- by Mackenzie O'Rear
Chapter 18 - A Granted Peace
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
The train had come to a screeching halt, coming to a stop just short of Jack’s nose. He smiled and disappeared, just as passengers began to stick their heads out of the windows to see what had caused many of them to be flown forward so unceremoniously.
Richard had spotted Jack just before he vanished, and ran off after him, telling Blake to keep the train there until he came back. No excuses. He wouldn’t go far, but he would feel some sense of accomplishment if he could at least put a bullet into that caped stranger who had led him to one of his earlier humiliations. Blake was left to negotiate with the conductor, and that was all.
Maria had not been so lucky.
Corrine now stood, bound to a wooden stake near the edge of the city. A mob had gathered to watch her be interrogated, and eventually burned. They had spent all day, asking her in broken English over and over again where Vincent was, but she had refused to say anything.
They had withheld food and water, and had no qualms of using any means to suss out what she knew, but still she held her tongue. At one point, they had thought she had been under Vincent’s thrall and attempted to ‘break’ her from his supposed control with methods that would have been more suited to taming a wild animal than saving a human.
They were fanatics who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, and they had a hatred for whatever Vincent was that ran deep within their veins. Corrine lamented just how unlucky they had been, landing in the one city on Earth that not only knew what Vincent was, but held an undying contempt for him.
As morning rose over the castle and the storm dissipated, Sarah told Finn a tragic tale. She had learned in her meditations the history of the castle, listening to the echoes of the spirits that had resided there.
Many were old and faint, having died peacefully in their sleep or from some other natural cause, save for one. A young boy still walked the halls, scared, stuck within the castle walls. Sarah had heard his story.
The land round them had once been a prosperous place under the family’s guidance as it had for what appeared to be a century. The owners were a modest family, descending from the ancient lineage, and had lived in the castle until it was abandoned with the death of the patriarchal Baron some twenty five years ago. After that, it had been the empty place Finn and Sarah had stumbled upon, but its tragic history ran deeper.
The young spirit had an older brother in life. A bitter and self-contained man with an endless passion for science and very little interests for the goings-on of nobility. He spent endless hours, toiling away in the depths of the castle with whatever new endeavor had peaked his interest, forgoing the training that was required of him to eventually take up their father’s title when the time came. He refused all female suitors. Lacked any and all social skills. Yet he was beloved by his little brother, Martin.
Whatever drew the younger sibling to his older brother was beyond all comprehension. To the outside observer, the older brother seemed to detest Martin as a nuisance, always entering his lab without permission and whatnot. Even when he added locks to the already heavy door, Martin would find some hidden passageway in, and there he’d be, watching his older brother pour over large tomes or measuring liquid.
As they grew up, many of the townsfolk were beginning to get suspicious. Many local animals and pets had gone missing, and many suggested it had been the older brother abducting them for whatever purposes. Martin would hear none of it, and defended his brother endlessly, a small child shaming the citizens, for their lack of evidence seemed to be enough for them to stay quiet, or at least whisper not so loudly.
Then came the big day. Martin was to turn six years old, and he was so excited. The first thing he wanted to do was see his big brother. He got out of bed bright and early and slipped behind the bookshelf that would lead him straight down to the depths of the castle. He peeked inside his brother’s workspace, and screamed.
His brother was standing over some monstrous creature with a demented smile on his face. He was laughing to himself and shaking over the chimera that twitched and jerked as it tried to move its mismatched legs. It made a low, guttural noise that sounded more like choking than any sound an animal would make.
When Martin had screamed, it panicked, and began to run around the workroom. It tore through papers and vials of mysterious liquids. His brother didn’t seem to notice, more enthralled with how the creature moved round the room. He was actually laughing at the sickening display, enjoying it for whatever reason.
Martin believed his brother must have been put under some sort of spell or was tricked by the grotesque creature. He stepped forward and grabbed a large, sharp tool from the wall, and when the creature came near him, he struck. The thing fell before him, bleeding. Marin looked down to see its cat-like eyes staring back at him. That was when Martin had seen the creature had been afraid. It took a few more laboured breaths, then stopped breathing altogether.
The young boy looked up at his brother and froze. His older brother stared at him with quiet rage in his eyes. He was breathing heavily and soon bore down on his brother. Martin pleaded with him, begged him to let go, but he refused.
