Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Maria watched out her window. She could still see the smoke rising from the remains of the asylum across town, but paid no attention to it. Time seemed to move so much more slowly since last night., each minute feeling like it stretched out into infinity.
She put her fingers to her lips, where only a few hours ago, Vincent had kissed her. The thought of kissing him had never crossed her mind before, and if she had thought of it, she imagined it would have been cold and clammy, with a hint of copper that followed blood so closely. But it hadn’t. It had been cool, yes, but not freezing. It reminded her of the sea breeze, refreshing on a warm day at the beach. It had been, for lack of a better word, pleasant.
Even his sharpened canines had not seemed to interfere with the kiss. She could hardly remember feeling them. Such actions had been exchanged with Richard and various childhood suitors before, but none had felt as natural. All her life, she had been told what a kiss felt like, as well as what one felt like when it happened. It was methodical and private, and had always been up to her expectations on the occasion of its occurrence. But with Vincent…it had been spontaneous. Memorable. Special.
It had struck her like lightning, with the effects being similar. She felt both numb and extremely sensitive. Her skin had felt on fire, as her breath quickened. Her pupils had dilated, and she had felt for a moment her heart would leap from her chest. Then, just as soon as it happened, it was over.
She didn’t realize it until she had seen him run away, her mind still doing its best to catch up to the rest of her body. But somehow, that seemed to describe her blindness so perfectly. Her body had known what it wanted all along, and now her mind had finally realized what it had all meant, despite being told what it had wanted since she could talk.
Richard had always fit the description of what she desired. He was handsome, successful, affluent. Everything a woman in her standing could have ever hoped for. Even at his most uncouth moments, he still had his charm, which had now been exposed as the charade it was. She had never been happy with him, content, yes, but never happy. And that was what she had been brought up to believe was love. Someone you could be content with for the rest of your days on this planet.
Maria reached for her notebook and turned to the pages where she had sketched ‘Vincent’ for what seemed like pages, and suddenly so many features popped out at her. Why hadn’t she noticed how handsome he looked without glasses before?
She touched a picture of him smiling. She had drawn it, and it dawned on her she might never see him again. Her Watson. No. He had never been her Watson, but perhaps her Adler. He challenged her and made her speak her mind. He had asked her the one question no modern man may ever ask a woman. He had asked her what she wanted.
The memory of those words echoed in her mind, seemingly fading with every reverberation. It was as if Vincent’s distance from her were becoming all too real. She stood, determined not to repeat her mistake of letting him slip through her fingers.
The sea had been unusually calm for the few days they had been onboard The Demeter. The rush of wind and wave was almost soothing to Corrine, as she looked out towards the horizon. The crew paid her no mind. In fact, she was practically invisible to them, thanks to the efforts of Vincent. If she needed food or water, she simply needed to take it, and the disappearance would be attributed by the crewmen sneaking extra rations.
It had become necessary to become invisible, rather than hold up the charade of being a guest aboard the ship, as Vincent had become increasingly unstable out at sea. Every day his bloodlust grew, and it wasn’t long before any rats that had snuck aboard the ship were used to satiate him. When they were all gone, however, there had been nothing but the crewmen.
Something had to be done to prevent his instincts from taking over and slaughtering not just the crew, but Corrine as well. There would be no safety if he finally broke down and became the bloodthirsty beast so many seemed to think he was. A solution had to be found fast.
The answer presented itself in the unlikeliest of places, deep within the cargo hold. The Demeter was a cargo ship by trade, shuffling goods from port to port in order to make their profit, but on occasion they would be tasked with transporting something of a more unusual nature. From artifacts to the occasional dignitary had. graced their ship, but circumstance had led them to transporting a series of coffins filled with bodies back to the homelands of their occupants.
A family that had died in a recent accident involving an industrial accident now lay within the recesses of The Demeter, with their kin aboard paying handsomely to have them shipped to their native soil across the Mediterranean. Together, Vincent and Corrine had emptied the contents of one of the coffins into the sea, said a quick prayer, and replaced it back in the ship’s hold none the wiser, now with Vincent as its occupant. To do their best to cull his strength, the coffin was then bound with rope and chains and buried under a mountain of cargo.
And there, Vincent would sleep. Not at first. For days growling and roaring would be heard below deck, with many of the crew talking of curses and spirits. Corrine would go down and place her hand on his resting place and whisper to him. ‘We’re almost there,’ she would say. ‘Just a little longer.’ On bad days, he would try and force his way out of the coffin, and Corrine would have to brace it with all her might, pleading with him to calm down.
