The Blacksmith and the Priest

Peter watched the whetstone spin. The candle on the shelf had burned low; it was early in the morning. He eased off the pedal and watched the whetstone slow.

Peter had learned the trade from his father and in the decades since had sharpened many blades, but none such as this. It was a mighty cleaver, such as you might find in the kitchen of a giant. Peter did not believe in giants, of course—for Peter was no fool.

Now, in the flickering candlelight and with the sun yet to rise, Peter studied the edge of the blade. The most important part of his job was to ensure the tools he shaped were fit for purpose, he only wished he didn’t know what purpose this blade was due to serve.

The Customer had told him, without reservation, that the blade must be sharp enough to sever a human head. Furthermore, it must leave no doubt as to this fact, for if it did not, there would not be a second chance.

A weapon then: a tool for murder.

A younger Peter perhaps would have felt some terrible pride at the idea. Such was the romantic lure of the blacksmith’s hammer: beating swords to sharp edges and fine points. But the military used guns now and those were manufactured downriver. The soldiers who carried blades did so only for ceremonial reasons; and thus their sharpness could not be considered essential.

Peter’s mind turned like the whetstone and he wondered what he was going to do when the Customer returned. Did sharpening the blade make him an accessory to murder? Surely it could not be considered murder if the victim was already dead?

The previous evening, as Peter was sweeping the floor of the workshop, Father McCafferty had arrived and along with him—the Customer.

“Listen to him, Peter,” Father McCafferty said. “And do not rush to judgement.”

The Customer had bustled into the workshop and set aside two heavy travelling bags. He was waering a long brown coat and wide-brimmed hat, neither of which he removed. Peter offered the men tea but they refused. The Customer took a swig of whiskey from a flask hidden somewhere on his person and began to speak:

“Had I not been passing your faire village, I mighte not have known,” the Customer began in a lilting sing-song tone. “I bore witness to a crying womane who sayse her son was taken and was pleading for the help of whomsoever happened to be passing by.”

“Miss Sally,” said Peter, unimpressed by the Customer’s story. Everyone knew that Sammael had gone missing a week ago and that it had sent Miss Sally nearly mad with grief. Peter did not know her well (Miss Sally Norton had little need of a blacksmith), but felt bad for her nonetheless. It was sad, yet not unheard of, for people to vanish into the misty moors that surrounded the village.

Now this Customer had appeared like some ghoul to prey on the woman’s sadness, insisting that the boy had been taken. He spoke to Peter in rushed, disjointed sentences, telling him about a strange malady that persisted even unto death. A sort of demonic possession, the Customer attested, that lingered in the bodies of the dead and thirsted for the blood of the living. He spoke, of course, about vampyres.

“Do you do this often?” Peter asked the Customer.

The Customer’s eyes glinted and he took another swig from his flask. “Indeed,” he said. “I am a vampyre hunter—it is my true calling, a responsibility passed unto me from my father.”

Peter scoffed, but the Customer paid him no heed. Instead he reached into one of his travelling bags and used two hands to remove the cleaver. “Can you sharpen this?” the Customer asked and then proceeded to tell Peter exactly how sharp the blade needed to be.

“I fear Miss Sally’s son has been taken into the thrall of a vampyre residing in the Chargraven,” the Customer told Peter. “I have already visited the graveyard and witnessed the evidence, but if my suspicions are correct I will require assistance.”

“Of course, we will help,” said Father McCafferty, speaking for the first time to answer on Peter’s behalf. The blacksmith thought it clear the Customer was mad, but was willing to defer to the priest for the time being, at least.

“A holy man is most useful indeed,” said the Customer and then crossed the room to grip Peter by one thickly muscled arm. “Your arms Peter! A strong man like you would also be of great assistance. Thank you. Thank you.”

That was how Peter had somehow agreed not only sharpen the Customer’s blade but also help him slay a fantastical creature of darkness. And now: the barest sliver of daylight touched the curved line of the horizon, Peter realised how foolish he had been to agree. And Peter was no fool: he believed in vampyres even less than he did in giants.