What happened next, according to Martin, was blur, but Sarah and Finn would go to suspect he simply didn’t want to remember what had actually happened. The memory was simply too painful for the young boy, something they could both relate to.
According to Martin, something exploded. It caused the roof to collapse in on itself, and the windows to shatter. Martin had not survived. Not long thereafter, the villagers began to talk again, and his mother and father no longer had the heart to deny the charges. They were broken people, and the villagers were angry. His older brother fled, and that was the last Martin ever heard about him.
The parents passed away soon thereafter.. His mother went first from what the local physician had called a ‘broken heart.’ A few years later, his father passed from away from consumption. The servants all left, and the castle was abandoned to be found in its current state.
When asked if he had seen his mother and father after they passed, Martin said yes, but only briefly. They had moved on not long afterward, and Martin had wanted to stay and see if his brother would return, but he never did. Even when he had given up hope and wanted to move on, he forgot how, and his spirt was stuck where Sarah had found him.
Maria had been outside Richard and Blake’s compartment moments before the train lurched, sending her straightforward and into a railing. She had hit her head badly, but was quick to recover, when Richard had first exited the compartment. She was relieved when he and Blake rushed by her, actually thankful he had not been the gentleman she once thought he was. A bleeding woman was of no use to Richard, after all.
Several others had rushed to her aid, but upon regaining all her senses, she declined their assistance and assured them she was fine. She got up and slipped into Richard’s compartment, locking the door behind her, and began to investigate.
She could smell the lingering smoke of the candle, but was remiss to find it was nowhere to be seen, Blake having extinguished it and returned it to his own pocket. However, they had forgotten the map they had been using and sure enough, there was a small red blotch not far from the Swiss Alps. She marked it down on her own map she kept in her notebook and froze.
The train had slowly begun to move again, and with it she could hear the heavy footsteps of her former fiance, followed by Blake. She could tell the former was in a foul mood for whatever reason, and was stomping through the corridor, causing the other passengers to scatter and retreat to their own compartments, terrified of the ex-soldier.
Maria’s heart began to race so fast she was sure it was going to leap straight out of her chest. Richard reached for the handle to the door and pulled, only for it to be stopped by the lock. He swore loudly.
‘Blake, what is this?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ replied his companion. ‘Is it locked?’
‘I would say so,’ said Richard. ‘Idiot. You must have locked it on your way out.’ Blake stared at him indignantly.
‘I was in a hurry,’ said Blake. ‘Some brash man ran out without so much as a thought of what he could have left behind. Luckily, I grabbed the candle, which is supposed to be your responsibility as well.’ They sat for a moment, staring at one another with hatred, Richard for being talked back to, and Blake for being blamed by such a lowly hunter.
‘Stay here,’ said Richard, through gritted teeth. ‘I’ll get the conductor to open it.’ Blake opened his mouth to say something along the lines of ‘see that you do,’ but wisely decided not to, once she saw the seething hatred in Richard’s eyes. Blake stepped aside and let the angry man stomp his way back to the front of the train.
Maria let out a sigh of relief. She would rather deal with someone like Blake than the monster that was Richard. She quickly looked around the compartment for a blunt object she might be able to use to knock the small man outside unconscious, but found she didn’t need to. Blake had walked far enough down the hall that she was able to slip out and make her way back to her seat.
When she sat down, she peeked round the corner, and sure enough there was a loud commotion. She hoped Richard was berating Blake when the cabin had been opened this whole time, but her heart sank when she heard a single word echo through the corridor: “Map.” She had left it sitting there in the open, and now they would be looking for the culprit.
Richard and Blake burst into her train car with a bang, opening each door in turn and inspecting each cabin thoroughly. She thought about ducking into the next car, but Blake was still in the hallway, and even if she managed to elude him a second time it would only a matter of time before they searched the whole train.
‘Drat,’ she muttered to herself. That was when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
During the torture, she saved her sanity by retreating within herself. Part of her witnessed something similar before, and had given her the resolve to power through it. What baffled the Ottomans was not only how resilient she was, but how quickly she heeled as well. Her whole body seemed to be fighting to cling to life and sanity, an army within her rallying to defend her. Corrine was realizing there was more to her resurrection than met the eye, but her queries would have to wait.