Mist would begin to pour out from the cracks in the lid, and Corrine would have to work fast to seal them, stuffing bits of cloth wherever Vincent might escape his confinement. On more than one occasion she could swear she heard a wolf’s howl or the flapping of wings coming within, but was too gripped with fear to check. She was his caretaker, and she dedicated herself to watching over the one person she knew of who shared her immortal plight. A sentinel amongst the waves.
It was nearly a week before the monstrous noises would cease. That day, Corrine pressed her ear to the coffin and listened for any sign of life, fearing her companion had expired from hunger. To her relief, a light breathing was heard without any trouble. Vincent had not only fallen asleep, but also began to dream.
His body had fallen into stasis, but his mind was restless. Images would fade in and out of the darkness of his mind. He would see images of faraway lands and times long forgotten. A midnight gathering of pale-skinned people drinking from goblets a deep crimson substance that was unmistakable to him. Sometimes he would see the man that had taught him how to escape, smiling at him from above. Then came a dream that perplexed him.
There had been the usual darkness within his mind, when suddenly he found himself in a forest he didn’t recognize. He had been on the occasional walk round the trees of London, but this was different.The trees were dense and thick all round him, as he walked the path illuminated by the autumn moon. It was not long before he saw a fire glowing from a clearing, accompanied by a song in a foreign tongue, sung by an undoubtedly feminine voice.
Vincent followed to find a dark-skinned girl, partially wrapped in bandages and wearing baggy, clothes warming herself by it. She looked up at him and smiled.
‘Greetings, child of Set,’ she said. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’ Vincent walked towards her cautiously. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
‘Have no fear’ she said. ‘I know why you are here.’ She got up and walked towards him. He reached out to her, only to have his hand pass right through her. She nodded at him.
‘You are not truly here,’ she said. ‘Your spirit wanders, as once did mine.’ Vincent looked at the strange girl, perplexed by her words. She looked at him, studying his form.
‘The other one is with you?’ she asked. ‘The child of Thoth?’ Again, Vincent couldn’t understand what the girl was saying to him. Did she mean Corrine? When she saw his confusion, she spoke.
‘The one made of many,’ she said. Vincent nodded tentatively. ‘Good,’ said the girl. ‘All is happening as it should. You have questions, I would imagine.’ Vincent nodded at her.
‘I thought as much,’ she said. ‘But I could not answer you, lest the threads of fate be tangled. You must make the journey on your own.’ Vincent attempted to reach out to her once more, desperate for answers, when his vision began to fade.
‘Not much time left,’ said the girl. In the distance, there was an ear-piercing howl. She looked up at it and nodded. ‘My companion. He approaches.’ As she said that, the tall grass behind her began to stir. Something large was headed her way. Vincent saw a large shape emerging, with shining yellow eyes trained on the girl. He tried to warn her, but as he did, his vision faded.
The door had been blockaded again, trapping her within the room. She ran to the window and threw it open, attempting to judge the distance between her current position and the garden below. It was too high to jump, but that wouldn’t stop her. She ran to the bed, where she began to pull the sheets off, one by one. Next was the closet, where she threw every sturdy piece of evening wear onto the floor, taking particular pleasure in throwing her wedding dress onto the floor. Sitting down on the floor, she began to rip and tie the pieces of cloth together. Just as she finished her makeshift rope, she heard movement at the door. She tied one end of her rope to her bedpost, the door opened to reveal her father staring at her, a solemn look in his eye.
“My dear,” said Bellefonde. “Let us have a chat.” He walked passed her, not even acknowledging her escape attempt. He sat down on her bed and patted the mattress beside him. Maria did so, guardedly.
‘Are you going to tell me why you lied to me about Vincent?’ asked Maria. Her father closed his eyes and sighed.
‘I owe you and him an apology,’ he said. ‘I am truly sorry for hiding the truth from you and having a hand in what has become.’
‘Why, though?’ she asked. ‘Why would you do that to him?’ He gave a sad little laugh.
‘I was afraid,’ said Bellefonde, ‘of what so many men are afraid of. Doctor Marlowe offered us a chance to live forever. Mr Harrow seemed like such a small price back then.’
‘He was your assistant,’ cried Maria. ‘He looked up to you.’
‘And I betrayed him,’ replied Bellefonde, matter of factly. ‘Told him about a “revolutionary process” that could make him a better man.’
‘He wanted to be someone he thought I wanted,’ said Maria, realising. ‘I’m such a fool.’
‘No,’ said Bellefonde, placing his hand on her cheek. ‘I’m the fool. In so many ways, my dear., I have done such terrible things, and I have let equally terrible things be done under my watch.’
‘Why are you telling me all this?’ asked Maria. ‘Why now?’ Her father stood and walked over to a picture of a woman on Maria’s nightstand. He picked it up and examined it.
‘Your mother would have been so proud of the woman you’ve become,’ he said. ‘There isn’t a day that goes by you don’t remind me of her. She had the same fierceness you have. For her sake and for yours, I cannot let you marry that animal.’
‘Richard?’ She said. ‘What are you talking about?’ Bellefonde placed the picture back onto the nightstand and turned to his daughter.
‘You must flee,’ he said. ‘Wherever your heart desires. He will be here soon to interrogate you, and I refuse to let him lay a hand on you.’ Maria stood and faced her father.
‘You’re letting me leave?’ she asked. ‘Just like that?’ He placed both hands onto either side of his daughter and looked into her eyes. Everything about him seemed to soften. Tears began to run down his eyes.
‘My little girl,’ he said. ‘My darling little girl. I still remember when you were just a tiny thing. I could bounce you on my knee all day, and that was all you needed to be happy. But now the time has come to find your own way in the world.”
‘Father,’ she whispered, tears streaming down her face. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘You don’t have to say a thing, my dear,’ he said. He held her close to him. ‘There is a bag downstairs. It has everything you need, from money to documents. Take it and find a new life somewhere. Anywhere. And be happy.’ Maria pulled away and looked into her father’s eyes.
‘What about you?’ she asked. ‘They’ll surely kill you if they find out you helped me escape.’ He smiled at her.
‘They may try,’ he said. ‘But I plan to leave as well. Soon. And just in case, I have this.’ He pulled the jacket away to reveal a shining, silver revolver.
‘Why don’t you come with me?’ she asked. ‘We could leave together.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m old. I would slow you down. You must make your own way.’ She was on the verge of another breakdown, when he stopped her up in another hug. ‘Go, my dear little Maria. And remember your father loves you very much.’ She pulled away and nodded at him. She was halfway out the door when he stopped her.
‘And one more thing,’ he said. ‘If you see Vincent, tell him…tell him I’m sorry. For everything.’
‘I will,’ she said, nodding at him. ‘I promise.’ He smiled at her as she fled down the stairs. At the bottom of it was indeed a bag, filled to the brim with British pounds, legal documents, and even a matching revolver to her father’s. She closed it and exited out the door into the sun.
She took a deep breath and prepared herself for her journey, but before she could take her first step, she heard a shot ring out from her room above, followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor. She froze, as tears once again began to pour from her eyes. Step by step she forced herself to move forward, not daring to look back.
Moving forward now was truly he only option. Through the streets she began to move, feeling so empty and cold. There was only one thing now: she had to find Vincent and tell him something she should have told him so long ago.
Vincent soon found himself back on the cobblestone streets of London, as the fog swirled around him. He looked round wildly, when a familiar figure materialized in front of him.
Jack smiled at him and placed his fingers to his lips, before beckoning Vincent to follow him before running. Vincent followed him through the various alleyways, darting between the buildings in his fanciful way. He disappeared round a corner, and when Vincent attempted to follow, he came face to face with a hooded figure with Jack no where to be seen.
The figure seemed to be eager not to be seen as they walked stealthily round the corners, occasionally checking over their shoulder. They too seemed to be watching someone. That was when Vincent realized where he was. He was standing right outside Richard’s home, on the East end. But who was the mysterious figure?
They took out a notebook and began to scribble furiously, as the light went out in Richard’s window. Vincent leaned in close, only to see the familiar writing he had been quite fond of. As it hit him who the figure was, Maria lowered her hood.
Her hair had been put up into a bun, and she looked as if she hadn’t eaten in a while. She pulled out some bread and cheese, and munched distractedly. She scrambled to put it away, hiding in the shadows, as a carriage pulled up. A man got out and knocked on Richard’s door. Richard quickly opened it. The man handed him a letter, which caused his face to light up with that sinister glee that seemed so obvious now. As Vincent walked forward to read it, his vision began to fade again.
