Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Written by Mackenzie O'Rear
Edited by Brien BigelowI
One by one, he hunted them down. He was granting them his mercy. Killing them before they could turn into one of those things he had seen in the cell. It wasn’t the first outbreak, it was simply the first one that had been Marlowe’s fault, or in this case, the cabbies he had hired to transport the plague. But, like with most things involving the society when things went wrong, you called the Ripper.
That was the name Richard had given himself this time. To hide the truth of the killings behind slaughter and mayhem and mysterious notes. It was all part of the grand production to mask the truth of the world: monsters were real. Something would pop up somewhere in London, usually due to the meddling of the more ambitious members, and Richard would show up to put them down like the sick animals they were. He loved every minute of it.
He was a hunter, despite his day job of real estate, and it was his job to hunt. This particular strain that had been unleashed was an interesting one. It mutated the very host into shambling corpses, hungry for the flesh of the living with an incubation period of two weeks, depending on the size and weight of the individual infected. The only way to kill these beasts for good was to damage the brain.
In order to keep up appearances, he carried an ice pick that, when shoved quickly and quietly into the eye socket would do the trick, and, if one were careful, leave the eye completely unharmed. This was necessary to avoid the attention of the astute alienists that had been popping up recently. It had to look bloody and unprofessional, which is why afterward he would have to make it look good.
A slash to the throat here. A disemboweling there. It was all in good fun to him. A definitive show of his artistic talent, like when one hangs an elk’s head on a wall after a particularly proud hunt. And of course, there was the collection.
Something Marlowe had insisted, despite writing off the creatures as useless in their uncontrollability. Ripper would have to take a tongue or some other organ for research purposes. Not that he minded. After all, he got to do what he loved.
He had been keeping a close eye on the area where the incident had occurred and stalked its streets nightly for the names on his list. They had all been crossed off, save for one, and he knew exactly where the young lass would be. Sure enough, he turned a corner, and there she was, below the street lamp.
A pretty little thing in a tattered dress, waiting for a gentleman to pay for a go. He approached her as if he were anyone else. She saw him emerge from the shadows and straightened herself out, attempting to look as seductive as possible, making sure to lean over to give him a look at what he might get to touch for the right price.
‘Evening, governor,’ she said, winking at him. He flashed his big handsome smile.
‘Good evening, miss,’ he replied. It was all too easy. There was never any alarm to be raised when a handsome, strapping young man approached after, all. Everyone had suspected a smaller, deranged looking person to fulfill the role of murderer. Richard had always thought Vincent would have fit the bill perfectly.
‘Looking for a bit of company?’ She asked.
‘Sure as the night is long, I am,’ he replied, smiling. ‘Might you make for said good companion?’
‘Sure as the night is long,’ she laughed. ‘Long as you ain’t that Jack the Ripper running around carving up nice ladies like me.’ He let out a good, calming laugh before hitting her with his charming smile. he had always felt that smile was important.
Before she could say anything, she began to cough violently. She pulled out a handkerchief and held it against her mouth. She was quick to put it away, but he could see the pure white now stained crimson. The infection had set in.
‘Pardon me,’ she said, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
‘Not to worry,’ he replied. ‘Sounds like just a cold to me.’
‘You’re a doctor, aren’t you?’ she asked.
‘I certainly know a few.’ He laughed. ‘Shall we?’ he said, offering his arm. She took it as he led her down the various London streets. He wasn’t too far from where he needed to be, and it was essential everyone be found somewhat close to one another.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked. She seemed to be enamored with his chiseled good looks and strong arms, and it was true most of her clientele would be considered unsavoury. Perhaps she had hoped he would be her shining knight. Some noble that would take her from her life of prostitution and elevate her to a world of fancy dresses and inner parties.
‘Not far,’ he replied. ‘There’s a quiet little place just up ahead.’
Vincent poured over the paltry volumes he had managed to steal in the night. He had first tried to sneak into the asylum, which contained a multitude of tomes ranging from the subjects of psychosis to that of the more pertinent blood diseases, only to find out he was physically incapable of entering. The most helpful source of information had been, much to Vincent’s annoyance, a penny dreadful.
He had been fond of the publications, but always found them to be a novelty. Now he was scouring the issue for whatever he could find on what he had become. The line between fact and fiction had become very blurry for him, and he wasn’t fond of that idea.
