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  • by Mackenzie O'Rear

Chapter 15 - Following a Lead

Edited by Brien Bigelow

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

The players were moving exactly as they needed to. Spring Heeled Jack had been quite proud of himself, poking and prodding just as much as he needed to. It was both elegant and chaotic, and so much fun for him. The downside of which has led London bare of fun.

No man turned into a wolf. No dead girls were brought back to life. No one with large fangs who vanished into mist. No inquisitive girl to ask him questions. Even their enemies had fled the city in hopes of catching up to their creations. The wax girl, in particular, seemed as if she would have been so much fun. A new element to an already thrilling game. For all the ordinary people left in London, it might as well have been devoid of all life.

It wasn’t much of a problem, though. Not for Jack. As he saw it, the game had changed in a way that never occurred to him before. Whereas he once relished in being chased, it was time for him to be the one in pursuit. The mere thought of such a simple idea had him laughing for what seemed like hours. The chase had been given all new life, but where to go first?

His playmates were now scattered across the world, but would following them be enough? What adventures were they having without him? It was quite rude, Jack thought, to have such a grand adventure without him, and he would need to move fast. He could feel it in his very bones that something larger was moving against them.

Maria kept her distance as she watched Richard board a train. She had followed him over the last few days, hopping carriage to carriage, onto a ship, never resting. He seemed both agitated and eager all at once, constantly twitching and moving. At all times he seemed to keep his hand close to what Maria could only assume to be a concealed weapon.

Near the beginning of her observations, when she had decided to follow him, he had met with Doctor Marlowe, as well as several men she had seen in passing at her father’s parties, though the names eluded her. There were two she didn’t recognise among them, one being a woman roughly her age, that spoke with an Irish accent and constantly carried a parasol, shading herself even in the dimmest of light, and a tall man with a thick beard that spoke with an equally thick Russian accent.

It was then she recalled Corrine’s description of those that brought her back from beyond, and thus she was able to deduce they were amongst Richard and Marlowe’s company. She did her best to disguise herself, which had not been easy, given her rather vibrant red hair, but she managed quite a bit of success with an overly large hat and a pair of glasses. As long as no one looked too closely, she seemed to blend in rather well.

The group exchanged pleasantries at a tavern, before moving on to the infamous Veritas club. Maria had known of the place from her father’s own membership but was never able to get him to reveal any details about the establishment, though, given its clientele, it became obvious to her of its more sinister nature.

She cursed silently to herself, knowing full well she would never get past the doorman, and even if she could, someone would be sure to recognise her. She was simply too well known in her father’s circles to be ignored, and if that wasn’t enough, the mere thought of a woman entering the building was out of the question, despite the Irishwoman’s invitation to the contrary.

To the outside observer, the following events would seem like pure coincidence and luck, but Maria had known better once she saw the familiar grin that seemed to be following her through her endeavors from a window on high.

Jack waved to her, before opening the window a crack, and disappeared in his usual manner. The only question now was how she would reach up there without anyone seeing her. Maria looked around wildly for the answer when she saw the form of Richard enter the very room she wished to reach. She would need to move fast in order to gain her next clue.

Throwing caution to the wind, she went round, to the back of the building, and found, to her relief, several crates of supplies stacked up within grabbing distance of the ledge to the building. She scrambled up them as well she could, cursing the day she had decided her fancy shoes were more fashionable than a pair of boots. But manage she did, barely making it onto the overhang, as a servant walked out from the back entrance and grabbed one of the smaller crates.

As gingerly as she could, she crept along the roof, hoping against hope no one from the neighboring buildings would see her from their window. She kept as low as she could, until she finally reached the window, though she dared not look inside. Instead, she closed her eyes and listened intently to their conversation.

‘Istanbul,’ said Marlowe. ‘And the one you’re seeking, Mr. Blake, is heading through France, or so the spirit of yours says.’

‘How can we trust her?’ said the man with glasses. ‘I still don’t even understand what she is.’