Giants, at least, he had seen the footprints of, preserved in peat.

Peter awoke a short time later with no idea where he was. The cleaver fell loudly to the flagstones beneath his feet and the din rang in his ears. He had been having a strange dream that he could not remember; nor did he have any wish to. As ringing in his ears faded he heard birds chirping and realised it must be morning. And then there came a second knock at the door, the first of which had startled him awake in the first place.

Peter got up and let Father McCafferty in. The priest could barely see in the dim light of the blacksmith’s workshop. “Peter,” he chided. “Did you sleep in here last night?”

Peter rubbed the sleep from the corners of his eyes and nodded. He carefully picked up the cleaver from the floor and placed it atop his workbench. “Didn’t sleep,” he said. “Not really.”

Father McCafferty went to the fire and began addings logs to it. After a moment the room was flooded with warmth and light. “I know you have your doubts, Peter,” said Father McCafferty.

Peter noticed that Father McCafferty was wringing his hands together and that bothered him. For as long as the blacksmith had known him the priest he had never seen him look afraid. Father McCafferty was the one who comforted those who were in pain, providing advice and blessings when needed. He had consoled Peter as his father had been lowered into the ground at the Chargraven.

“I’m no fool,” Peter said. “The man is a charlatan: or worse.”

“I understand why you would think so,” said Father McCafferty. “But you must listen Peter, and listen well. There are dark things in this world. There are secret things. And sometimes it is men like us—not soldiers or heroes—who must do what needs to be done.”

“Are you telling me that you believe in vampyres?” Peter asked the priest flatly.

“I’m saying…” said Father McCafferty. “In the darkness, strange things—for which we do not yet have proper names—still squirm… yes, Peter. I believe in vampyres.”

Peter shuddered and Father McCafferty moved to the workbench where he had placed the sharpened cleaver. It required both hands for the old man to lift.

“Careful, Father,” Peter said. “You could take off someone’s head with that.”

They met the Customer (Peter was still loathe to concede that the man was, in fact, a vampyre hunter) at mid-morning in the town square. In hindsight they should have chosen a more secluded location, for serveral townsfolk stopped to gawk at the stranger and the priest and the blacksmith all standing together beside the lamp post.

A fog had settled upon the village, but it was not so thick and would clear soon enough. Somewhere beyond the fog, the sun shone through, brightening everything with soft celestial halos.

“Hoy there!” called a voice belonging to Martha Grables. She was carrying a wax-paper bag that contained her shopping, but she was not one to let an opportunity for information-gathering pass her by. Whatever they told her, Peter knew, the rest of the village would know by sundown.

“This fellow is the son of an old acquaintance of mine,” Father McCafferty explained, patting the Customer on the back. “And he is here to help us do some much-needed maintenance around the graveyard.”

“Manuel Churchill,” said the Customer, extending a hand to Martha. She did not take it, but merely sniffed and shuffled away. The explanation, it seemed, was wholly less exciting than she had been expecting. Peter wondered how she would have responded had they told her they were hunting vampyres.

As they moved away from the village the fog began to clear and a seeping greeness closed in around them as the dales bled into their vision. The Chargraven contained several hundred graves, some dating back as far as the sixteenth century. And there were, in fact, even older stones in the cemetary that were not counted as grave markers, though that’s what they were.

By the time they reached the graveyard the fog had cleared entirely and the sun beat down on them. Peter was feeling uncomfortably warm and took off his coat, but he noticed Manuel did not do the same.

Stood beside the graveyard was a small wooden shack. This was where Haldur lived: the custodian who dug the graves and tended to repairs. Haldur was already waiting for them and spoke to Manuel Churchill as if they were old friends. Glancing past Manuel, Haldur noted the presence of the priest and the blacksmith and nodded approvingly.

Peter wondered if there was anyone Manuel hadn’t deceived into believing his ruse. Still he could not imagine what benefit the man hoped to gain from defiling tombs and spreading stories about monsters.

