Fiction Page 4
THE CURSE OF SAN GUADELOUPE
Lawrence R. Dagstine
On many acres of land...separated by a channel in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies...in a small province colonized and owned by the French and Dutch, there was a panic-stricken farmer who flattened himself against a tree trunk, as a large bat fluttered through the leaves above him. And when it did not swoop down to attack, or return with hordes of its fellows, the farmer moved on, reassured. Maybe without the telepathic mind of Gorgas to control them, the vampire bats of this land were like the vampire bats of Asia, timid nocturnal creatures, a danger only to the frail oxen in the fields. And Gorgas, the farmer hoped, was convinced that he was still a prisoner in San Guadeloupe's Chapel of Thorns, and with any luck was preoccupied with his unholy ceremony.
At last the familiar chimney smoke of the village appeared above the trees. The farmer hurried towards it, opened the iron gate and went inside. With a sigh of relief, he looked around the familiar Dutch village, patting the chained-up patrol dog like an old friend. It was nice to be home, especially after a spell in the malign environment of that cursed chapel.
The village elder glided forward to greet him. "Sven, we have an unauthorized visitor. The young priest from Moldavia."
"I know," said Sven uneasily. "He's the cleric who has come to aid us in our time of need."
"So is it true?" asked the village elder. "Was his homeland once plague to an even greater curse?"
"More like an abomination of evil," Sven said. "Moldavia was once ruled by an evil monarch, whose supernatural influences caused autocracy and bloodshed throughout most of Europe. Recorded history tells much about this man."
"Who cares about some other country's history," said the village elder grumpily. "There are more things to worry about. Our village is under attack--our families!"
"It'll all be taken care of soon enough."
Ironically, Sven looked a little shamefaced. Unlike the village elder, whose family were victims of Gorgas's curse, Sven did not want to drive a stake through the heart of the great vampire king. Not right away. He wanted to go back…back into the chapel beside the cemetery and learn more about Gorgas's vampiric roots.
At that moment a young girl came waltzing out of the dark and towards the two men. She broke into a torrent of West Indian and Dutch, the words a long spit of scorn. "You are afraid, both of you. You pretend that Gorgas's bloodshed is a child's game and you can stop it when you are tired or frightened. You let him steal our souls so that he can come back and kill some more. That bastard laughs at you because you are babies. Kill them, kill all of them! The death toll still rises. Death is all that he understands. There must be a solution. And if you are too frightened to find one, let a girl do it for you. I would tear out his hair, burn out his eyes. I would---" She threw herself across the body of Sven, her father, moaning incoherently. Embarrassed, Sven looked away, torn between sympathy and repulsion. Her sin was not that by firing her mouth she had leveled his courage. It was worse than that; she had given way to naked emotion.
"It's a shame it has come to this," the elder remarked tonelessly, shaking his head.
"What?" asked Sven.
"Our standing down. And what about this young cleric, and the curse over our countryside?"
"Our visitor will rid us of the curse," Sven promised the old man. "He is a warrior of God."
They were still at the gate when they heard his horse; and Sven glanced at his daughter for the plodding hoofs seemed to wander instead of coming straight on up the pebbly trail. Then they heard the horse's curiously weak neigh. The three villagers stepped back as a white stallion made its approach. The man appeared to be unarmed, and in his tight cloak he looked like a down-at-the-heel cleric. He held out his free hand, his unshaven face split in a grin. Sven ignored the hand.
"You want to talk to me?"
"Yes," said the cleric. "After all, it was you who requested my presence."
"Talk to him," said the village elder from behind. "He came all the way from Europe to help us."
The cleric smiled. "Your friend is wise, not only in his years but in his sagacity."
"He should be," said Sven. "He's responsible for many great things."
The cleric held out his hand again. "I'm sure he is," he said, with the same mysterious yet affable grin. "I am Horatio, and you must be one of the village superiors. I decided to meet you halfway. I couldn't wait to make your acquaintance. I've heard so much about you from the townsfolk, like how you single-handedly won this country's independence from the French."
So this was the man who was going to help rid Sven's people of Gorgas's curse. He couldn't have been more than thirty, and already he was an ennobled servant of God. Sven gave no sign that he recognized the cleric's purpose of being there. But after awhile he extended the same warmth and pleasantry. "I am only a bean farmer, but that is correct."
"As you may have noticed, I speak good Dutch," Horatio said. "That is because only my grandparents were from Moldavia. I understand the Dutch way of looking at the world. I feel for you. More of your blood has been shed than of ours."
"Yes, my village has suffered a great deal."
"That is why I admire you."
Sven was confused. "What do you mean?"
"Only a true vampire hunter could survive a week in the catacombs of the cemetery and chapel."
"But I was Gorgas's prisoner," said Sven, "his slave at the very least."
"It doesn't matter," said the cleric. "You possess a fire inside of you that is uncontrollable."
Sven was still confused.
"You must learn to use this fire," Horatio went on, "use it against your immortal enemy."
He slid off his horse and walked up to Sven, throwing him a sack. Sven gave him a freakish glance and looked inside. "Stakes and mallets?"