‘That is because you don’t listen’ said the Russian. ‘I apologise again, Blake. The spirit is fine work.’

‘Now, now,’ said Marlowe. ‘Let’s all calm down. Here., Maria heard as he unfurled some large piece of parchment. ‘Show us where they are specifically.’ Maria opened her eyes and decided to risk taking a peek inside. They all stood over a map of the world, studying it intently. Smoke filtered out of the room and through the window before dissipating quickly.

‘See?’ said Marlowe. ‘Just outside of Paris.’

‘Good,’ said the man they called Blake. “‘Very well done.’

‘What of my quarry?’ asked Richard. ‘Where is that thing?’ Smoke came pouring out again, and Maria couldn’t help but wonder where it was coming from. Surely it wasn’t from the fireplace. What baffled her even further was the smoke smelled faintly of a perfume she had once gotten overseas. Were they burning something?

‘He’s with that girl still, it would appear’ said Blake. ‘Right there in…How do you pronounce that?’

‘Istanbul,’ said Marlowe. ‘Though I have no idea how they ended up there.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Richard. ‘We know where it is. Let me go.’ Marlowe raised his hand, silencing Richard.

‘I believe your talents would be more helpful with Blake’s pursuit,’ said Marlowe. ‘While it seems that young mummy of Blake’s is not much of a threat, her protector could prove worrisome.’ Maria could sense Richard smiling at the idea of killing something so dangerous.

‘Only at night,’ said Blake. ‘Our spirit says he isn’t much of a threat during the day.’

‘Good,’ said Marlowe. ‘But just in case we do encounter his more…monstrous form, we must be prepared to deal with it, which is why I had these made.” Maria heard several things clatter onto the table from Marlowe’s hand.

‘Fascinating,’ said the bespectacled man, picking up one of the objects. ‘I would very much like to study the creature.’

‘His condition fascinates us,’ said Marlowe before turning to Richard. ‘As for you, we feel this creature would be more suited to your talents.’

‘I already told you,’ said Richard. ‘I want the vampire.’ Marlowe sighed and looked at the others.

‘The problem is,’ said Marlowe. ‘We very much want Mr. Harrow alive. You simply cannot be trusted to fulfill that requirement.’ Richard looked away angrily. He knew full well he couldn’t lie on that account. His bloodlust was getting the better of him.

‘Fine,’ said Richard. ‘I’ll hunt your overgrown dog. But who’ll go after the bloodsucker?’

‘I will handle the matter personally,’ said Marlowe. ‘You’re not the only one with a score to settle.’

Istanbul had become much like London, afraid and on edge as they searched the streets for the foe they believed to be long dead. The difference was they had never forgotten the vampire that had stood so defiantly in the face of their armies, drinking their blood and impaling them on large wooden spikes. That hatred had given them the urge to learn how to kill what Vincent had become, and though the Ottoman Empire had never had need of it in the passing centuries, they had never forgotten just how effective fire could be against the bloodsuckers of the night.

It wasn’t safe for Vincent to even leave the haven they had found in the aqueducts, as every soldier knew the signs of vampirism as told to them by their predecessors throughout the years. Not as though Vincent was in any condition to travel. Corrine watched over him as his memory caught up with him.

He had taken a life and drained a human of his blood. It had filled him with life and a renewed hunger, but it had taken a toll on his gentle mind. He spent every second now, curled up with his head in his hands, shaking as he remembered how the soldier’s heart had stopped beating and his lungs gave their last breath. He lived it over and over again, to the point of madness.

Corrine had done her best to comfort him, telling him it had not been his fault. It had been bad luck and timing. She had even tried to share the blame, telling him she should not have woken him so early. It made no difference to Vincent, who still smelt the dry blood on his clothes. Corrine watched him deteriorate, a peaceful man who had shed blood.

‘Why didn’t you attack the other one?’ she asked him, as they hid from the mobs. It was the only thing she could think of to ask him that would get him to talk. ‘You were still in that frenzy.’ Vincent paused and looked up at her.

