity?”
“Now is not the time, Peter,” said Father McCafferty.
“The boy needs a doctor,” said Peter, his voice cracking on the last word of the sentence. He did not want to look down at Lucille LaFey’s bloated, undead body. He would not.
“Peter!” hissed Manuel. “A doctor will be no help; the boy will not awaken until the job is done. We must sever him from the source.”
Father McCafferty’s lamp began to flicker as though caught in a breeze—except that there was no breeze within the cramped confines of Lucille LaFey’s tomb. The statue of the Virgin Mary looked down on them impassively, eyes blank like the gorgon.
Peter looked down at the oversized cleaver in his hands. The edge of the blade glinted in the light, edged with fire. “I can’t…” he said. His stomach turned over. He began to shake.
Manuel Churchill gripped Peter by the arm and said: “For Sammael: you must.”
The vampyre hunter released his grip and took up the mallet and the stake. Peter glanced at Father McCafferty, whose face looked lined and ancient in the shadows cast by the lamp.
“We must strike together,” said Manuel. “Now: get into position. At my count, on one…”
This is happening, thought Peter. In his imagination the stone lips of the Virgin Mary had twisted into something matching Lucille Lafey’s smirk. He extended his arms above the body, the sharp edge of the cleaver hovering directly above Lucille LaFey’s exposed, smooth-skinned neck.
“Three…” Manuel took up the wooden stake and the mallet. “Two…” the vampyre hunter took a moment to align the stake above her heart. “One!”
The mallet struck the stake with a high-pitched wooden clink. No air whispered out from Lucille LaFey’s punctured lung, for vampyres do not breathe. But there was another sound, from her lips, a whispered word: a lilting sing-song lullaby, a lover’s whisper. Peter hesitated and the vampyre’s eyes snapped open.
“Out!” Manuel screamed. “Get out!”
Lucille LaFey II reached out to grab Peter. Anguished, disgusted he tore himself away from her and dropped the cleaver to the ground of the tomb as he fled. Frantically he scrubbed at his arm where he could still feel the pressure of the dead woman’s fingers.
An ear-piercing scream cut through the silence, not from the tomb but from the boy: Sammael now stood, eyes wide open yet unseeing, mouth open and screaming… screaming… screaming loudly enough to wake the dead.
“You fool!” Manuel slapped at Peter. “I told you we must strike in unison.”
Haldur was advancing towards them now, lured by the boy’s screams. The graveyard keeper was moving quickly, shovel in hand.
“Take the boy away,” Manuel said to Haldur. “As far as you can, Haldur. Take him to town. Take him to the next town. Take him as far away as you need to make him stop screaming. We need to break the link.”
Haldur’s eyes glanced over Manuel’s shoulder at the open tomb, but he asked no questions. With one swift motion he planted his shovel firmly in the ground and then bundled the boy up, slinging him across one shoulder. Still; Sammael did not stop screaming. The high-pitched wail cut through everything; shredding common sense.
Father McCafferty was pointing his crucifix into the darkness of the tomb and chanting in Latin. In the sarcophagus, yet shrouded by shadow, Lucille LaFey II was sitting up.
Now Peter understood the placement of the mirrors, for even the diluted reflection of sunlight burnt her as she attempted to rise. She began to wail, an ululating, inhuman cry borne from a dead throat. Her body contorted, twisting at obscene angles in order to slide out of the sarcophagus backwards and upside down where she crumpled into a heap, head-first on the floor.
Manuel had moved behind the mirror and was attempting to redirect the beam of sunlight towards her. As the light touched her skin shs screamed and darted away from the light, reshaping the ends of her fingers into hooks with which she clambered up onto the wall and then onto the ceiling where she lingered like some hideous, hissing insect.
In the distance they could still hear Sammael screaming, as Haldur hurried to take the boy away.
Manuel continued to redirect light but the vampyre moved too quickly—and worse still, the sunlight was beginning to fade. Lucille LaFey II scuttled around the tomb, hissing and dodging the light, moving in a blur too fast to follow. Wherever she moved Peter could hear the sound of her fingers and toes scraping against the stone. He was suddenly and violently sick, depositing the contents of his stomach behind a time-worn headstone. The only thing he had eaten all day were those sacramental wafers.
Frustrated, Manuel cast the mirror aside. Father McCafferty was still chanting and the crucifix in his hand had now caught the angle of the afternoon sun. The cross seemed ablaze with all the light of the heavenly host and for a moment, Peter expected a miracle. Yet within her tomb Lucille LaFey drew herself up, head lurching from side to side as she began to mock the priest, spitting back at him the same prayers that he uttered: only backwards.
“Oh god,” said Peter. “Oh god. What do we do?”
He grappled with Manuel Churchill and forced the man to the ground. He wanted to hit the vampyre hunter, but he did not know why. Fear had ignited his blood. “What do we do, man?” Peter screamed.
There was a new smell now—the smell of burning flesh. Peter realised with horror that the crucifix that Father McCafferty was holding had grown hot and was beginning to sear the skin of his hands.
“Let go, Father,” Peter said, but Father McCafferty had gone utterly mad. He stared at Peter without recognition until the blacksmith prised the cross from his hands and hurled it into the tomb where it smouldered in the dust. The vampyre darted away from the cross and flattened herself against the wall, hissing.
Now Manuel was leaning on the door to the tomb, attempting to seal it back up. Lucille LaFey II was making a sound like laughter that was not laughter. She continued to whisper backwards prayers, un-prayers. The loudest sound in the graveyard was the sound of her nails scraping against the stone.
“Peter, please help me,” Manuel grunted.
Together they leant against the stone until it slid across the dirt and fell flush into place. The sounds within were not wholly muted, but dulled. The scraping and scratching persisted, but it might have been the sound of rats.