Sifting through the pages of the novelty gave him much to ponder. The vampire had a set of rules that governed its existence for whatever unknown reason. They were monster with an inherent, albeit forced, politeness to them, as they could not enter a domicile without being invited. This didn't seem to extend to abandoned buildings, as Vincent had roosted at the dilapidated abbey, which was fine by him. Running water also proved an obstacle, as he was unable to cross it.
Maria would have probably found it amusing to watch him try and get around a small stream that had temporarily prevented him from leaving the abbey after the storm hit. The thought had made smile. Trying to imagine her laugh filled him with more warmth than his cold body could ever really feel.
There was some guff about holy icons harming him, but that was quickly disproven by his current accommodations. He had even taken to using one of the larger crosses in the abbey to keep part of the roof from collapsing. If it was a sin, he was sure he would be forgiven for it, given the circumstances.
What disturbed him the most, if it was true, was the disease was apparently communicable. If there was an exchange of blood during the feeding process, the victim would in turn become a vampire. He was legion if he so chose, at one point even entertaining the idea of raising an army borne from the wayward asylum attendants and using them in turn to acquire his desired information. The thought was quickly thrown out, as he felt he could never force what he was onto another. It was a wretched and lonely existence, and it was simply better if only one had to deal with it. And besides…there was always the looming truth he chose to ignore: there simply wasn’t any cure to be found in the books, if at all. He would be condemning others, and that was simply something he couldn’t live with.
When the well of information from the penny dreadful had dried up, he had taken to looking for similarities throughout history. Surely he wasn’t the only vampire history had to offer. There had to be someone who had contracted it and simply did their best to hide it.
He had found some Hungarian countess from the sixteenth century who may have been either a vampire or simply a deeply disturbed and psychopathic woman. Then there was some prince of Wallachia during the fifteenth century, but if he had been a vampire, history had erased it, substituting a warlord. If history had proven anything, it was that humanity could be just as monstrous as he was, and in some cases, even more so.
Whatever presence the vampire had made on history had now faded into myths and legends. If there was a cure for the condition or some treatment, it would have to come from modern science and experimentation, and while the laboratory in the asylum was more than adequate for his intended purposes, his condition had barred him from entering.
It was a puzzle, and for what had seemed to be the millionth time, he had wished Maria were there to help him solve it. She was phenomenally good at these kinds of things. But no, he was on his own for now, and he dare not show his face to her again. She would have understood his predicament, even offered to help him. But there was another reason he had to stay away.
A few blocks later, and they were there. A quiet and dark street, occupied by only a cat that seemed more preoccupied with sleeping than two possible adulterers.
‘What do you think?’ he asked with a sly smile.
‘I’ve certainly done it in worse places,’ she laughed. She kneeled down and began to go for the buckle on his trousers when he stopped her.
‘Pardon,’ he said. ‘But could you wait over there for a moment?’ He indicated a wall that was shrouded in darkness.
‘Nervous are we?’ she giggled. ‘That’s all right. Lots a blokes have trouble sometimes. I’ll be right over there.’ She smiled, stood up, unaware of how much Ripper had wanted to hit her for that remark. She scampered off to the wall, where she began to undress herself, eager for the touch of what she considered to be a real man.
A hand fell on her shoulder, causing her to smile. She touched it lovingly with her own, guiding it towards her exposed breast. She turned around to see her handsome stranger’s smiling face.
It was over in an instant. She hardly even felt the cold pick enter her eye and pierce the brain. She fell like a rag doll in his arms, dead and lifeless. She was still smiling at her shining knight.
He slid the pick out of her eye and wiped it clean before he played her out flat on the ground. Ripper pulled out a hunting knife and began to go to work. He started with her throat, A quick slash to it would suffice followed by a long gash down her sternum. He pulled the flesh apart to reveal the rib cage, which he subsequently broke. He had loved that sound. It made him feel strong. It wasn't long before he located the required organ, cut it loose and placed it within a jar to be delivered to the good doctor. Tomorrow, her body would be found and not another word would be sent out signed by his murderous alter ego.