When the Ottomans had realized that they wouldn’t get anything out of her, they decided the next best chance to lure Vincent out was to hold a public execution for her. They were banking on him to come save her, and she was afraid deep down, he would. She was hoping he would flee the city and save himself and be with Maria one day, but she knew despite accidentally killing that soldier, Vincent was just too stubborn, and didn’t try to rescue her. He was doomed, and all because she had been careless.
She tried not to go quietly. She wanted to yell and scream for him to leave the city without her. To go be with Maria. But her mouth had been gagged, and she had to sit by, as they paraded her through the streets on a cart, announcing her capture as loudly as possible. It was all a big spectacle to draw him out. All she could do was cry. Another person, a close friend, who couldn’t help her. Even now she knew he was watching, waiting to swoop in and try to save her.
Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw every hidden soldier waiting with hidden weapons and torches ready to catch him. There would be no interrogation or imprisonment for him. He would be dead the moment they got ahold of him, no chance to work his power and cloud their minds, and he would never excuse using his mist as long as she was there and captured.
Even with everything that had happened to her, she was a creature of hope. Deep down she could feel, despite being so far from Gregory, she would see him again. Somehow Vincent, the eternal optimist, would have his happy ending as well.. But for the first time since her resurrection, she had felt hopeless, and began to cry.
As she did so, she could hear the echoing memories within her. ‘Is this the end?’ one asked. ‘Are we dying?’ She could feel the memories of hopelessness rise up in her, as each floated up into her mind. Dying of starvation in the streets. Being murdered by someone over a necklace. A neck breaking, as they swung from the gallows. She was letting them all rise up, as if they could drown out her own sorrow.
All the voices would be quiet soon. As some yelled out in terror, while others quietly accepted their fate. It broke her heart thrice over to listen to the children within her cry for their mothers, as a man stepped forward, torch ablaze. The Ottomans all seemed to be waiting until the last second for their quarry, with bated breath, hungry for blood. A centuries-long grudge that needed to be settled in their eyes, burning within them.
The man’s eyes almost looked sorry for her as he approached the pyre. He pulled the gag from her mouth, hoping her screams would be the final push Vincent would need to come to her rescue. She just stared at the ground, mustering all the courage she could, knowing she would fight the urge with everything she had.
The man with the torch looked out to his superior who was standing by. He gave a nod, and the man reached for the tinder beneath the pyre, when the predictable happened. Vincent came out of nowhere and knocked him away. The crowd gasped, as the ghost of their ancient enemy stood before them.
She whirled around, ready to scream, only to be met with a hand over her mouth that happened to belong the smiling friend that seemed to be following her. Her eyes went wide as Jack smiled at her, placing a single finger over his mouth. She nodded, and he lowered his other hand from her mouth.
‘Seem to be in a bit of trouble,’ said Jack. ‘How did this happen?’
‘What do you want?’ asked Maria, starring at him warily.
“To help, of course,” he replied. ‘Keep the game going.’
‘What on Earth are you talking about? she asked.
‘Live a few decades and you might understand,’ replied Jack. ‘That hasn’t happened yet, has it? No matter. Would you like some assistance?’
‘From you?’ she said, bemused. ‘Perish the thought.’ Jack smiled at her.
‘After all I did to help you,’ said Jack, trying to frown and failing horribly. ‘Reuniting you with your lost friend. Twice, no less, and you still don’t trust me? I’m hurt.’
‘I doubt that,’ said Maria. Jack did his best to suppress a giggle.
‘Guilty,’ he said. ‘But you don’t have any options.’
‘I could go through the window,’ she lied. ‘I just have to roll and hit the ground.’
‘You’re more than welcome to try,’ replied Jack. ‘But I don’t believe the pale lad would enjoy hearing how you died. Which reminds me, I do have to be in Istanbul soon, so if you could hurry it up., I’d appreciate it’ Before Maria could respond, she heard Richard’s loud footsteps, followed by another door being slid open. It sounded like there was only one more between them and her. She turned to Jack.
‘Can you actually get me out of here?’ she asked. He smiled, as something amusing occurred to him.
‘I admit,’ he said, laughing slightly. ‘I’ve never tried.’ Just as Maria was about to berate him, she heard Richard exiting the room and moving to the one next to her.
‘I think someone might be in there,’ said Blake. ‘I thought I heard voices.’
‘All the more reason to hurry then,’ replied Richard, his voice angry and eager to draw blood. ‘Let’s see, shall we?’ Maria panicked and grabbed Jack’s hand, just as the door slid open to reveal an empty compartment.