Manuel Churchill was pacing back and forth and muttering to himself. “I wasn’t prepared,” he said. “Father forgive me: I wasn’t prepared.”
Father McCafferty sat atop a tombstone and stared down at the palms of his hands. They were bright red and blistered where the crucifix had been touching. Inside the tomb Lucille LaFey began striking the door to the tomb where she was yet imprisoned.
“We can’t leave her like this,” said Peter. “She got out once already,”
“And she will again,” said Manuel. He went to his bags and began rifling through the objects that remained inside, muttering to himself as he searched. “Unless… it’s an inelegant solution, but I don’t see what choice we have. Oh, father, how disappointed would you be with me.”
At last Manuel Churchill found what he was searching for. Bundled up in cloth he first unwrapped the object and then raised it up for the others to see: a single stick of dynamite.
It took the others a moment to realise what they were looking at, though both were intelligent men neither had great familiarity with explosives. Peter remembered once how Old George had brought something that looked similar into the pub one evening, telling that he’d found it near the abandoned mines at Drapwell. He had been hurriedly marched outside and told to take it away before he “blew them all to Kingdom Come” and now, Father McCafferty was shouting much the same:
“You’ve been carrying that around with us this entire time!” he spluttered. “We could be in pieces, man! What is wrong with you!”
Manuel Churchill ignored the priest. Instead he was digging his fingers into one end of the stick of dynamite, working the fuse. Inside the tomb the sound of scraping had stopped. The graveyard felt eerily silent, thought it was still full of noises—nightbugs, a gentle breeze, a distant bird.
The horizon was ablaze. The sun was bleeding across the moors. Peter didn’t understand how they could have possibly been here all day. The sky was orange and deep red. It was a hateful sky. Peter’s stomach churned.
The tomb door trembled as once more it was struck from the other side. Peter leant against it, although he did not trust he was strong enough to hold it closed. Inside, the undead thing scuttled and swore.
Manuel Churchill was now working to extend the fuse, twisting and rolling and pinching with his fingers. Peter remained against the door of the tomb and tried not to hear the noises inside. Occasionally the stone shook as it was struck. He spoke to Manuel through clenched teeth:
“You have dynamite man? Tell me why we didn’t simply use that in the first place?”
Manuel did not look at him, but muttered under his breath as he lay the fuse along the ground such that it could be lit from a safe distance. “It was supposed to be for the nest,” he said.
“The nest?” Father McCafferty strode up to Manuel. The priest was taller than the vampyre hunter and at this moment appeared a formidable figure. He prodded Manuel in the chest and repeated himself: “The nest?”
“North of Hiddlestown,” muttered Manuel, not making eye-contact with the priest. “Near the gully with an old name. Aleth-Abellan. There’s a nest,” now he did look up, the fuse sufficiently lengthened and said: “Peter, will you give me a lift?”
Reluctantly, Peter stepped away from the tomb. The creature inside had gone silent once more: was she listening? Peter shuddered. Manuel climbed up on Peter’s hands in order to wedge the dynamite into a crack at the top of the tomb. The fuse hung down beside them and Manuel took it as he stepped down from Peter’s hands.
“Step back, gentlemen,” Manuel said as he followed the fuse backwards. “You might want to cover your eyes!”
Peter strode away from the tomb, dragging Father McCafferty with him.
“A nest,” Father McCafferty whispered. “Did you hear, Peter? He said there was a nest of these… things.”
Peter ignored Father McCafferty. They moved two rows away. Manuel Churchill followed them back as far as he could until he ran out of fuse. He glanced once in their direction and then sparked a match.
Peter did not expect the fuse to take the spark, but it did. Manuel Churchill jumped and stepped back as the fuse carried the spark along the ground towards the tomb. It fizzled and sparked. Peter’s entire body grew tense. Beside him, Father McCafferty muttered prayers under his breath.
The spark reached the side of the tomb and travelled up the fuse towards the dynamite. Peter could not take his eyes away from the door to the tomb—any moment he expected it to burst open and then that thing would be free. He wished he had kept the cleaver, but it was inside, along with Father McCafferty’s crucifix.
The fuse sparked out and the men waited for an explosion that did not come.
There is a moment when the human brain senses tragedy in the moments before it occurs—this is not clairvoyance, but a biological adaptation. Peter felt this sensation even as Manuel took strides towards the tomb in order to inspect why the dynamite had not exploded, but Peter did not have time to call out.
For a moment, reality was swallowed by the explosion.
Peter and the priest staggered backwards, ears ringing. There was no fire, only thick black smoke rising from the remains of the tomb. And splattered across them—and the graves between them and it—the bloody remains of Manuel Churchill, vampyre hunter.
Peter glimpsed something stringy amongst the remains and was sick again, his empty stomach straining. The smoke stung his eyes and his throat. He moaned.
“Look, Peter,” Father McCafferty lifted Peter’s head towards the tomb. It had been caved in by the dynamite, crumbled like an ancient ruin such that anything inside would have undoubtedly been crushed to a pulp. Lucille LaFey II, or the thing that had taken control of her body, was surely dead.
Groaning, Peter drew back against one of the tombstones and stared at the tomb. His breath came in shallow gasps. Father McCafferty went to Manuel Churchill’s belongings—the bags were splattered with dust and blood but otherwise intact. Inside he found a stoppered, unmarked bottle that smelt unmistakably of scotch.
The priest took a swig from the bottle and then handed it it to Peter. Together they sat side-by-side and stared at the jumbled remains of the tomb. “It is done,” said Father McCafferty. Peter took another swig and winced as the alcohol burnt his throat. Darkness had fallen upon the graveyard. And even from this distance, Peter was certain that he could still hear something scratching beneath the rubble.