Chapter 23 - The Pursuing Fire
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Vincent and Corrine were exhausted by the time they finally made it to the Romanian border. Even with a supernatural constitution, the constant movement forward had finally taken its toll on them.
Vincent was not gaining much from the blood of animals anymore, eating them only to keep his ever-growing hunger at bay. He was beginning to crave the taste of human blood once more, against all promises to hurt anyone else after witnessing the battlefield in Bulgaria. In doing so, use of his abilities was greatly diminished. He had done his best to keep practise, but now he could no more sustain the form of the bat than he could lift a twig with the mist.
Corrine’s three hearts had proved strong in keeping her going, but that only meant when she did become tired it amplified the pain in her chest. She needed to consume more and more, and find out to keep up. She quickly became an expert in cooking up the animals Vincent had drained. But her muscles were growing weary, and only the knowledge they would soon be at their destination gave her the strength to continue.
Because of Vincent’s ghastly appearance, they could not go into towns, and avoided roads at all costs, often camping for a few hours as far from civilization as possible. They made their beds in the grass, or in some instances, the softest patches of dirt they could find.
Corrine had suggested that they disguise themselves and find an inn. Someplace they could bathe, get fresh clothes, and sleep on actual beds. It was a sad Vincent that pointed out they had no money, and with his waning power, there was no indication his ability to dominate the minds of others would work. They would be exposing themselves to an unknown world that may be just as hostile to his kind as the Ottomans had been. Corrine had reluctantly agreed, knowing it was logical.
She hoped deep down in her hearts wherever they were going, there would be some kind of safety. Vincent’s disease had originated from this country, so perhaps the closer they got, the more understanding the people would be if they saw him. There had to be an end to this, someplace they could avoid persecution and danger. She could then send word to Gregory. Would he believe such a letter? Would he come for her? She had to believe she could convince him that way. That thought alone fueled her in the endless miles.
They set up camp one evening in a glade near a river. Vincent wasn’t fond of the idea, but Corrine had grown thirsty, and they both agreed they needed to bathe somehow, the smell of a long journey clinging to their skin. Vincent sat behind a tree, out of view, as Corrine bathed in the river. She had teased him about looking, but the truth was, the thought had never occurred to him.
Even the idea felt wrong to him, like something Richard, or the boys who used to pick on him in his youth might do. He thought about what Maria might have said if she had caught him, though he would have admitted to be more tempted to spy if it had been her. Instead, he looked down at his hands.
The pale things were nearly translucent in the sunlight, his veins exposed and pulsing ever so slightly. His nails were hard and encrusted with dirt and dry blood, and he did his best to pick them clean them. The hands that used to be so clean and soft, that were made for handling quills and ink and paper, were now rough and callused. They didn’t seem like they were his anymore. Such a silly, small thing to get lost in the details. His hands used to hold books and read them with endless vigor, but now they had taken a life. They were the hands of a killer, despite what Corrine had said, and there was no amount of washing in the river that would change that.
‘Vincent?’ yelled Corrine. ‘I’m done. It’s your turn.’ He got up and walked round the tree to see a much cleaner companion. She was doing her best to dry her hair out with her hands as she smiled at him. He looked at the river, and immersed himself in thought.
‘I…I’m not sure I can,’ he said. ‘It’s running water.’
‘You don’t have to dive in,’ she said, laughing slightly. ‘Just scrub yourself up for my sake. The smell is atrocious.’ Vincent smiled at her as he bent down over the river. He stuck his hand in, feeling the pressure of the invisible force. Then, in quick movement, he splashed Corrine with the cool water.
‘Vincent!’ she cried. ‘Shame on you!’
‘It's just for the smell,’ he said, winking. ‘Now go on. I’ll see what I can do.’ She looked at him, before rolling her eyes. She smiled at him, before hiding behind the tree he had used. ‘And no peeking!’