“Haldur will make sure we are not disturbed,” said Manuel. “Though we should be prepared that word may still spread about our activities. At times—townsfolk do become alarmed by the presence of a stranger in a graveyard.”

You’re the only stranger here,” said Peter grimly.

“No, Peter,” said Manuel. “There is another stranger within the Chargraven; one far more dangerous than I.”

The vampyre hunter lead the priest and the blacksmith between the rows of graves. Peter walked slowly—he did not fear the dead, but something nonetheless compelled him to tread softly. The inexorable pull of his parent’s graves called to him, but he did not so much as glance in their direction.

Both flowers and weeds sprouted between the tombstones. A bee wobbled lazily past Peter. The gravel underfoot crunched. The sun beating down was making Peter sweat. The graveyard seemed all sharp edges of light and shadow, making it even more impossible to believe that they were hunting a creature of the night. Soon, at least, the farce would be over; one way or another.

“There,” said Manuel stopping to point at a tomb that lay at the westernmost edge of the Chargraven. It was an unremarkable stone cube, one of less than half-dozen in the graveyard. They treaded the final few steps towards the tomb extra slowly.

The door to the tomb was slightly ajar—this, the vampyre hunter told them, was a tell-tale sign that it was inhabited by a vampyre. The inscription beside the door was worn down, but Peter could still make out the name: Lucille LaFey II.

“The second?” said Peter, turning to Father McCafferty.

“I would have been… four or five years old when she died,” said Father McCafferty, squinting at the dates on the inscription. “I do not remember her,”

“That’s for the best,” said Manuel matter-of-factly. “It’s far more difficult to cleave the head from someone that you recognise. Not that you’ll be cleaving any heads, Father. That’s what our boy Peter is here for.”

Peter felt a sudden icy chill at the words; a biting contrast to the heat of the sun. He stood away from the door to the tomb. Something had put the idea in his head that the graveyard smelt of death and it was a sensation that he could not shake. He did not want to be here. He wanted no further part in these events, but he could not leave Father McCafferty alone with a madman.

“What about the boy?” said Peter, remembering Sammael and poor Sally Norton.

“He’s probably inside,” said Manuel, placing both of his bags down on the ground and beginning to unpack them.

Peter strode towards the tomb and attempted to prise the door open with his fingers. If the boy was inside than there was no point in wasting any more time. If he was not; than Manuel would quickly be outed as the charlatan he surely was.

“No!” Manuel cried shrilly. “Step away, Peter! We must take every precaution!”

Peter did not take his hands from the stone but looked towards Father McCafferty. The old priest nodded and only then did Peter step away.

With his hands in his pockets and a frown on his face, Peter watched as Manuel took out several sticks from his back and began screwing them together with clasps. At the end of the lengthened pole he placed an adjustable mirror, locked into place with yet another series of clamps. He did this three more times, constructing three separate standing mirrors that he placed in front of the tomb.

As he placed each mirror he tilted them ever-so-slightly so that they bounced the sunlight between them. With a few adjustments, a pale rectangle of sunlight appeared on the door of the tomb. Manuel asked Father McCafferty if he wouldn’t mind helping with the adjustments. Peter watched the swerving rectangle of light drift back and forth across the age-stained stone; the movements vaguely hypnotic and once or twice Peter’s eyes drifted closed.

“Peter!” Father McCafferty’s voice caused his eyes to snap open. “Sit down for a moment, you’ve come over all pale.”

Peter sat down on the grass and the priest handed him a handful of wafers. They were communal wafers, Peter realised as he chomped down; he was eating the body of Christ.

At last, Manuel was content with the angle of the mirrors. He returned to his bags and began rifling through them once again, taking out a crowbar, several cloves of garlic, a heavy mallet, a wooden stake and, finally, from the second bag: the cleaver that Peter had sharpened.

“Better, Peter?” Father McCafferty asked him. The blacksmith nodded, although he didn’t really feel any better. He felt light-headed, perhaps a consequence of barely sleeping the night before. He attempted to shrug off his tiredness and made a conscious effort to focus his senses.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m feeling better.”