When it came back, he was at the foot of a large castle that seemed vaguely familiar to him. He could have sworn he had seen it in a drawing somewhere before. It loomed over him with its tall parapets, casting shadows as far as the valley below. It was dark and seemed abandoned, yet it stood proud and menacing. Vincent found himself compelled to enter it, as if we're calling out to him. His trance was interrupted by a loud knocking, accompanied by Corrine’s voice. She said only one thing:
“We have arrived.”
The fidgeting wouldn’t stop. No matter how much he concentrated, no matter what he tried to do to distract himself, Richard’s fingers couldn’t stay still. They needed to hold a blade or a pistol. His senses yearned to be on the hunt. To absorb his surroundings, blending in to stalk his prey, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
But now he was all but caged. There was no place Richard could go with his skills, but without even a word from his superiors, all he could do was stare angrily at the wall of his room. Every moment they wasted, his prey was getting farther and farther away.
What was worst of all is how he had been robbed of his chance to meet with his fiancee. When he arrived at her estate to interrogate her, all he found in her room was Doctor Bellefonde, a pistol in his hand and a bullet in his brain. Richard thought of how weak the man had been. How cowardly to go rushing to his death.
Maria had clearly fled her home, most likely to look for that bloodsucking monster that had been unleashed unto the world, thanks in part to Marlowe’s unyielding ego. After all, he had done for her, buying her gifts and taking her to operas and showering her with everything she could have wanted. He would have forced her to see just how much he had cared that day, if only he had been there sooner. Maria had always been one to know her place, subservient to the will of her future husband, and he longed to make an example of what that entailed. He was sure she even would have enjoyed it.
‘No,’ he said to himself. ‘It had been the monster. It had gotten into her mind. Tricked her somehow.’ After all, in his mind, there was no way someone like him, a perfect specimen of a man, could lose to that weak beast that used to be the frail Vincent.
And yet he had. On both occasions they had met, he had been bested by the vampire. Richard has done his best to justify the losses, being caught off guard or unprepared to deal with it due to Marlowe’s own lack of knowledge. And now it had Maria in its thrall.
Richard stood and pulled out his assortment of blades and firearms. The tools of his trade. He began to polish and clean them with an unfocused fervour. As he did so, he nicked his thumb on a particularly sharp bowie knife, and swore loudly as he attempted to stem the blood flow. It had all been that weakling’s fault. Everything he had lost. Every instance of bad luck. It all found its way to that vampire’s feet.
Fury and rage built up in Richard, with no possible way to let it all out. The hunter wished desperately to be let loose to do what he did best. But what could he do? Even if Marlowe had allowed him to stalk the streets again, he didn’t have a single trace to follow. For all he knew, his quarry had already fled the city, a rat abandoning a sinking ship.
The raised dead, to gargoyles, to imps. All had fallen before him in one way or another. That had been his job, and no one did it better then he did. He had been single-handedly responsible for the decrease in occult deaths in all of London, even if they had been caused by his employers. But the vampire had been the first to ever elude him. Even when it had been captured, it still managed to escape, like smoke running through his fingertips.
‘Why?’ he asked himself. ‘Why is it that foul little gutter rat is the one to best me?’ That thing didn’t even deserve to breathe the same air as him. He was the apex predator, not Vincent. He was the warrior, not the vampire. He was the man, not that beast.
He could still see the frail visage of the creature that used to be Vincent. A sniveling little bookwork that had as much backbone as a slug. Always following Maria like a lame puppy. Richard should have put him in his place long ago, but back then he had posed no threat. A target in which to practise his own wit, always charming Maria into believing it was harmless fun.
Blake began to chant again in the tongue of the Lower Kingdom of Egypt, mixing in the occasional phrase in plain English. Unseen by the others, Blake pulled out a flawless ruby, the like of which could have funded Frederick’s experiments and research for a year. He tossed it into the air, a bribe to Anubis, the Egyptian god of Death, to allow the spirit passage. Blake knew it had worked when he heard no sound of the precious gem hitting the floor.
Afterward, the room was filled with an energy that caused all their hair to stand on end, and the temperature to drop. If they had been able to see, they would have noticed their breath becoming visible in the room as the frost slowly crept along the glass instruments.
Frederick had become flabbergasted. In all his years, he had never seen a magician’s illusion such as this. One that would make him feel numb with the supernatural cold. He picked up his notebook and, despite not being able to see, began to scribble his thoughts furiously, not caring what he might be writing about. Frederick had always been a man who believed what he could see and feel, and that mindset was now coming back to haunt him.