‘Married woman, Vincent,’ she said from behind the tree. ‘Happily, too.’ He smiled at that. He admired how she could lighten the mood. He did what he could to clean himself, dipping his hand in, and scrubbing as well he could. If he had been pale before, the removal of the dirt only seemed to accentuate it, but Corrine had been right, and their collective stench had been an issue.
When he was done, he clothed himself and stood. He was about to call to Corrine when he paused. Corrine’s heartbeats had become increasingly intense, and she was talking to someone. Vincent lowered himself to the ground and entered the tree line, following her words, until he found her.
She was talking to a tall, thin man with glasses and a case, and who was accompanied by a thick man with a large, black beard. Corrine guarded herself like she was ready for a fight.
‘Come home,’ said the bespectacled man. ‘You have no idea what you are. How to take care of yourself.’
‘I made it this far,’ she said. ‘I’m doing quite fine on my own.’
‘Enough of this,’ said the man with a bear in a thick, Russian accent. ‘Just take her. She is alone.’
‘Or is she?’ said a third voice, one that sent a chill down Vincent’s spine. Marlowe stepped forward, out of the trees, and pushed past the other two. ‘Hello. I am Doctor Marlowe.’
‘I know who you are,’ she said. ‘These two mentioned you.’ He smiled at her.
‘Ah, yes. I did bankroll them, after all,’ he said, slyly. ‘One could say I am responsible for your rebirth.’ Vincent stepped forward, annoyed.
‘You’re not taking credit for her,’ he said. ‘I brought her back.’ Marlowe waved him off.
‘Yes, yes,’ he said, unenthusiastically. ‘And look how you’ve scared the poor girl.’ He turned back towards Corrine. ‘I promise you, I am a friend. See?’ He snapped at Frederick, who reluctantly pulled out a gold wedding band on a chain. Corrine gasped.
‘It’s yours,’ said Marlowe. ‘Just tell us where Vincent is. I am a good man, I promise not to hurt him.’
‘A good man would not have done what you did under the asylum,’ she said, defiantly. ‘Only a monster would do that.’ The look on Marlowe’s face shifted almost immediately to rage and annoyance. His stare pierced through her.
‘I see,’ he said. ‘So you were with Vincent that night. Tell me, where is he?’
‘Long gone,’ said Corrine. ‘I haven’t seen him in weeks.’ Marlowe gave her a wicked smile that would have made Richard proud.
‘Lady De Marine,’ he said. ‘Lying is unbecoming you. I know he’s somewhere around here. Somewhere close.’
‘I’m telling you,’ she said. ‘He’s not here.’ Marlowe sighed.
‘If you’re not going to tell the truth,’ he said, ‘then we have no use for you.” Frederick interrupted once again.
‘We need her,’ he said. ‘You promised we could have her back.’ The Russian nodded.
‘Why?’ asked Marlowe. ‘She’s proof you can do it. I’ll find a hundred more just like her. Would that suffice?’ Frederick thought for a moment, before turning to the Russian, who nodded.
‘Very good,’ said Marlowe. ‘Use your new invention. If she screams, Vincent will come running.’
‘But it’s meant for the vampire,’ said Frederick. ‘What if he runs away?’
‘We’ll trap him at the river,’ replied Marlowe. ‘He can’t cross it.’ Frederick nodded and pulled out a suitcase as Corrine ran. The three men looked after her, stunned.
‘Go after her,’ said Marlowe. ‘Don’t let her get away!’ Frederick grabbed the case and ran after her, followed by the Russian, leaving Marlowe alone. Thoughts filled his mind as he smelt the blood of his enemy. It called to him, and even with his diminished strength, he could overpower the dying man and drain him.
Before he could act, he remembered his friend was now running through the forest, pursued by a weapon made to kill him. He took one last look at Marlowe, and ran round him, following Corrine’s heartbeats.
Vincent ran past the two men without being spotted, and caught up to Corrine, who had tears streaming down her eyes. He grabbed her and hid behind a large tree, where she clung to him tightly. The two men ran past them, still convinced they were following Corrine.
‘Who are they?’ asked Vincent. ‘How do they know you?’
