He did not come with storm and tempest, he came with a small leather suitcase.
He paid the ferryman in cash, muttering a combination of thanks and apologies that the English seem to think necessary for such transactions, and then set off up the beach. He walked with a stick, a simple length of hawthorn with a V at the top, but he put no weight on it. Even when he stumbled on a rock, or slipped on the seaweed, the stick was a balance more than a rest.
By the time he had reached the saltmarsh his woollen overcoat was glistening with droplets of water, and his scarf hung limp. He wore no hat, and his untidy red hair was plastered to his head with the fine cold rain.
He paused to take in his surroundings. It’s strange how the mind plays tricks on people. The Englishman knew he was many hundreds of miles away from home, but his eyes were tracing familiar landmarks in the sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops.
“Just like Begger’s Lane back home”, he thought to himself.
It was certainly true that the Hopeless landscape around him seemed remarkably similar to the abandoned staithes and marshes of the Fens where he had grown up.
Finally, the Englishman appeared to reach some sort of decision of the “this will do” variety and put down his case. Opening it, he revealed the sparse contents within, begging the question in the mind of the casual observer of why he bothered with a case at all. Had the Englishman written an inventory of the contents, it would have listed just three items; a jar marked salt, a candle and a box of matches. The Englishman took the jar marked salt and used its contents to trace a circle in the tussocky grass. Then he used the matches to light his single candle. And, with his staff in one hand and candle in the other he stood and waited.
“I can smell your fear.” Came a soft voice from behind him.
“Quite!” replied the Englishman. “Under the circumstances, anything less that absolute terror would be evidence of a foolhardy spirit.”
“And you are not fool hardy?” Replied the voice, moving now; edging round the circle. A tall lean dark shape stepped into the Englishman’s peripheral vision. “You, weak and afraid, have come to Hopeless to see a vampire, and you are not a fool?”
“I just want to ask a question…” the Englishman began.
“A dangerous question that I refuse to answer!” snapped the vampire. He was stood in front of the Englishman now. Tall, pale (naturally) his white hair was long, as were his fingernails. He wore a morning suit, old but well-tailored and immaculately turned out.
The vampire took a long stride towards the Englishman. “Did you think a circle of salt would keep me out?” he asked with a sneer.
“No” replied the Englishman, drawing himself up and casting off his shivers and muttering tone. “The circle is to keep you in, and it’s not salt.” With that he cast the lighted candle to one side, and where it fell a flame sprung from the ground, spreading quickly until it had encircled the two adversaries with a tall sheet of red and yellow flame.
“You challenge me?” asked the vampire, his voice rising a little in his surprise.
“I knew you would not give me my answer willingly, but if I can beat you then you will be compelled to give me my bearing.” The Englishman said, raising his voice of the noises that were emerging from the marsh around them. The vampire was summoning up support. Vampires and deamons could not cross into the circle of fire, but their rituals and spells could.
“You will lose and I will claim you.” the vampire hissed.
“Then that is our wager.” the Englishman called back. The noises around him were no longer indistinct, but definite chanting. The Englishman closed his eyes in concentration and began to recall the old words of the marshlands.
Needing something to focus power upon, the vampire began taking items from his pockets; piece of broken china, an old coin, a dog hair brush. With each item he uttered a single syllable and the darkness around him grew deeper.
The Englishman could feel the chill of the darkness begin to bite him. This would be close run thing. But first he must drive off the vampires allies.
“Fire and Water, Land and Sea.” He called, and as he did so there was movement in the mist around his legs. “The horn is sounded, the drum is beat. Clay’s light shines on the marsh, carried by the wind.” The Englishman whistled through his teeth, a long forlorn note like a lonesome bird calling over the sea.
Lights began to jump from the marsh outside the circle.
The Englishman whistled again. “Whistle and they will come!” he called.
The lights came toward the circle, scattering the deamons and vampires as they moved.
The Englishman took a dandelion stalk from behind his ear and blew upon it, sounding it like a small horn. “Up Shuck!” he shouted, “Up Bryard! The wild hunt rides!”
A roar of hooves suddenly split the air and passed through both Englishman and vampire, though the circle of flame did not waver for a moment.
As suddenly as it came, it went. Leaving only silence. The vampire would have to fight alone.
But the vampire was old, cunning and powerful. Even as the first jack o’lanterns flickered into light, he had changed his chant and charms. Long fingers passed tokens and tools from hand to hand, some seeming to hang in the air until needed. Again the darkness thickened, and the cold bit and stung.
The Englishman knew that his last effort had come and that this would be the making or breaking of him. He gripped his staff tightly before him, both hand locked together. He thought of his lands and his people; the men from the water, the men from the marsh, the dark eyed travelling folk who had raised him. The woods spilt out of his mouth like blood from a wound.
“There is a light at the end of the world!” he cried. “A light that burns so bright that none can ever endure it. A light that burns a hole in the hearts of men and boils the blood of fey.”
As he spoke, luminous mist appeared to rise form the ground around his feet, spiraling around him. His staff glowed hot and he, himself, began to radiate light.
“I am touched by that light, and though the shadow falls upon me, I welcome it!”
The thunderclap split the twilight.
The mist and drizzle scattered.
The circle of flame shrank and died.
The Englishman stood alone.
“Cast your staff down and it will point your way, coldblood!” came the vampire’s voice. As he spoke he rose from the ground like a mist, a short distance in front of the Englishman.
“Coldblood?” the Englishman asked in horror?
“Your heart is stopped.” replied the vampire, “Your blood runs cold.”
The Englishman looked at his hands and as he watched the colour drained from his fingers.
“But I won!” he shouted.
The vampire laughed a cold harsh laugh. “When will you mortals learn?” he sneered. “There is no winning. There is nothing to win!”
And with that he sank and faded away.
The Englishman threw down his staff in anger. It spun and then came to a rest, pointing his way. Next to it lay a shell, one of the vampires discarded trinkets. The Englishman picked them both up.
“Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.”
Words by Jim Snee
Art by Tom Brown