"Our supplies. Since you've already been inside the chapel, I will need you to come with me and act as my guide."
"Yes, of course," said Sven. "I'll fetch some torches. Is there anything else I should know?"
"Only that Gorgas won't be easy to kill. Even in death he can harm you. It's his curse we have to destroy, otherwise your precious village doesn't have much of a future."
Words Sven was not pleased to hear...
The journey back into the Chapel of Thorns seemed both longer and more dangerous than the journey out. The chapel, which resembled a haunted church, seemed to be waking into life. The undead moved constantly through the corridors, and more than once Sven and Horatio had to duck into a side corridor or service tunnel to escape capture. Access to the main tunnel was easy, but getting down to the catacombs was a different story.
At last Sven peered cautiously around a corner, and beckoned Horatio to join him. He pointed. "There."
Horatio saw an arched doorway, with a ghoul standing sentry outside. "It's guarded."
"I told you, it's the seventh sanctum. It's always guarded."
Horatio considered. "What about the old prisoner trick, then?"
"You were already a slave in this part of the chapel," Horatio explained. "The guards know your face. Just say you captured me in the cemetery, and that Gorgas wishes to see this new prisoner."
Sven grinned, and drew a short sword from his belt. Holding it to Horatio's back, Sven marched him briskly along the corridor, halting before the sentry. "Gorgas wishes to see this new prisoner."
"The Lord is busy," said the heavily armored ghoul. "It is forbidden to disturb him before the midnight hour."
"He wishes to see the prisoner immediately," repeated Sven. "I have my orders."
"And I have mine," said the ghoul obstinately. "No one must pass."
Sven decided on a final bluff. "You will hand over the key to the sanctum immediately," he roared. "As the Lord's faithful human servant, I take full responsibility. So quit stalling, and hand it over!"
Intimidated by Sven's air of authority, the ghoul handed over the key.
Sven snatched it and thrust it into the lock. The door opened. He walked in ahead of Horatio; this unprisonerlike behavior had aroused the ghoul's suspicions. The creature was staring hard, first at the cleric, then at Sven. "Wait, I know you. You're that farmer! The farmer that escaped earlier!"
Horatio stuck out his leg, and tripped the ghoul as he lunged forward. Sven whacked him with the hilt of his sword. Catching the unconscious creature in his arms, he lugged the body through the doorway, which slid closed behind them. Dumping the guard at the head of the stairs, Horatio and Sven descended the dark staircase. "This way," said Sven. "But move quietly."
They reached the bottom of the stairs and looked around the moist and gloomy chamber. It reeked of blood. Fresh blood.
Six vampires lay side by side, stretched out on their backs on the main bier. Presumably they were sleeping, but they might almost have been dead. Only the slightest rise and fall of their chests showed they were still breathing.
Sven stared down at them. "We could destroy them now, while they're sleeping." He tapped the hilt of his blade.
"Forget the minions," said Horatio pragmatically. "Besides, it takes a stake to kill them."
"Are you trying to tell me we don't have enough ammunition?"
"No, just that it doesn't pay to kill innocent people. Destroying Gorgas will destroy the curse, and they'll revert back into normal men like you and I."
Sven glanced down at them briefly. Stretched out in their rococo robes, they looked like statues on the tomb of some ancient god. Evil as they were, Horatio could not let Sven stab them in their sleep.
Sven led the cleric unerringly along through the catacombs. Avoiding the main corridors and using sub-corridors and access tunnels, he brought him at last to a giant door by which he had exited only a couple of hours ago. "Much happened during my ordeal here," he said. "Ever since the escape, I haven't felt the same."
"Gorgas senses a weak character," Horatio said. "He's probably using some form of mind control to throw you off. Don't give in. Whatever you do, fight it."
Sven nodded. He shook off his fear and, along with Horatio, entered.
The two men looked around. They were in a huge circular chamber, walls trimmed in gold and mother-of-pearl, and covered with rich and somber hangings. On a raised platform at the far end were two chairs, side by side. It was obviously some kind of banquet room. Yet there was something odd about it, thought Horatio, something irregular, as though the room had been designed for some other purpose altogether. Something sinister. Sven, too, seemed bewildered by his surroundings, even though he had been there a short time ago.
There was a man and a woman peeking out from behind the two chairs, both tall and thin, with white faces and shiny black eyes, both gorgeously ornamented. They reminded Sven of the Old Dutch kings and queens of ages past, just like the ones from the 1600s.
They came forward, moving in unison with a curious gliding motion.
The man said, "Greetings." His voice was cold with a kind of superior quality. "I am Gorgas. This is my bride, Adele."
"We know who you are," said the woman. Her voice had the same superior quality as her companion's. "A matter of fact, we've been expecting you."
Horatio's eyes widened in alarm.
"You are hunters," said Gorgas flatly. It was a statement, not a question.
"And that doesn't surprise you?" asked Sven.
"Nothing surprises us," said Adele, smiling almost wickedly. "Refreshment?"