‘They’re the ones that brought me back,’ said Corrine. ‘Frederick and Father Grigori. I won’t let them take me back. I can’t. I can’t.’
‘They won’t,’ said Vincent. ‘I promise.’ She looked up at him and nodded.
‘He has my wedding ring,’ she said. ‘I want it back.’
‘Then let’s go get it,’ he replied, and helped her up. They soon caught up with their pursuers, who had stopped in the middle of the woods.
Frederick and Father Grigori were now completely lost in the middle of the woods, having lost sight of Corrine in the shade.
‘Did you see where she went?’ asked Father Grigori.
‘No,’ said Frederick. ‘But she’s close. Marlowe said she wouldn’t abandon the vampire. She’s still in the woods.’
‘How do you know this?’ asked Father Grigori. ‘She could abandon him.’ Frederick smiled.
‘No,’ he said. ‘She’s sentimental. That much I know.’ Before Father Grigori could say anything, they heard a twig break ahead. They started to move towards it, when another one broke in the opposite direction. The two men looked at one another.
‘Go,’ said Frederick. ‘If it’s her, restrain her and bring her back.’
‘And if you find her?’ asked Father Grigori. Frederick smiled and opened his case. He pulled out a large device that looked like a gun connected to a tank he had strapped to his back. Father Grigori nodded and ran off, leaving Frederick to run the other way.
He wandered round, poking the nozzle round every tree, as he hoped to catch her by surprise. He soon pulled the ring out again, and held it before him.
‘Corrine?’ he said. ‘Come on out. We won’t hurt you if you comply. You can even have this back.’ Something made a sound behind him, causing him to whirl round and pull the trigger to his device. A large plume of fire erupted from it, setting a tree on fire, with no sign of anyone.
‘Now look what you made me do,’ said Frederick. He turned round again and set another tree on fire. He was beginning to get nervous. The trees round him began to catch fire as well, sending the whole forest up in smoke. A towering inferno soon surrounded him.
‘Corrine!’ he called. ‘Show yourself!’ As he said that, Vincent appeared behind him. Frederick spun round, as Vincent punched him hard in the jaw, and pulled the device from him. Frederick got up and attempted to throw a punch, only to have Vincent catch it in his hand. He twisted, and with a sickening snap, Frederick tired out in pain, as his now useless arm fell by his side.
He tried to run, but as he turned round, he saw Corrine watching him. Frederick became filled with rage, as she smiled at him.
‘I made you,’ he said. ‘I brought you back. You should be thanking me. Worshipping me. I should be a god to you!’ As he said that, Vincent swept his leg, causing him to fall over.
‘Monster!’ called Frederick. ‘Useless pile of animated flesh! This is how you waste your life God gave you?’ Corrine looked at Vincent.
‘Should I?’ said Vincent, nervously. ‘I think I can…’ Corrine shook her head.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I need to do it.’ She began to walk towards Frederick, who scrambled to back away on the ground.
‘You’ll never see him again,’ said Frederick. ‘Your husband. You hear what he’s like now? A drunk. A worthless drunk who tried to kill himself! He’s probably succeeded by now.’ Corrine kicked him hard in the gut and got on top of him. He tried to push her away with his good hand, but she simply batted it away. Corrine pinned him down, as her hands found a way to his neck, where she began to squeeze. Tears began to fill her eyes, as he tried to pull away.
‘Please,’ wheezed Fredrick. ‘Don’t…’
‘For Pig,’ she said. Her tears poured down onto Fredrick as he the life drained from him. He struggled, and soon fell still. When he was gone, she gave way to her emotions and bent down over him, crying. Vincent walked over to her and pulled the ring out from his pocket and held it out to her.
‘We need to go,’ he said. She looked up to him and took the ring before throwing her arms around him. They embraced, as the inferno raged round them. He helped her up as she took the ring off the chain, throwing it onto Frederick’s lifeless body, before fixing the ring onto her left hand. She looked at Vincent, who nodded, before they both ran deeper into Romania.
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved