Of the six travellers new come to this parish from Lincolneshire, Samuel York1, Michael Tremayne and Nicholas Hat2 were beset, caught up in the onslaught of the hideous red mist of death upon this Merchant Alfred Dawlish.
At the sound of their anguished cries of pain, George Branston called out. “Hallowed ground! Make for the graveyard!”
Jonas3 flung his ungainly frame over the low churchyard wall and came up on the other side, blunderbuss held level in both hands, but had to hold until he might have a clear shot.
Kato joined the other three, plunging into the cloud that had inflicted the myriad tiny wounds upon them. The blades of the four men cut swathes through the red cloud about them, but met no resistance.
“It’s no good!" exclaimed Nicholas Hat in desperation. “What can I—— What can I do?”
Tremayne rolled expertly out of the cloud and over the wall to the prospective safety of God’s demesne, and the others had begun to doubt his suggestion to attack with good cold steel when it seemed a certain stroke of York’s scimitar caused the pricking assault to abate.
And then the cloud rolled over and away from them in pursuit of Dawlish, who stumbled mindlessly as Branston manhandled him back, managing to keep him for the moment just beyond the outer fringe of the mist.
As this passed over Kato the outlander and failed to reach Branston and Dawlish, Jonas had his shot. He pulled the trigger on his blunderbuss, but hot lead had no more effect than the cold steel of his companions.
York followed up on the cloud and slashed at its outer margin, but had no sense of inflicting any harm upon it.
“I think you’ve got to be in it,” he called out. (“To win it”?)
Tremayne came back with a running jump over the wall into the heart of the cloud and laid about him with cut and thrust, but to no greater effect.
“Gah!” he cried in frustration. “You must have to be in it for longer than I…”
Meanwhile, with the hideous cloud gaining on Branston faster than he could move Dawlish away, the old scholar took his own advice. He hauled his charge aside, out of the lane down which the swirling red cloud advanced and bundled him over the wall into the churchyard. But the inexorable red vapour poured unhindered over the wall onto the consecrated ground and Branston could save only himself, managing to stumble just ahead of the tide that engulfed the helpless Dawlish.
Kato selflessly rushed in to Dawlish’s side, half thinking the noblest deed might be to give him a merciful death in the manner of Nippon. More red weals started out all over his skin, and for a moment he was unmanned with the pain of it, but with an effort of will he collected himself.
“Now is the time we can hurt it,” he cried out valiantly — through gritted teeth.
York ran in to the attack. Tremayne kept to the heart of the cloud, standing now astride the writhing body of Dawlish as he cast about him with the blade of his rapier, seeking any part of the cloud that would feel its bite.
Branston surveyed the grave yard, looking for the grave of the wronged man, Roger Ivens.
“Here!” he called. “A strand of the mist is drawn out behind it, threading between the gravestones!”
And with that he threw himself upon it, but sought in vain to break the tenuous strand.
Nick Hat, having lost hope of harming the cloud itself, hurdled the church yard wall and fell upon the misty thread, but his long sword had no more effect upon it than Branston’s grasp.
Kato laid about him with his katana. Jonas, his blunderbuss primed, switched it to his left hand and drew a knife, plunging into the cloud and stabbing in every direction. Hat, Tremayne and York each continued the attack, but none repeated Sam’s earlier success, as the cloud continued to pierce their skins with its tiny biting wounds. Sam York steeled himself (BENNY) against a moment of despair (••) in which he began to fear that this horror had a spirit mightier than any of theirs, and would be the death of them all.
The fighters in the cloud began to sense that the evil of the cloud was somehow sapping them of the heart to truly deliver it any hurt. Jonas, with his claim that God was on his side, stabbed out with his steely knife, but still couldn’t kill the beast.
Branston gained his feet and ran on amongst the graves, following the strand of mist to its source in the paupers’ section of the graveyard, where a crude headstone bore the name of the hapless Roger Ivens. As his comrades gave battle in vain he hurriedly deposited a rough circle of consecrated chalk powder about the grave.
“Sit timor Domini super eos qui contemnens,” he intoned.
Sam York battled on with defiant determination and now seemed to strike true, he knew not why. The barrage of needling attacks abated, the cloud seeming fainter now.
“Sint autem commareantur iudicio iusti Angeli Domini.”4 cried Branston with finality, and the fighters saw the redness of the cloud pale further.
Nicholas Hat, in despite of his unhealed belly wound, battled on against the horror that had earlier so unmanned him. With an especial effort of defiance against the intangible will of the thing (BENNY) he swept his blade full-circle around his head, and in that instant the pricking attacks stopped and the unholy red mist faded into the night air and was no more.
“Ah, ah, where is it?” exclaimed Dawlish. “It’s gone! Oh, thank ’e, kind sirs, thank ’e!”
“What in heaven’s name was that?” asked a panting Sam York, of no one in particular.
“That was, I think,” offered Tremayne, “a peculiar and especially pernicious, gaseous form of a creature known in the lands of Eastern Europe as a ‘vampire’. Vampirus miasmus, you might call it.”
“I don’t know about that, but it was a pain-in-the-assmus all right,” blustered Nick Hat, who was in fact still clearly much shaken by the encounter.
Kato bent to Alfred Dawlish and helped him up to a sitting position. He asked him what happened, and the man explained that he’d been returning home to Torkertown when he beheld the red menace pouring over the grave yard wall toward him. He tried to get away but it was upon him like a thousand tiny teeth, and he had no memory of anything, apart from the odd moment where he was aware of being dragged down the lane, strangely light-headed, and the strangers’ blades flashing over his head as he lay on the ground.
Having spent these few minutes away across the graveyard, Branston now returned. Jonas asked him what he’d been doing, and he responded that he’d despaired of ‘killing’ the thing with weapons that passed harmlessly through it, and had sought to see if Ivens’ unquiet spirit remained at his grave and might be reasoned with.
“Huh,” sniffed Tremayne, sensing that this was scarcely half the truth.
“That cloud bore no resemblance to any haunting phenomenon that I’ve ever heard of,” said Branston.
Tremayne repeated his conclusion that it was a form of vampire. “It was a cloud of red, which took a prick of blood with every wound it inflicted. Poetic justice upon those whose actions had ‘bled Ivens dry’.” He went on to explain that as a vampire, one way it could be banished would be to exhume Ivens’ body, decapitate it and stuff its mouth with garlic. Kato thought retrieving any body from burial was a good idea, but Branston was wary of the explanations they might have to make, and unconvinced by Jonas’ insistence that they could all place their faith in his religious authority over the Torkertown vicar.
The other way to prevent the vampire from reforming and attacking again, Tremayne suggested, would be to make Dawlish atone -– indeed to make reparations to Ivens’ widow. This seemed an altogether more satisfactory approach.
Weak as he was, Dawlish resisted this. But they got him safely home, Jonas dressed his wounds as best he was able, bade the housekeeper fetch a revitalizing draught of warm ale, and gained a measure of his confidence. He admitted to having met with a dark figure, as had been said of the other victims of this horror, but this had been no stranger. It was only goodwife Ivens in the mourning black of her widow’s weeds begging him for coin, which of course he had refused.
Tremayne noted that James Carter, Thomas Muchly, Nathaniel Drake and John Prestwick had all refused and were all dead, though this was through the protective ire of her dead husband rather than through any curse of widow Ivens’ own. Jonas seized the still-weak Dawlish and preached hellfire and brimstone in his face until he weakly conceded that he would make it right. He would go round and talk to the woman in the morning, apologize, and make her an offer of funds; indeed he had a sum in mind…
None of the travellers greatly trusted that Dawlish would be as contrite by the morning, nor if they allowed him to speak to widow Ivens alone. Despite the hour, they roused the woman and looked on as Dawlish said his piece. With great dignity she expressed her relief not to have to sell her home, and not to have to go to Bristol to live on her sister’s charity.
The six travellers went to their rest in The Lamb and their sleep was not disturbed till morning.
Play for Today:
4 “Let the fear of the Lord be upon them whom he despiseth. / Let them quake before the judgment of the righteous angels of the Lord.”