Sven gestured towards a side table, which bore crystal glasses and a jug of red wine. Adele glided towards the table and poured three drinks, passing them around in what looked like antique goblets. There was food on the table too, a platter piled high with sliced meats. Adele offered the plate to Sven, who saw that the meats were so undercooked as to be almost raw. He declined politely; so did Horatio. Adele returned the plate to the table, picking up her drink and joining her companion.
Gorgas raised his goblet. "To our guests." He blinked at Sven and toasted him in particular. "May you enjoy your stay here...."
"As we shall enjoy having you," concluded Adele.
Horatio looked around the room. "You certainly do very well for yourselves here."
"We try to retain some remnants of civilized life. Of course, in a primitive country like this, it isn't easy."
Sven took an unappreciative sip of his wine. He spit it out a second later, saying, "It has the taste of slaughtered cattle!"
"What do you mean?" asked Horatio.
"This is alcohol mixed with blood."
Horatio knocked the glass out of Sven's hand, and threw Gorgas a dirty look. "Is this what you serve all your guests? The blood of this man's relatives?"
"The Dutch are simple folk," said Adele coldly. "Extravagant wine and richer fare weren't meant for your kind. There are always a few ungrateful ones who do not appreciate what we do for them."
Sven found the complacent superiority in her voice quite nettlesome. "And what do you do? Apart from saving them from gluttony?"
"We offer the gift of immortality."
"Immortality is not a gift," said Horatio slight peevishly, "but a curse from God."
Adele laughed. "There's nothing worse than a moody priest, makes them quite indigestible."
A grandfather clock in the corner of the room chimed, interrupting Adele's inconsequential argument. "Now, please," said Gorgas. "Let's not have any bickering. If anything, we should be celebrating."
"Celebrate what?" asked Sven.
"Why, it is midnight, of course. It is the wounding hour."
Sven and Horatio looked at each other. "The wounding hour?"
"Yes," Gorgas said. "The wounding is a call from beyond the grave, a time when most of my ancestors are deemed worthy of resurrection. During the fall harvest, midnight becomes an hour of revivification. The wounding is not just a beginning, but an awakening."
Adele glided towards Sven and gave him a kiss on the cheek; Horatio pulled him away from her seductive grasp. "And it would not be a wounding without sacrifices, a collection of souls to speed the process."
"The people of your village are part of that process," said Gorgas menacingly, fangs jutting outward.
Sven clenched his fists and gritted his teeth in anger. "So you're draining the life out of my people just so you can have enough supernatural power to raise a few dead relatives."
Gorgas smiled. "Exactly."
For the first time, Sven realized the full extent of the vampire's appalling strength. But not enough to keep him from drawing his blade and waving it around. Sven wanted revenge, and it was his only reason for returning to the chapel in the first place. He was a powerfully built man in the prime of his life, but Adele rushed over and held him effortlessly with one hand. A second later, she lifted him clear of the ground, and hurled him across the chamber.
Horatio drew a stake out of his sack. A mocking voice behind him said, "I think not!" He whirled around to see Gorgas advancing toward him.
Rolling swiftly from the floor, Sven snatched up his sword, drew back his arm, and threw with all his strength. The heavy blade flashed across the room, and thudded into Gorgas's heart. The vampire halted his advance. He looked down at the tip of the weapon, projecting from his chest. Breathlessly, Sven and Horatio waited for him to fall dead to the ground.
But vampires do not die so easily.
Gorgas plucked the bloody sword out of his body, and tossed it away, saying, "This is all fun and games to you, isn't it? But now see the true power of the wounding."
The ground cracked open in an enormous chasm, and a burst of energy illuminated the floor. Hissing with rage, Gorgas glided towards Sven. It was as if he had undergone some startling transformation. But Horatio dropped his sack and stepped in front of him. Gorgas paused for a moment, as if to savor this triumph--sucking the life out of an innocent human. Eyes flaring red, fangs gleaming, hands and robe outstretched, he lunged forward---and then froze.
There was a single colossal screech of agony, unbearable in its intensity, and then silence. Gorgas looked down at his chest. Horatio had inserted the stake into the hole in his body.
Gorgas drew a long, shuddering breath, and stepped back. His face seemed to dry up, to wither and crack, like sun-baked earth. The dessicated flesh crumbled from his body and for one horrible moment, an ornate skeleton stood leering at Sven. Then the decorated skeleton, too, crumbled. As for Adele, she gave a loud shriek. A moment later she fell, reverting back into a human.
Sven gave a sigh of relief. "That was close. I thank you."
Horatio turned and faced him. "A little too close," he gestured. "No need to thank me. I couldn't have eliminated him without you. Your stalling him gave me just the amount of time I needed. You proved to me that you have what it takes."
"What are you talking about what it takes?"
"What it takes to be a learned vampire hunter."
Sven smiled triumphantly, for he felt that his boldness aided the cleric in completing his task. He kicked the pile of bones on the floor. "Is Gorgas's curse truly over?"
Horatio helped Adele, who did not know where she was, to her feet. "Here, yes. Other places, no. Throughout the world, the war against the undead goes on. It started with my homeland, Moldavia. Who knows where it'll end."
At least San Guadeloupe is a start.