Father Grigori had not been as affected by the cold as the others, being born and raised in Siberia and its seemingly eternal winter. What caused him to be on edge was the unearthly way it had settled into the room, seemingly coming from within himself and spreading outward. To him, it had seemed they were trespassers and nature itself was angry with them. He pulled out a tiny wooden cross and clutched it tightly to his chest, muttering prayers in Russian under his breath.
What truly enraged him had been his confinement. Marlowe had relegated him to his home, trapping him like an animal in a cage. Lions were not meant to be restrained, and he was a king. His jungle taunted him just outside his window, with its sights and sounds, begging him to bare his fangs. It simply wasn't fair. He had served his superiors so well, never failing to bring in his quarry alive when requested.
He closed his eyes, and imagined finally catching up to the wretch. The weight of the blade in his hand, as he plunged it into that thing’s heart, over and over again. The screams it would let out as the pain coursed through its body. And the best part was, it could not be killed like that. Weakened, yes, but death seemed to be beyond it. Richard could hurt it, break it and would always come back for more. Just thinking about it sent shivers of euphoria down his spine.. Death had become to good for his prey. It needed to suffer.
Even in his trophy room, he felt no pleasure in the memories of the mounted heads and stuffed carcasses that lined it. Simple beasts like these held no thrill with their kill. Only the monsters provided a true challenge, with him always coming out on top. His real prizes were hidden among the natural animals. Odds and ends from the most bizarre creatures, hidden in plain sight, woven into the natural creatures others wouldn’t even bat an eye at. He reveled in them in his own private little way.
He walked over to a stuffed head of a Bengal tiger and examined its teeth. This is where he would hide the fangs after he ripped them out of Vincent’s head. They would be his prized possessions for only him and Maria to enjoy once he seduced her. Their children would grow up to inherit them and tell their children of the story of their grandfather, a vampire slayer.
Maria. He would have such sites to show her when she returned and remembered what it was like to be a proper lady. The terrors that lurked in the dark. He and he alone would kill to protect the city. It was only a matter of time, and patience needed to be learned. Like a snake waiting for its prey to relax before it struck. When the word came, he would be ready. A hunter needs to hunt, craves it with every fiber of his being. He needed to be unleashed onto the world, the weapon of the light, to slay the darkness, for this hunt would be his most righteous, and certainly his most pleasurable.
Richard slinked back to his room and began to polish his armory once more, content with his fantasies he was determined to make a reality. He smiled to himself as he saw his reflection in his shining pistol.
‘Soon,’ he whispered to himself. ‘So very soon.’ He stared out at the window, almost hoping Vincent had fled the city. It would give him a hunt he would never have expected. There would be no place for the vampire to hide, and when Richard finally caught up to it, it would look up at him and realise there had never been any hope against the superior man. And Richard would enjoy every minute of it.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as they felt an external force pushing on them from all sides. It felt as if something were trying to push through the barriers of death and into the realm of life, and was collapsing reality on top of them to do so. Frederick dropped his notebook, as Father Grigori dropped his cross, both feeling as though their hands would burst into flames from vibrating so hard.
The candles that had gone dark soon erupted in long, billowing flames. It melted the frost that had gathered, and began to create a thick mist in the room, which began to swirl towards the center in front of Blake. The wax of the candles began to melt at an accelerated rate, dripping onto the floor and gathering beneath the mists.
As the wax dissipated, the lights went out again, and the pressure was released from the room. Frederick and Father Grigori fell to the floor, gasping for air. They looked up to the moonlight, shining down on Blake, as a figure flitted in and out of the smoke. It soon began to clear, and there on the center of the floor stood two large red candles, both lit.
The smoke from them gathered into a small cloud where a single, cold voice echoed through their very beings. It spoke only two words: I accept.
Somewhere, miles and miles away, in the wilds of France, a large wolf raised its ears as it felt something horrible had happened, stirring in the ether. Sarah placed her hand onto the wolf’s mane and whispered to him.
‘I feel it too,’ she said. They looked out towards the sea, as if they could see what was happening in that laboratory in London. The wolf raised his head and howled his melancholy sound, echoing throughout the forest. Deep in its bones, it was afraid, and didn’t know why.
Something was coming for them now. It knew where they were, and it did not need sleep or food on its journey. Their destination lay so very far away, and time was running out.
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved