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  • by Mackenzie O'Rear

Chapter Four - A Matter of Incentive

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

Written by Mackenzie O'Rear

Edited by Brien Bigelow

When Richard swooped in that night, hunting him, Vincent had smelt something familiar. He had always known Maria’s fiance to be a bully and ruffian, but mostly harmless. After all, the insults Richard had flung at him were the same ones he had heard all his life. The smell had changed all that. When Vincent inhaled him, he passed Maria’s perfume, and beyond the gunpowder, he sensed blood.

Not just one person’s, either. Richard bared the scent of someone who had killed many in violent ways. The fragrance had soaked into his very skin, and Vincent could almost taste it in the air when he arrived. What’s more, his heart beat in an odd way. It had not been caused by fear, no. It was plain to Vincent Richard was excited. He was happy to be hunting Vincent down, as if he were some big game hunter out on safari.

What kind of person was Richard? What’s more, if he was as murderous and bloodthirsty as Vincent had suspected, what of the man who employed him, Marlowe? What would they do to Maria if he got too close?

Finn could feel the wolf coming. It was galloping through his mind, waiting for the exit to present itself. He held up the vial of the shining, silver liquid and watched it dance in the glow of the moonlight. It was his last vial of quicksilver, stolen from an apothecary two days ago.

‘Not yet,’ he whispered to the wolf. ‘Not quite yet.’ Finn had to ingest the liquid metal right before he was going to change to achieve maximum results in keeping the wolf docile. There was still a little while to go before the pain would reach a crescendo. That was what he was waiting for.

‘Not long now,’ said a familiar voice. ‘I don’t think you’re going to make it.’ Finn looked up to see the face of his elder sister looking down at him.

‘You’re not real, Martha,’ said Finn. ‘Go away.’The hallucinations had gotten so much stronger now. Following him around. Mocking him in his sister’s voice.

‘You’d like that,’ she laughed. ‘For me not to be real. Did you know Father said the same about you?’

‘Be quiet. You’re nothing but the mercury talking.’

‘Honestly when you ran away, it had to have been the happiest day of his life.’

‘You’re lying,’ he said, unsure. ‘You’re always lying to me. Even when we were kids. Telling me I was going to die.’

‘One of us is lying, yes,’ she said smiling. ‘But are you sure it’s me? If it’s any consolation, I do think you’re going to die this time.’

‘Do you ever shut up?’ he roared to the now-empty forest. He looked around for any signs of his ethereal sibling, but there was nothing. ‘Good riddance,’ he said, leaning against a tree. He clutched his head as the wolf began to claw at the inside of his skull.

‘Soon enough,’ he said. ‘You damnable beast.’

‘I do hate waiting though,’ said a smooth voice from above. ’t’s just no fun.’ Finn looked up into the trees wildly, searching for the source of the unfamiliar voice.

‘Who’s there?’ He asked. ‘What do you want?’

‘To enjoy the show, of course,’ said Jack. ‘And perhaps to introduce you to a new friend.’

‘Don’t need friends,’ cried Finn. ‘Now show yourself!’

Jack appeared quietly behind Finn and tapped him on the shoulder. Finn flung around wildly to see the scarlet eyes and wide grin of his supposed new friend.

‘I felt that,’ said Finn. ‘You’re real.’

‘It depends on whom you ask,’ replied Jack. ‘But I certainly like to think I am.’

‘You need to leave,’ said Finn. ‘I don’t need to be killing some daft clown in the middle of the forest.’ Jack laughed at this. No one had ever compared him to a performer before. At least not to his face.

‘I’m serious,’ said Finn. ‘You’re in danger.’

‘What?’ Laughed Jack. ‘From that little puppy you’ve turned into?’

‘You know?’ asked Finn. Jack looked almost lovingly back at him.

‘Of course I do, my friend,”’said Jack. ‘And it is beautiful! Shame you keep it bogged down with this.’ Jack held up the vial of mercury. Finn’s eyes grew wide as he searched his pockets desperately. He looked back at Jack.

‘Give it back,’ he said, his hand outstretched. ‘I need it.’

‘No you don’t,’ said Jack pulling it away. ‘But if you catch me, it’s yours.’ With that, he released a ball of blue flame from his mouth and leaped back. Finn inhaled the smoke and lunged after him, just missing him.

“This way! This way!’ cried Jack. ‘We have to meet the the other guest!’ He then vanished to the edge of the city. Finn had no idea what he was talking about, and he didn’t care. He only knew he needed that vial back. He ran after him.

Marlowe watched from a high window as London breathed with life in the morning sun. People, both high and low class, flooded the now-safe streets to do their menial tasks of the day. He took a long drag of his pipe as he turned to his office. Medical books, both new and, were strewn about his desk along with various volumes on folklore.

He knew the truth to all of life’s mysteries could be found where history intersected with truth and legend. That was what drew him to the revenant virus from far off Haiti to the vampiric one from the far reaches of Romania. One simply had to know how the pieces lined up together.

Marlowe was a brilliant surgeon for his time, saving countless lives on the operating table. But for every person he saved, two or three more died in their place due to some unknown disease or random act of violence. He could never remember the names of his patients, but he could tell them every detail of their faces, as the last vestiges of life were snuffed out. Some had seemed at peace, while many more stared at him, pleading with him to not let them go.

It was that very fear that had gripped him, fusing itself to his spine whenever he thought about the end. It was not altruism that brought him to the society. He had no love for his fellow man, being drawn to the medical field purely for its endless supply of test subjects. He wanted to conquer death for himself, and he wished to do so without succumbing to the mindlessness of the revenant or the various weaknesses of the vampire.

Ah, yes. The vampire. He had underestimated the power he had bestowed upon the escapee, Vincent. Surely no one could have predicted how rapidly he would have discovered his powers, let alone use them to bend the wills of weak minded around him. And now he was out there somewhere, stalking the streets of London. He needed to be dealt with quickly. That was Richard’s job and for the first time, his prey had eluded him.

And on top of it all, there had been sightings of giant wolves roaming the streets at night. Marlowe had heard stories of such creatures, but always assumed the transformation was too fantastical to be real. Now he wasn’t so sure…and thought how it might be worth it to look into such a thing.

Marlowe’s musings were cut short when a knock came from the door.

‘Enter,’ he said, sitting down in his large chair behind his desk. Francis Blake walked in, dark circles under his eyes and carrying a large and ancient tome.

‘Blake, my good man,’ greeted Marlowe. ‘It’s been a long time since we last saw you. Have a seat.’ Blake looked around nervously before taking the offered chair, opposite Marlowe.

‘I…I need your help,’ said Blake in a shaky voice. ‘Something terrible has happened.’

Finn would get close; Jack would disappear and reappear some distance away. If it hadn’t been for smell of that blue smoke, Finn would have lost track of him awhile ago. It was an unmistakable brimstone, and for once Finn was glad he had the nose of a wolf.

Jack led him further into the city of London, occasionally sending words of encouragement to his pursuer. ‘Almost there,’ he would shout. ‘You’ve almost got me!’

Finn had finally rounded a corner when he saw Jack leaning with his back against the wall of a fancy building. He pounced on Jack, who let himself get hit before laughing.

‘Yay!’ said Jack. ‘You did it! And I didn’t even have to hold back!’

‘Where is it?’ asked a desperate Finn. ‘Where’s the vial?’ He began to rummage in Jack’s pockets who disappeared and reappeared behind him.

‘I don’t have it anymore,’ said Jack, dusting himself off. Finn stood up to his full height and faced him.

‘Liar!’ said Finn. ‘Where did you hide it?’

‘Can’t you smell it?’ asked Jack. ‘Go on. Give it a sniff.’ Finn stared at him, confused, before finally taking in a whiff of his surroundings. There it was, it was faint, but consistent.

‘It’s close,’ said Finn. ‘Very close.’

‘Very good,’ smiled Jack. ‘Inside this building, actually. Now you better hurry up before she wakes up. See you both soon. Ta ta.’ He twirled his cape and vanished into the darkness.

‘What on earth are you?’ Finn asked the shadows, but was soon interrupted by another round of pain from the wolf that had become riled up by the chase. He turned home and began to look for an entrance. He spotted an open window two stories up.

‘Damn,’ he said to himself. He looked around to make sure he was alone before bending his knees. In a single jump, he had reached the windowsill and pulled himself inside of a very elegant and fancy bedroom.

‘Empty,’ he whispered. ‘That’s a bit of luck.’ He closed his eyes and let his senses map out the house. The servants were asleep in their quarters. A lone man was toiling away with something in his study. Finn took a deep breath and smelled the mercury below.

‘Basement,’ he said to himself, and began to sneak about the house. The wolf had given him an awareness he never thought a man could have, as he made his way down to the second floor without a sound. There was a fire going, and the man Finn had sensed was pouring over a large book on a desk facing away from the door. The room was filled with artifacts from a far-off land Finn hadn’t recognized, while the man seemed to be chanting in an unknown language.

Finn didn’t have time to speculate. He found the entrance to the basement and opened it as slowly as he could, only letting the softest creeks escape. He descended into the darkness, of which the wolf allowed him to see clearly, as if it were day, deep into what appeared to be a wine cellar.

He followed the scent of the mercury to the centre of the cellar, where the vial stood on what appeared to be a large, ornate coffin made of gold. Finn approached it carefully until he heard a thunk upstairs that sent a shiver through the whole house. To Finn’s horror, the vial broke on the golden surface, as the mercury dribbled into the sculpted mouth.

‘No,’ he whispered to himself. ‘Please no.’

As he said that, he heard a murmur. Had someone seen him? Had he been followed there? Finn looked around wildly, until he realised where it had been coming from. Someone was in the coffin and they were trapped.

‘If what you’re saying is true,’ said Marlowe. ‘this is quite a mess. Do you have any clues?’

‘Someone broke a vial of mercury inside the sarcophagus I had built. That’s all I was able to discover.’

‘I see,’ said Marlowe raising his eyebrows. ‘Would that sarcophagus be made of gold? As it was back then?’

‘Yes,’ replied Blake. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘We may be able to use it,’ replied Marlowe. ‘We will help you, Blake. Have it sent to Frederick’s laboratory. I assume you know where it is. We’ll keep in touch.’ Marlowe stood up and tried to open the door when Blake stopped him.

‘One more thing,’ said Blake. ‘If we find her, I want to be part of your team.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I’m the only one who has successfully performed the ritual. If you want my knowledge, you will accept me.’ Marlowe closed his eyes and sighed. He was holding back the urge to strike the man before him. No one gave him orders.

‘Very well, Francis,’ he relented. ‘We will send for you when the time is right. Is that agreeable?’

‘Yes,’ replied Blake. ‘I look forward to it.’ Marlowe opened the door and let Blake out, grabbing his tome along the way. Another one who seemed to be forgetting his place with his delusions of grandeur. He would have to deal with them all soon enough, but for now he would wait.

He walked over to crystal decanter he often went to when he needed to be calmed down, and poured himself a drink of amber liquid. He inhaled its flavor before downing it. He went to pour himself another glass, when he another knock at the door drew his attention.

‘As I said, Blake, we will notify you.’ The door opened, and Richard slipped in.

‘It’s me, sir,’ said Richard. ‘I have something to report.’

‘You found him?’ Marlowe asked. ‘You found Vincent?’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘But I was close.’

‘But you didn’t capture him?’ Richard looked away, attempting to hide the anger that was welling up in him. ‘You let him get away. Don’t tell me you’re slipping.’

‘No, sir,’ replied Richard. ‘I was tracking to what I believed to be it, but…’

‘But what, Richard?’ asked Marlowe impatiently.

‘I don’t know what it was, but it managed to lead me right to my quarry.’

‘What was he doing?’

‘It was attempting to accost Maria of all people. I don’t know how it tracked her down.

When I confronted it, it turned to mist and vanished.’

Finn leaned over the coffin, and could hear the voice of someone struggling.

‘Hold on,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you out’ He braced himself against the lid and slowly pushed it off, revealing a person, wrapped tight in bandages, wearing a golden mask.

‘The hell?’ said Finn. ‘Hold on. Hold on.’ He pulled the mask off and began to rip away at the wrappings that imprisoned the person’s arms and legs. They sat up and pulled the wrappings from the head to reveal a beautiful young woman. Sarah Blake had been awakened. She turned to Finn.

‘Are you okay?’ asked Finn. ‘Are you hurt?’

‘Thank you. They told me you would come,’ she said. ‘Child of Anubis.’