Richard and Blake threw open the door to see the compartment had been empty. Richard sneered at the space, before moving on to the next cart, Blake following closely behind him.
Meanwhile, Maria was witnessing the very strange sensation of being one place one moment, and another a moment later, without moving. To this day, she could never recall what she had seen in that odd journey, only once it was over she had fallen to her knees and vomited violently onto a patch of grass, though that part would still go unsaid in her various retellings of it.
Jack smiled and let out his high-pitch laugh into the evening air and began to dance around her, breathing his blue flair into the air. She too regained her composure and stood , albeit wobbling slightly, until she was face to face with him.
‘I suppose I should thank you,’ she said to Jack.
‘No need,’ he replied. ‘That was so funny it was worth the trip itself!’ She groaned as she held back another wave of nausea.
‘Where am I?’ she asked. ‘What is this place?’ She looked round her and saw she now stood on a grassy hill overlooking a small village. It was quiet and quaint, but wholly unfamiliar to her. She might have even recognised it from a book.
‘It’s no fun if I tell,’ said Jack. ‘You know that. But I certainly hope you know German, and I would stay here awhile. Never know when someone interesting might blow into town. Tata for now.’ He gave her a deep bow, before vanishing once again, and Maria was glad to get rid of him, though she would admit he had been useful.
She looked down again at the sleepy little village and pulled out her notebook. On the other side of the hill, large mountains covered in snow and surrounded that side of the village. She jotted it down in the notebook, and looked at the map, until she came to a realisation.
‘Austria,’ she said to herself. ‘Good.’ She had deduced where she was, at least in general, and was now ahead of the blotch on the map Richard and his companion had been following. Now all she had to do was wait and keep an eye out for…well she wasn’t sure, but she had confidence if she kept an eye out, she could discern what she was looking for.
She brushed herself off, and headed down to the small town where she would wait, though it wouldn’t be long. Switzerland shared a border with Austria, and somewhere deep in its mountains, a storm was beginning to fade away.
‘Run,’ said Corrine, knowing it would be no use. ‘Flee from here.’ Before she could even finish the sentence, and before Vincent could make another move, the soldiers hidden within the crowd were upon him. Nets were being thrown onto him, as countless flaming arrows rained down from archers above.
Vincent did his best to move in the mist to stay ahead of them, slipping through the shafts and holes of the nets, but it was no use. They were driving him back to the pyre, and it wasn’t long before he was standing next to Corrine. They had surrounded him with torches and spears, and the pyre was already begging to smoke. Vincent tried to shift through it, but the evaporated any mist that came close. They were doomed.
He turned to her and untied her, catching her as she fell from the stake. ‘You should have run,’ said Corrine. ‘I’m so sorry, Vincent.’
‘You wouldn’t have left me,’ said Vincent, as the flames began to encroach nearer and nearer on their platform. ‘That’s all there is to it.’ They embraced, wanting to enjoy their final moments in the company of a friend, when Vincent surprised Corrine. He gave a smile, something that warmed her heart, before holding him close.
It was at that point, she could feel something. Vincent’s heart began to race, and she felt coolness pouring out from him. She pulled away and saw the mist was practically gushing from him. They let go, as he stared down at his hands.
‘Vincent,’ she cried. ‘What’s happening?’
‘I’m…I’m not sure,’ he responded. ‘I just wish…’ His voice turned hoarse as his face changed. It became a snout with fur and elongated ears.
She stared at him, as mist poured out from his back and swirled above him, some of it being lost as the fire consumed it in the night air. It suddenly dawned on Corrine what they were. Vincent now stood before her with a large pair of leathered wings, his whole appearance changing to that of a massive bat. She gasped as he flapped them once, and a huge gust was set forth, blowing the fire out. The city stood, watching in silence.
Before the soldiers could react to the large creature that now stood in Vincent’s place, he grabbed Corrine with his claw-like hands and began to flap his wings once more. They began to ascend, and by the time the archers had regained their senses, they were too high for the arrows to reach.
Corrine looked down, as Istanbul faded from view, far away from the fires that would have been used to consume them. She laughed, as Vincent rode through the night sky, realising this was a sight none other had ever witnessed. Freedom high in the air, and it was beautiful. The stars were shining down on them as her entire body sighed with relief and amazement.