Manuel handed Peter the crowbar and pressed his fingers closed around the metal. “Then it’s time, Peter. Open the tomb.”

Peter approached the tomb; shoes crunching on graveyard gravel.

At the tomb, he wedged the crowbar into the narrow crack at the edge of the door. He leaned on it gingerly at first in case the stone decided to crumble; but the door was stuck fast and even as he leaned more heavily against the crowbar it still refused to budge.

“Shall I fetch Haldur?” asked Father McCafferty and like the words of a spell it seemed his mere suggestion was what finally caused the door to shift.

Inch by horrible inch Peter prised the darkness open. When the door was open far enough for him to shift his weight behind it he dropped the crowbar and leaned heavily on the door. The rectangle of light cast by Manuel’s mirrors struck Peter firmly in the eyes when he turned back to look at them and he was momentarily blinded.

 All three men now looked into the confines of the tomb. Peter was now certain he could smell death, although the smell seemed indistinguishable from dust and stone. The sarcophagus took up almost the entire interior of the building: a box within a box. There was a shelf on the back wall upon which stood a pale statue of the Virgin Mary. As Peter moved away, the light from the mirrors danced across her draping skirts.

They lit a gas lantern to illuminate the tomb. The priest held the lamp in one hand, while in the other he clasped a corpus christi that he kept directed at all times towards the unmarked stone sarcophagus.

Manuel and Peter moved to opposite sides of the stone box where Lucille LaFey II had been lain to rest. Peter did his best to try not to imagine what awaited them beneath the heavy stone lid. His mind conjured images of skin stretched tight across old bones. It was deathly cold inside of the tomb.

Moving with agonising deliberateness, Manuel Churchill placed the sharpened cleaver atop the sarcophagus and instructed Peter to take it. The vampyre hunter went on to place a clove of garlic upon the shelf at the feet of the Virgin Mary. Beside the garlic he placed a sharpened wooden peg and a wooden mallet with which to strike it.

“Do not be alarmed, Peter, by what you are about to see.”

In the doorway, Father McCafferty was shaking. The light from the lantern flickered. Behind the priest, the day seemed impossibly bright; painfully so. Father McCafferty was a crucifix-wielding silhouette outlined against that blinding brilliance.

“Help me shift the lid,” said Manuel, shuffling sideways so that Peter could push it without trapping him against the wall. Peter placed the cleaver at his feet, with the sharp edge pointing away. He gripped the lid of the sarcophagus and it shifted easily, sliding aside with barely a grumble of stone against stone.

“Raise the lamp, Father,” said Manuel and Father McCafferty stepped forward to help illuminate the interior of the stone sarcophagus. Peter gasped as the priest gave voice to the boy’s name: “Sammael…”

Peter had no idea how the boy had managed to sneak into the tomb, for the door alone would have been too heavy for him to shift. But it was even less likely that he would have been able to climb into the sarcophagus. The boy lay across Lucille LaFey’s corpse, his face against her breast. The boy lay as still as the corpse. So still in fact that Peter immediately feared the worst. “Is he..?”

Manuel shook his head. Reaching into the sarcophagus he lifted the boy out and then dragged him into the sunlight. The boy was limp and extremely pale. There were red smears around his lips as though he had been eating berries. They set him down upon the grass, where he looked as though he was sleeping.

And now too was the body of Lucille LaFey II revealed. Her body was plump and smooth-skinned, appearing to have been dead mere days rather than decades. Her eyes were closed and her lips turned up in what appeared to be a smirk. A thin line of dark, dried liquid stained her chin.

“Peter,” said Manuel, returning to the tomb and standing opposite. “I’m going to need you to cut off her head.”

Peter wiped his face with the back of his hand and grave-dust stung his eyes. “This is impossible,” he said. “Impossible.”

Peter looked away from Lucille, past Father McCafferty to where the boy was laying outside. “How did you know the boy was here? What part have you to play in this depravity?”

“Now is not the time, Peter,” said Father McCafferty.

“We should end this, boy needs a doctor,” said Peter, his voice cracking. “The boy needs a doctor,” He did not want to look down at Lucille LaFey’s bloated, undead body. He would not.

“Peter!” hissed Manuel. “A doctor won’t be able to help; the boy will not awake 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 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 heaved.

Manuel Churchill gripped Peter by the arm and said: “For Sammael: you must.”

The vampyre hunter let go 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 hanging directly above Lucille LaFey’s exposed neck.

“Three…” Manuel took a moment to align the wooden stake above her chest. “Two…” he raised the wooden mallet. “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 floor of the tomb. 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 stood, eyes 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 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 singed her dead flesh as she attempted to rise. She cried out, an ululating, inhuman cry borne from a long-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 the creature screamed and darted away from the light, reshaping the ends of her fingers into hooks with which she clambered onto the wall and then up to the ceiling where she twitched like some hideous, hissing insect.

In the distance they could still hear Sammael screaming as Haldur took the boy away.

Manuel continued to redirect the light but the vampyre moved too quickly—and worse still, the sunlight was beginning to fade. The vampyre scuttled around the tomb, hissing and dodging the light, moving in a blur too fast for Peter’s eyes 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 sacramental wafers.

Frustrated, Manuel cast the mirror aside. Father McCafferty was still chanting and the crucifix in his hand had 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 rocking from side to side as she mocked 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 set his blood on fire. “What do we do, man?” Peter shouted.

There was a new smell now—the smell of burning flesh. Peter realised with horror that the crucifix Father McCafferty was holding had grown hot and was beginning to sear the skin of his palm.

“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 and darkness. The vampyre darted away from the cross and flattened herself against the wall, hissing.

Manuel was leaning on the door to the tomb, attempting to seal it 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 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 paced back and forth, muttering to himself. “I wasn’t prepared,” he said. “Father forgive me: I wasn’t prepared.” He made the sign of the cross.

Father McCafferty sat atop a tombstone and stared down at the palm of his hand. It was bright red and blistered where he had gripped the crucifix. Inside the tomb, Lucille LaFey began striking the stone door.

“We can’t leave her like this,” said Peter. “She’s gotten 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 blacksmith and the priest a moment to realise what they were looking at. Although both were intelligent men neither had great familiarity with explosives. Peter remembered once how Old George had brought something similar into the pub one evening, telling that he’d found it near the abandoned mines at Drapewell. The landlady had hurriedly marched him 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, though it was still full of noises—nightbugs, a gentle breeze, a distant bird.

The horizon was ablaze. The sun was bleeding out 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 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 cursed.

Manuel Churchill extended 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 began to lay the fuse along the ground so 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 that 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. A’leth-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 door. The creature inside had gone silent: was she listening? Peter shuddered. Manuel climbed up on Peter’s hands in order to wedge the dynamite into a crack in the stone of the tomb where the wall met the overhang. The fuse dangled 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 him, 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 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 edge of the tomb and began travelling up the fuse towards the dynamite. Peter could not take his eyes away from the door—at any moment he expected the tomb to burst open and then that thing would be free. He wished he had kept the cleaver, but it was inside, as useless as 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 strode towards the tomb in order to inspect the dynamite, but he did not have time to call out.

Reality was swallowed by the explosion.

Peter and the priest staggered backwards, ears ringing. There were no flames, only thick black smoke that rose in gouts from the crumbled stone remains. Splattered across them—and the graves between them—were the bloody remains of Manuel Churchill, Vampyre Hunter.

Peter glimpsed wet strings glistening among the remains and was sick again, his empty stomach straining. The smoke stung his eyes and his throat.

“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 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 headstones and looked at the ruin. His breath came in shallow gasps. Father McCafferty went to Manuel Churchill’s belongings—the bags were splattered with dust and guts but were otherwise intact. Inside he found a stoppered, unmarked bottle that smelt unmistakably of scotch whiskey.

The priest took a swig from the bottle and 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. Yet even from this distance, Peter was certain that he could still hear something scratching beneath the rubble.