‘What?’ said Finn, scratching his head. ‘My name is Finn.’ She bowed to him.

‘If that is what you would prefer,’ she said, jumping out of the sarcophagus. She looked up at the ceiling. ‘My father is coming.’ Finn swore quietly. Sarah placed her hand on his shoulder.

‘My revenge will have to wait,’ said Sarah. ‘I will help you, Finn. Hold this for me.’ She handed him a nearby sack and began to pile her canopy jars inside. After that, she walked over to an ancient tome that lay on a table near the head of the sarcophagus and began to tear pages out, seemingly indiscriminately and shoving them in the bag as well. When she was finished she pulled Finn into the darkness under the stairs as her father descended. As he stepped away from the bottom stair, Sarah pulled Finn quietly up them. As they reached the front door a voice screamed out from the basement.

‘Sarah!’ Blake screamed. ‘Where are you?’

‘Hurry,’ Sarah whispered to Finn. ‘This way.’ They left through the front door and began to run down the street. Finn, in between the pain, directed them to a sewer entrance he had used to get in and our of the city on occasion.

They descended into the darkness, Sarah supporting him as he held his chest in pain. They hadn’t gone far when Finn collapsed to the ground.

‘Go,’ he said to Sarah. ‘You need to get out of here. You’re not safe.’ She leaned down and held his face between her hands.

‘I will not leave you,’ she whispered. ‘I am here.’

‘No,’ pleased Finn. ‘I didn’t get the quicksilver. It’s gonna be even more uncontrollable. You need to run.’

‘Your wolf will not hurt me,’ she whispered. ‘The spirits told me so.’ He grabbed onto her arms and pushed her away. He began to disrobe.

‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘I’m a monster. Now run!’

‘Mist you say?’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Richard. ‘Vanished right before my eyes.’ ‘He appears to be growing stronger every night,’ said Marlowe. ‘And you mentioned Maria?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Richard with a scowl. ‘I believe he had her in a trance when I got there.’

‘Of course,’ replied Marlowe, slapping the table. ‘Why didn’t I think of it before? He was always fond that girl.’

‘I beg your pardon, sir?’

‘Don’t you see? When you’re hunting, you must set the proper bait. Maria is that bait for our vampire. Unless of course you have an issue with that, being her fiance and all.’ Richard smiled as what Marlowe was saying dawned on him.

‘Not at all, doctor,’ said Richard. ‘In fact I think I know exactly how to draw it out. I’ll need a dozen men, though.’

‘They’re yours,’ said Marlowe. Richard nodded and made for the door when Marlowe stopped him. ‘Oh and Richard, if he gets away again, we may have to reconsider your place in this organization. So don’t let him outsmart you again. Is that clear?’ Richard’s hand tightened on the doorknob.

‘Yes, sir,’ he replied.

‘And do be careful,’ said Marlowe, indicating the horizon where clouds had begun to gather. ‘It appears there’s a storm on its way.’ Richard nodded and left without another word.

It seemed all the pieces were falling into place and he had barely had to lift a finger. He had never been one to really count on luck, but Marlowe had always been one to take advantage of it when it presented itself. There appeared to be more than one monster stalking the streets of London in the dark, and he could capture them all…He smiled to himself before gazing out the window once more to the ever-changing world of London.

She watched as his skin began to tear and his bones began to break and rearrange all as he screamed in pain. Claws began to grow from his fingers, as a thick black fur covered his body. A tail had sprouted out from behind, as his ears began to elongate. His face pushed forward while his teeth grew sharp. The only things that didn’t change were his eyes that stared at her, scared of what she had feared he would do to her.

The screaming faded into heavy breaths, as the wolf looked up at Sarah. It approached her as if she were prey when she extended her hand. The wolf sniffed it gingerly, before looking up into her calming eyes that had seen too much. It walked over and gently nuzzled her. They sank to the floor as she petted his head. They sat there and watched ,as the moon watched over them both through a grate with its soothing light. As she laid her head gently onto his side, exhausted from her rebirth, rising and falling with his breath, she whispered “I will protect you, Finn”.

Edited by Brien Bigelow

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

Story Editor Chuck Marra

Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company

Victorian Nightmares 2018

Copyright 2018

All Rights Reserved

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