They headed north, far from the current dangers, and landed in a forest just as the dawn was rising. They collapsed, laughing, and exhausted from it all.
How did you know you could do that?’ she asked him.
‘I didn’t,’ he replied. ‘Some part of me just knew I could. I’ve learned when I feel that way, to just let it take over like with the mist.’
‘Thank goodness you did,’ replied Corrine. ‘Did you see the looks on their faces? It was brilliant. You were brilliant.’ If Vincent had enough blood running through his body, he would have blushed then and there. It was very rare for him to receive a compliment and he was enjoying it.
‘I think we’re close to Bulgaria,’ said Corrine. ‘That’s quite a way to travel.’
‘One I wouldn’t mind trying again sometime,’ said Vincent, who stopped. His eyes went wide, and he stood up, clearly on edge.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Corrine, nervously and quietly. ‘Is it the Ottomans?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t think so…Get behind me.’ Corrine did so, and stood behind him, as she noticed at least a dozen pairs of eyes staring at them from the underbrush. A pack of wolves soon quietly stepped forward. Worst of all, with the sun up, Vincent was no better than a normal human.
They were ready to run, as the wolves closed in, inching closer and closer, when they did something that caught the pair off guard. They stared at Vincent, and bowed.
The storm had cleared completely, and it would be time for the pair to move on soon, but before they did , Sarah insisted they help Martin move on. Finn had agreed, but he wasn’t exactly sure to what, though his companion assured him she would take care of it.
They then spent the morning diving down into the depth of the castle, pulling away what rubble they could, before they made it to what looked like a basement. There it was, under some heavy stones, like a small little skeleton. Sarah knelt before it and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she saw Martin staring at her with his watery little eyes. She had smiled at him, which he returned. She offered his hand, and he took it, and once they touched, they were transported from the castle to somewhere new.
They stood hand in hand in an ivory hallway, beneath a starlit sky. On either side of them, ivory pillars jutted out from the ground and loomed over them. Before them stood a figure with the body of a man with the head of a bird, which caused Martin to cower. He hid behind Sarah, who laughed.
‘It’s okay, little one,’ she said. ‘He is a friend.’ She indicated the bird heard. The man nodded and gave a little squawk, which Martin seemed to find amusing. They approached the bird and stood before him, as he pulled out a golden scale, a single white father in one of the dishes.
‘Go on,’ said Sarah. ‘Children always pass.’ Martin looked at her confused, but decided he wanted to be brave for his new friend. He stood and looked up at the strange God before him, and as he did so, a small light emerged from his chest. It landed softly on the empty scale, which began to creek. It tipped and swayed, but before long, the feather weighed down the other side, lifting the light.
If a bird could smile, it would have done so. Confused, Martin turned round to Sarah, whose smile he could understand.
‘Well done, little one,’ she said. ‘Time to see your momma and poppa.’ He smiled at her and nodded, as a door appeared near him. It swung open on its own and let out a blinding light. In an instant, Martin was gone ,and Sarah was alone with the bird man.
‘Great, Osiris,’ she said. ‘I am afraid I have not found the chosen.’
‘You will,’ said Osiris in her mind. ‘Keep travelling east, young priestess, where you will come across a small village. You will meet an ally there yet.’ Sarah bowed and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was back in the basement of the castle.
‘Everything alright?’ asked Finn, scratching his head. ‘Did it work?’ She looked up at him and he was shocked.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Sarah. ‘Do I look different?’
‘You’re crying,’ said Finn. ‘Just like before.’ She touched her cheek and pulled it back to reveal tears were in fact gently streaming down her face.
‘I see,’ she said. ‘But no time to ponder. We must move quickly.’ Finn nodded to her without saying anything else, something she greatly appreciated.
They left the castle with morning air still fresh about them and trudged their way through the foot or so of snow. This went on for miles, neither of them tiring until they came to a steep cliff.
‘How do we get down?’ asked Sarah. But before she could ponder a solution, Finn had grabbed her, and together they were sliding down the mountain. Finn howled with laughter, as Sarah could feel the rush within her, and joined in. They hit the bottom and sent snow flying everywhere. They sat there for several seconds and laughed, before looking about their surroundings.
They were now somewhere far more green, and there was a village, just as Osiris had told her. They had made it to Austria, and were another step closer to an ally and their goal.
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
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