‘He didn’t smell right,’ he said, surprising himself. ‘I don’t know how to explain it.’

‘Can you try?’ she asked. ’It might prevent further incident.’ Vincent contemplated this, knowing she was right. If he were to overcome this, he would need to learn.

‘The man I…’ He paused, unable to say what he had done. ‘The older soldier. He was more…enticing. Like he would taste better.’

‘Why though?’ asked Corrine. ‘Does everyone have a different smell?’

‘In a way,’ he responded. ‘Some smell better than others. Usually adults. Children have almost no smell whatsoever.’

‘What about me?’ she asked. ‘How do I smell?’

‘I would never harm you, Corrine,’ he said. ‘I promise you that.’

‘That’s not what I’m asking,’ she said, ‘How do I smell to you?’ Vincent paused, before looking away. It was a difficult question he hadn’t really pondered, though it had made its presence known to him in the back of his mind. After all, he wasn’t really fond of the idea of knowing how tasty his friends smelt.

‘It’s hard to tell with you,’ he said. ‘Your scent fluctuates or is obstructed by multiple ones. There’s at least one part you that entices me.’

Corrine laughed. ‘Vincent,’ she smiled. ‘I’m a married woman.’

‘This is no laughing matter,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry I even said anything.’

Corrine frowned. ‘Vincent,’ she said. ‘I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m truly sorry.’

‘There’s nothing to be sorry for,’ he replied. ‘I’m a murderer now. That’s a simple fact. And what's worse…’ He didn’t want to say it out loud, but something had changed, now that he knew what human blood tasted like. It was exquisite and unlike anything, he had ever eaten. Rats and pigs were nothing compared to it, and when he became hungry again, he knew they would not be enough to satiate his hunger. It scared him.

Before he could finish his thought, footsteps began to ring overhead. Corrine grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. They ran through the sewers as fast as they could, desperate to put as much distance as they could, as far away from the sound of marching that could be done in such cramped conditions. They soon reached a stretch where the echoes of the soldiers faded and rested.

The Russian bent over the map and inspected it carefully.

‘This is accurate, yes?’ he asked.

‘Of course, they are,’ said Blake. ‘As long as we have these, we can find them.’ He gestured to the objects on the table.

‘I see,’ replied the Russian. ‘Is there any way to divine where they are headed next?’ Blake shrugged.

‘There are ways,’ said Blake. ‘But something is preventing us from seeing it.’

‘That is worrisome,’ said Marlowe. ‘But we will deal with that when the time comes. If I were to take a guess, I’d say the mummy and the wolf will head through Switzerland next.’ The man with the glasses glared at the spot on the map, a fact Blake seemed to notice.

‘That’s where your family castle is,’ he said. ‘Isn’t it, Baron?’

‘Doctor,’ said the man. ‘And it’s only a coincidence.’ Marlowe scratched his beard.

‘Perhaps,” he said. “Either way, we shall keep an eye on them.”

‘How will we communicate with one another?’ asked the spectacled Baron. ‘The post would never know where to go.’ Blake smiled at this.

‘Our spirit is once again able to solve our problem,’ he said. ‘Simply light the candle, and we will be able to communicate through the flame. It’s a wonderful little spell.’

‘Excellent,’ said the Russian. ‘So simple.’ Blake beamed at the praise as the Baron shook his head.

‘This doesn’t make sense,’ he said. ‘None of this makes any sense. How does any of this work?’

‘Magic,’ said Blake. ‘I could show you-!’

‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘There’s something more to it than that. There is a scientific explanation.’ The Russian put his hand on his shoulder.

‘You have seen it,’ he said. ‘What more do you need?’

‘Nothing is that simple,’ replied the Baron. ‘I’ll find out myself. Nothing is beyond my comprehension.’ The Russian sighed as Marlowe clapped his hands.

‘We have our assignments,’ he said.’We set out tomorrow.’ They all nodded as Maria moved, as she stealthily came back the way she came in. She watched as the group exited the front entrance and went their separate ways. It was there she decided her best bet would be to follow Richard’s party. He was predictable, and she knew his blind spots perfectly.