When he was done, he checked his pocket watch. There was still time to get home and see his beloved fiancee and enjoy her company. All in all, it was turning out to be a good night for him. He would have to admit he was going to miss the revenants. They had proved to him to be entertaining prey. But of course the next one would reveal itself in time, and he would be ready for it. London was his savannah, and he was its lion, an apex predator of the modern world.
There would be more quarry. He could feel it pulsing through his very blood. He was a hunter and he would hunt again very soon. That was when he saw it, a cloaked figure, leaping over the rooftops. It seemed his quarry had come to him. Richard smiled and pulled out his revolver. ‘Here I come, Vincent,’ he said and off he went.
Where had her Watson gone? They had only known one another for a year and a half, but they had grown so close in that time. She could still recall the nervous young man that had applied to be her father’s assistant at the new asylum. A thin man who had more nervous ticks then he had sense with thick mop of black hair he just couldn’t seem to control. To the untrained eye, he would seem to be unremarkable.
Maria knew better, though. She had a keen eye, and the natural senses of an investigator. It was this very sense that had spotted the latest issue of the Strand, sticking out of his coat pocket. The latest adventures of Sherlock Holmes had brought her a new friend. Poor thing nearly had a heart attack when she approached him, but after that they were fast friends.
Every week they would buy each other a copy of the Strand and read through it as fast as possible just so they could discuss the latest mystery. Even when a new story had yet to be released, they would discuss everything from philosophy to the kinds of ships that would float into harbor. Vincent had a brilliant mind which he seemed intent on keeping to himself, and she was intent on giving him the confidence to make it known to the world.
She could still recall one evening after discussing the latest adventure of their favourite detective when he had truly surprised her.
‘You’re so close to being like Holmes,’ she laughed. ‘I could be your Watson!’ He gave a meek smile at that.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘You are my Sherlock and I am your Watson.’ She had been taken aback. Maria had never thought of herself like that. It had always been her place to be prim and proper and let the “real” men do their thing. He didn’t see her way at all. Even her fiance had rarely entertained her fancies.
And now her dearest friend was missing. A lonely little boy in an angry world. The worst of it all was that no one seemed to care. Her father had barely noticed when he hadn’t shown up for work and her fiance seemed nonplussed about. He almost seemed happy Vincent was gone.
‘He probably went somewhere more acclimated to his condition,’ he had said. ‘Probably for the best.’ She didn’t accept that. Granted, Vincent and Richard hadn’t gotten along. More than once she had had to call off the latter’s bullying of the former. But this was downright cruel. He was a human being and she was worried about him.
If no one would help her, she would find him herself. She was his Sherlock Holmes and she would put those skills to good use. It started off with stalking his usual haunts. The landlord to Vincent’s apartment, a rather uncouth and slovenly lady, only noticed he was missing when she hadn’t received the rent. Mariah had paid her, and even managed to charm the spare key off of her.
The first thing she had noticed about the single room he used to occupy was his large pile of books that had begun to pour from the shelf onto the floor had diminished substantially. Wherever he had gone, he had taken only his favorites, including the first editions she had given him for his birthday. His clothes, however, had remained untouched. The two ill-fitting suits hung over the radiator.
‘Just like him to grab the books and nothing else,’ she said to the ghosts of the apartment. ‘If he had left the city, he would have told me.’ She wanted to reassure herself more than anything. A note or something that would allow them to send letters. She couldn’t even fathom him being kidnapped, as there was no one to pay a ransom.
Her train of thought was interrupted by the bedside table. An empty picture frame had been staring at her the entire time. She had visited the apartment on several occasions, but she couldn’t recall its ever being there. She picked it up and inspected it.
Whatever the frame had contained, it had been important to Vincent. Perhaps a family member? Or a dear friend? Or a lover…
That one had hurt her for some reason. A pain in her chest had sprung up out of nowhere when she thought of Vincent in the arms of someone. She wanted him to be happy, of course. For him to find a good woman who would set him straight. It was just that whenever she had imagined him with that woman, she had always blurred her face out.
Maria shook her head free of the intrusive thoughts and went back to work. She placed the frame back down on the bed table when she stopped.
‘Drat,’ she said to herself. ‘How could I be so foolish?’ There was a thin layer of dust everywhere, which meant she had missed an obvious chance for a clue. She quickly scanned the ground, berating herself for every impression her heels had made, when she saw it. A single footprint in the dust she hadn’t managed to step on.