The next day she followed him, the Baron, and the Russian across Britain, until they landed in France, where they hoped a train. She kept as close as she could without giving herself away. In some ways, the chase excited her. It was an adventure, the likes of which she had read about in countless books, but never dreamt of going on herself. She only wished Vincent was here to share it with her.

She would see him soon enough. She could feel it in her chest. But now there was a mission attached to it. If she could find the others, perhaps they could prove to be allies, but only time would tell. For now, she stayed quiet and would bide her time. The moment had come, she thought, looking at Richard, for the hunter was to become the hunted. She sat back in her seat and pulled out a book, not so much for reading as to hide her face, and watched. Time was on her side, and she knew she had her part to play yet. No matter what, she would find Vincent, and even if that didn’t fix everything, she knew it was better than whatever her life had been. Through danger and darkness, she would be there for him.

It wasn’t much of a problem, though. Not for Jack. As he saw it, the game had changed in a way that had never occurred to him. Whereas once he relished in being chased, it was time for him to be the one who pursued. The mere thought of such a simple idea had him laughing for what felt like hours. The chase had been given all new life, but where to go first?

His playmates were now scattered across the world, but would following them be enough? What adventures were they having without him? It was quite rude, Jack thought, to have such a grand adventure without him, and he would need to move fast. He could feel it in his very bones that something larger was moving against them.

This very thought had caused him to pause. It had been such a long time since he felt something as silly as worry, yet here he was. His friend in the castle had warned him about it, of course, and in his usual fashion, Jack had barely paid any attention to the warning. But now it seemed less like a chase and more of a race.

That alone should have excited Jack beyond anything he could comprehend, yet it seemed to have given him pause for the first time in decades. It passed quickly, though, as he came to what he considered an extremely tough decision. Whatever loomed over and chased his ‘friends’ might actually catch up to them, and what would happen to them then? That simply wouldn’t do. If Jack were to continue to have his fun, not only would he have to pursue his playmates, but he would have to do what he did best and cause some mischief on their behalf.

There was little time to waste! Before he knew it, the countryside began to fly past him. His journey had begun, and there were miles to go, which only added to the tension of the game. The crossroad would be coming up soon, but that would be no matter.

Playing the hero, even when others didn’t realize it, was only truly entertaining if you came in to save the day at the last second. Then, of course, maybe it would be more fun to find their pursuers first? So many options only made sim smile more broadly than ever. To those who saw him would only go on to remember that shining grin of his. The night was young, and he was eager, and fate was begging to be tempted.

He raced the moon and stars, staying one step ahead of the approaching hour, until he saw what he was looking for. In the distance, chugging through the countryside, a steam engine made its way along the tracks. Without looking, he knew his luck had brought him exactly where he needed to be. It was time to have a little fun.

When the smoke began to pour from the candle, it granted the spirit the feeling of breathing. For the first time after what seemed like years of drowning, sights and sounds became real again, no longer distant memories. They were long sought-after sensations the spirit had been denied all this time.

It hurt to help these hapless sorcerers. Every time they put their hand through the smoke, gathering the wax to show them on the map their quarry, pain shot through the spirit, but the fact it was feeling anything at all gave it a strange sense of pleasure. In truth, they began to look forward to the pain, because it meant they would feel that aspect of being alive again.

It was addictive and seductive, but none of that would distract the spirit from its intended purpose. True, it had accepted the conditions put forth by the sorcerers, but it had its own agenda. It was an alliance of convenience that would benefit both sides in the end. The spirit would lead them right towards their quarry, and revenge would, at last, be had.

It kept closely to the candles the men used to summon it, always waiting for its chance to be of use, or help them communicate. They had to be careful, though, as the wax of those special candles wouldn’t last forever. It needed to be used sparingly, or else they would risk having to wait another month to perform the ceremony. Magic always has a price, after all.

Patience was a small price to pay, given the spirit could now divine their quarry with such simple actions. It served a double purpose of letting them fall into a false sense of security. Let them think no one was chasing them, they had somehow escaped the grasp of these mortals who chased them. After that, the element of surprise would be used to push them towards a trap.

It was brilliant, and a classical hunting trick that would prove most effective. The spirit hungered for it, and yearned to see the pain and misery befall the quarry. It was an animalistic pleasure it had allowed itself while it sat by, visible to its companions, waiting to be called again.

When the one known as Richard pulled out the candle on the train, it could feel the rush of excitement through whatever its being, now in the veil beyond, was. Blake, the one who had summoned the spirit, closed the compartment’s sliding door before pulling down the curtains, leaving them in mild darkness.

Richard set the candle onto the table between them, unfurled the map, and placed the doll on it. It was Blake who provided the match and lit the candles. Soon, an ethereal smoke began to pour from the source once more, and once there was enough, the spirit put its hand through and let it hover over the map. A single drop fell from its fingertips, and splashed onto the map.

‘Looks like they’re on the border of Switzerland,’ said Blake, as he snuffed out the candle. ‘Right on course.’

‘We’ll try and head them off there,’ said Richard. ‘Get them to move south.’

‘Shouldn’t be too much of a problem,’ replied Blake. ‘Especially with the little gift.’ Richard smiled and nodded at that. He pulled from his breast pocket a hidden revolver. He did that so often, admiring his new tool, opening and spinning the chamber, enjoying the sound it made. But it was the sight inside the chamber that excited the spirit the most.

The right tool for the right job. If only the spirit could hold it, and be the one to pull the trigger, as it had meant to do so long ago. But it would have to settle for the proxy in front of her, who claimed to be a crack shot. The spirit believed that, as it had felt a kindred spirit with Richard. The way his eyes moved and his muscles twitched. It was the sign of a hunter looking for his prey.

In another train headed south, the trip of Marlowe, Frederick and Father Grigori sat in their own compartment. They had not summoned the spirit in some time, their own particular prey having stayed in Istanbul for whatever reason, and to call the spirit would be a waste of wax. The spirit didn’t particularly care for their hunt, but Father Grigori always seemed appreciative, if not a little too enthusiastic about the spirit’s part in all of this.

Then there was Frederick, who seemed to be unable to see, and something jutted from the smoke. It frustrated him to no end, thinking it was all some elaborate ruse from Blake and Marlowe, yet there he was, nose in his notebook along with them. It was somewhat amusing to see him constantly try and reason out something that already had an acceptable explanation for those willing to listen.

Soon enough, he would be persuaded to see it their way. It was only a matter of time before he saw his creation and appreciate what had led him to her. He seemed to grow more agitated and annoyed with each passing day and lighting of the candle. Even his elegant handwriting seemed to be deteriorating with his fragile perception of the world.

It was none of the spirit’s concern what he thought, or how he fooled himself. It would do its job regardless of its own pleasure. If a spirit could dream, it would have imagined the blood flowing from that fowl beast’s body over and over again. Listening to the shrieks of pain like a symphony in the night sky.

The spirit sat in its muted world and waited patiently between the two trains. Somewhere in two places at the same time. There was an excitement to it, just as there had been in life. The calm before the storm, and the moment before the kill. It made the final moments all the sweeter.

‘You should have just left me,’ said Vincent. ‘You should do so now.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Corrine. ‘I’m not leaving the city without you. Besides, I doubt I could leave with all of Istanbul on guard. You wouldn’t leave me either.’

‘You’re not a killer,’ he said.

‘Part of me might be,’ she said. And in truth, she did feel the memories deep inside her, of one who had taken a life. She could feel the surge of adrenaline as it had happened. Then again, she could feel it in conflict with another part of her that could have been the victim.

‘I told you,’ he said. ‘This isn’t funny.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘It isn’t. But sitting there, moping round, isn’t going to help you. It won’t cure you. It won’t help you see Maria again.’ Vincent turned away from her, ashamed of himself. Before anything else could be said, Corrine’s stomachs rumbled with hunger.

‘You stay there,’ she said. ‘I have to go find something to eat.’

‘It’s dangerous out there,’ said Vincent.

‘What am I supposed to do?’ he asked. ‘Starve? I’ll be quick. I promise.’ Before Vincent could say another word, she vanished down a tunnel and out of sight. He listened, until her three heart beast vanished entirely before cradling himself again. He relived the memory over and over again in his head, desperate for an answer. As he sat there, an unfamiliar voice spoke to him in the darkness.

‘Evening, fella,’ said the voice in an English accent. Vincent looked up to see a figure leaning against the wall, his face obscured by countless bandages. ‘Mind if I join ya?’

‘Leave,’ he said. ‘You don’t want to be here.’ The man laughed.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘So you’re the one who killed that soldier.’

‘Maybe I am,’ said Vincent. ‘All the more reason you should leave.’

‘I would if I could,’ said the man. ‘But honestly, I prefer your company. Did the city a service, yes sir.’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Vincent, standing up. ‘I killed a man.’

‘Sure did,’ said the stranger. ‘But he was as corrupt as the day is long. His wife would probably thank you too.’

‘Who would thank me for such a horrid act?’asked Vincent. The man laughed again.

‘She lives just a few rows down,’ he said. ‘Come on. I’ll show you’ The stranger motioned for him to follow, and Vincent did so. They made their way through the tunnels, until they saw daylight shining through a hole in the ground. The stranger pointed through it to a woman who was sweeping the porch of a small domicile.

‘Is that the man’s wife?’ asked Vincent. She was an older woman who wore dark clothes in mourning. She moved slowly and deliberately.

‘Look closely,’ said the stranger. ‘What do you see?’ Vincent focused his senses on the woman, and details began to emerge. The bruised limbs. The cracked rib. The patches of dry blood on the interior of her clothes.

‘She’s hurt,’ said Vincent.

‘Yup,’ said the stranger. ‘Now who do you suppose did that to her?’ Vincent looked at the stranger, trying to get a good look at his face that was hidden behind the bandages.

‘You could be lying,’ said Vincent. ‘How do I know that’s his widow?’

‘True,’ said the stranger. ‘You don’t know me. But I swear it’s the truth. Could probably smell him on her, though. If ya had the nose for it, of course.’ Vincent took a whiff, and sure enough, the man’s smell had been on her.

‘I’d say I believe you,’ said Vincent. ‘What then?’

‘Not for me to say,’ said the stranger. ‘But it would ease my conscience if I were in your place.’ Vincent turned to him.

‘Why are you telling me this?’ he asked. ‘Who are you?’

‘A friend,’ said the man, before disappearing. He reappeared on the other side of Vincent who whirled around to meet him.

‘You!’ cried Vincent. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Entertaining myself,’ said Jack. ‘Now I’d hurry if I were you.’

‘What do you mean,”’ said Vincent. ‘Why do I need to hurry?’ Just as Vincent asked, a scream filled the air of the Ottoman Empire. A loud shriek that could only belong to one person.

‘Because they just captured the stitched together lass,’ said Jack. ‘Best of luck to you both. Now take flight!’ He smiled at Vincent and vanished in his usual manner. Vincent didn’t have time to think. He focused all of his senses and listened for Corrine’s distinct heartbeats. They were racing, which would only make her easier to track. Without hesitation, Vincent fled down the sewer towards his friend.

Through the mountains the trains chugged along their tracks in their quickened pace, billowing smoke into the morning air. The hunters’ eyes, drooping with tiredness, and yet refusing to close. Sleep was for those who sought comfort, not the predator who hunted for pleasure.

That pleasure would have to wait, however, as the train put on its break. The screeching wheels filled the air, as Richard and Blake fell off their chairs. The hunt would have to wait, it would seem. The passengers were beginning to talk about a figure on the tracks blocking the way, bearing an alarming grin.

Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company

Victorian Nightmares 2018

All Rights Reserved

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