She leaned down and found one of Vincent’s shoes under the bed, and pulled it out. She danced around the dusty ground until she was right over the faded print and played with the shoe down next to it. Sure enough, it was almost two full sizes bigger than her dear Watson’s.
‘Curious,’ she whispered. ‘Now, who might you be?’There was no sign of a scuffle, and the print had been at least a week old compared to the rest of the apartment's dust. She pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil and began to sketch the dimensions of the print. When she was done, she exited the apartment and locked the door behind her.
The landlady had said no one had been in the apartment since his disappearance. Vincent had nothing of note to steal, and sure enough it appeared nothing had been stolen, and therefore it wasn’t a thief. Was someone chasing her beloved friend? And if so, for what reason? And why hadn’t he told her? He must have his reasons, and she would discover them.
After returning the apartment key, she next headed to his favourite bookstore three blocks down. Vincent had shown her this place the first week after discovering their mutual love of literature, but there had been no clues to be had there. She checked the pond where he had fed the ducks. His ‘feathered friends,’ he had called them, but again she found nothing.
She had gone all over London, wherever she had shared a memory with Vincent, but to no avail on her quest. Maria traveled until the sun began to set and the fog had set in, exhausted from following the dwindling leads. She wouldn’t give up hope. She knew he was out there, and she would find him.
He rubbed up his mind as he tried to concentrate on the problem at hand, and it wasn’t helping that he was beginning to feel the hunger well up inside him again. He looked over at the pile of decaying rats on the floor, all punctured by his elongated canines, and drained of their very life force.
He had grown accustomed to the act as well as the taste, and there was no such thing as a shortage of rats in London. They practically flocked to him, almost in awe of the predator they beheld. Non scattered when he would pick one up and casually bite into. Even his furry victim refused to struggle, its will suppressed by Vincent. It became as normal as biting into an apple.
Vincent leaned back away from the endless pages on human anatomy, staring listlessly out the window, as the sun began to fall behind the skyline of the city. He closed his eyes and listened to the various heartbeats coming from the asylum. Some were the calm doctors, while others held the erratic rhythm of patients. Maria had not been there in awhile, probably kept far away from harm, thanks to her murderous fiance. When he was well fed, he could hear her heart beating anywhere in the city. It was like a beacon shining in the darkness, beckoning him. As to what it was beckoning him for, he’d rather not think about.
He stood up from his chair and climbed the bell tower overlooking the city, hidden in its shadow. He wasn’t going to get any answers hiding away, and it certainly wasn’t going to help him slake his hunger. Rats could only go so far, and the slaughterhouse on the other side of town held the promise of better sustenance.
Vincent grabbed his cloak, wrapping it around tight to hide his face, and jumped down from the tower, landing on the soft dirt below, without so much as a sound. It was time he found a way into the asylum, and in order to do that he would need to be invited. But before he could give it a second thought, a familiar heartbeat began to race with fright. He left from the building and into the street below without any hesitation.
‘I’m coming,’ he whispered to the darkness. ‘Just hold on, Maria.’
Maria found herself wandering alone on a London road, having lost track of time in her fervour. As she looked upward to the street signs, trying to find her way home, a lone figure appeared before her, a cap held low over his eyes.
‘Can I help you, miss?’ asked the figure. ‘A young lady such as you shouldn’t be out alone so late.’’
‘I’m quite fine, thank you,’ she responded, slightly annoyed. ‘I’m on my way home now.’ She tried to step around him, but he blocked her.
‘Perhaps I can escort you?’
‘No, thank you,’ she said, her heart beginning to race. She could feel the warmth of her blood filling her ears as her breath quickened. She could feel she was in trouble.
‘Oh,’ said the figure. ‘But I insist.’ He raised his cap to reveal his scarlet eyes, like two burning coals against a full moon boring into her very soul. Her heart jumped into her throat as she took a step back. He smiled at her as he opened his mouth and released a large ball of blue fire.
‘What are you?’ she asked. His eyes widened, confused.
‘Well that is a new one,’ he said. ‘No one’s ever asked!’He began to laugh into the night, when something slammed into him, faster than the eye could see, sending the assailant into the nearby wall.
A man now stood with his back to Maria, his thick black hair flowing with the breeze. His hands ended in razor-sharp claws with his skin so pale the veins could be seen from a distance. Thin and lean like a starved animal, Vincent spoke:
‘Stay away from her!’
‘Vincent?’ whispered Maria. ‘Is that you?’ She tried to move forward to see his face, but he looked away. She reached out for him when Jack began to laugh again.
‘What fun, what fun’’ he sang. ‘No one has tagged me in ages!’ He jumped from his slump and stood at the vampire before him.
‘What are you?’ he asked in Maria’s voice.
‘Shut up,’ growled Vincent. ‘Leave.’ Jack’s eyes widened with delight as he took in every detail.
‘You don’t have a shadow,’ said Jack, pointing at the ground, at Vincent’s feet. ‘How did you get rid of it? Mine’s been following me for years.’
‘I said leave!’ roared Vincent, power flowing from his very presence. Jack laughed again.
‘Very well, very well,’laughed Jack. ‘But we will play again soon. That I promise you, my new friend!’ And with a swirl of his cape, he was gone.
Vincent breathed a sigh of relief as his claws retracted.
‘It is you, isn’t it?’ asked Maria. ‘You’re alive. I was so worried.’ She ran around to see him, but was turned away once again.
‘What’s wrong?’ she pleaded. ‘Please let me see.’
‘I suppose you better know,’ he whispered. ‘And know that I am sorry for what I have become.’He turned slowly to Maria, revealing his sunken eyes and fanged teeth, his own blood still dripping from his lower lip. She gasped, causing him to look back in shame.
She walked forward and held his face between her hands. “What has happened to my dear Watson?” she whispered to him. ‘My dear Vincent.’
He had opened his mouth to reply when they were interrupted.
‘Maria! Get away!’ yelled a familiar voice. Vincent pushed her away as a shot rang out into the night, nearly hitting him. Richard ran forward, brandishing a revolver, and pointing it at Vincent.
‘Come here,’ he said, motioning to Maria. ‘He’s a monster, he’ll kill you.’
‘I would never hurt her,’ said Vincent.
‘Richard!’ pleaded Maria. ‘It’s Vincent. Please don’t hurt him.’ Richard pulled the hammer of his pistol.
‘He was Vincent. Now he’s just an animal wearing his skin. I’m doing him a favour.’
‘No!’ cried Maria, as Richard was about to fire. Vincent’t eyes illuminated.
‘Drop the gun,’ he whispered. And just like that, the gun fell from his hunter’s hand. Richard stared at him, first with confusion and then with utter hatred. As he reached for another weapon, Vincent looked upon Maria once more with sorrow in his dark eyes and vanished into the mist.
Richard ran forward in anger.
‘Damn!’ He yelled. ‘Damn him to hell!’
‘Richard,’ said Maria. ‘What is going on? What has happened to Vincent?’
‘I told you,’ he replied. ‘That creature is not Vincent. Not anymore.’
‘It is him,’ she pleaded. ‘He’s ill or something. Father can cure him!’
‘There is no cure!’ roared Richard. ‘He is a vampire. A creature that survives on the blood of others. The most we can do is put him out of his misery. We’re going home.’ He grabbed Maria by the arm and began to pull. She dug in her heels and stopped.
‘You knew about him,’ she said. ‘You knew and you didn’t tell me. Why? And why were you hunting him?’ He took a deep breath and looked at her, letting her go. It was time to turn on the charm.
‘I’m truly sorry, my love,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want you to endanger yourself. As for what I’ve been doing, it is a favor to Marlowe. We had tried to cure him, but he fled before we could do anything. Now we fear for the worst.’
Maria nodded, but something didn’t feel right. She could tell he was hiding something, but decided to play along for now.
‘I’m sorry, Richard,’ she lied. ‘You were right to protect me.’
‘I’m glad you see things my way,’ he said with his enchanting smile. ‘I’ll explain more when we get home.’ He offered his arm and she took it. As they walked down the cobblestone road, she looked down and saw his boots and noted their familiar size.
‘Are those new?’ She asked, indicating his feet.
‘These? No. Had them for ages. Why do you ask?’
‘Just curious,’ she said and turned back to where she had seen Vincent. She would find him again, she was sure of it, and this time she would be ready to fight for his sake. Not even her fiance would stop that. She just hoped she would find him before the man by her side did.
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Story Editor Chuck Marra
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved