Tag Archives: vampire

The Bargain

A month had passed since Hank had wandered unwittingly into Hopeless. For some days previously he had been searching for the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, deep in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, when his path led him to a fissure in the rocks, through which daylight and wispy fog issued improbably.

Hank was tall and wiry, two yards of whipcord draped in buckskin. He had had no problem in slipping through the narrow gap, though persuading his bulky backpack to follow had been more of a challenge. Eventually he had emerged, blinking and somewhat confused into the daylight.

You may recall, from the tale ‘Dutchman’s Gold’, how Hank had met Philomena Bucket, who managed, with some difficulty, to convince him that he was not in Hell but in Hopeless, Maine, some two thousand miles from Arizona. Though he accepted Philomena’s assurances, to Hank’s mind, Hell seemed a more likely explanation, not least because of the presence of the skeletal dog, Drury.

With his usual generosity, the landlord of ‘The Squid and Teapot’ had given Hank board and lodgings in exchange for a few chores. While grateful, the prospector was keen to leave the island. He reasoned that if there was one path that could bridge two thousand miles in a hundred paces, there must be another and – dagnabbit! he was going to find it.

Hank said nothing of his plan to leave, either to the landlord or Philomena. As a token of thanks he left his pocket watch on the bar; it was a beautiful, antique half-hunter that he had won in a card game a few weeks before. For a man who had journeyed two thousand miles in twenty seconds, time and space had become irrelevant. The hands of the watch showed seven o’clock and somewhere, high above the ever-present fog of Hopeless, the sun was rising and attempting, with little success, to illuminate the island. Without looking back, Hank closed the door of the inn quietly behind him and set out for the Gydynap Hills, the place where his life on Hopeless had begun.

The path that wound into the heart of the hills was steeper than Hank remembered. A month of being relatively inactive had taken its toll on his stamina and despite the morning chill, he broke out into a sweat.

For hours he wandered the hills, desperately searching for something – anything – that would lead him away from Hopeless. Squatting on the damp ground, Hank gave himself time to get his breath back. The sun was low in the sky by now, ready to drop below the horizon, having given up all hope of penetrating the unforgiving blanket of fog. Stuffing his pipe with his last, precious, twist of tobacco, Hank scanned the area pensively, looking for some likely cave or feature in the landscape that would lead him away from this accursed island forever. There was nothing obvious, nothing that indicated ‘Arizona – this way’. With a heavy heart he was about to give up his quest when a barely discernible movement caught his eye. Dimly, in this half-light, he spotted a small figure tottering unsteadily into a cluster of rocks, no more than twenty feet away, its tendril-like arms and legs clutching more spoons than it could comfortably manage.

“It’s one of them weird things,” Hank said  to himself. “Dam’ nasty little critters that walk along on cutlery.”

What was it that Philomena had called them? Spoonrunners? Something mad like that. As Hank recalled, one such creature had slipped into the doorway that had brought him here, just before it snapped shut. It could be worth following it.

By the time Hank had reached the tumble of rocks, the spoonwalker was long gone. A few yards ahead, however, a dropped spoon was lying on the rocky ground. Hank stopped to pick it up, noticing, as he did, the hole through which the creature had disappeared. Hank gasped. It seemed to be washed in a dim, green light which issued from somewhere deep inside the hill. This was hopeful! The gap  unfortunately, was no more than ten or twelve inches high and of half that in width. Maybe that garish, unearthly glow was some sort of sign that there was a path that could get him back to the Superstition Mountains. Hank looked around for something to prise the rocks apart, but could find nothing remotely suitable to use as a lever. Cursing his luck, Hank sat down, leaned against the cliff wall and closed his eyes.

”Dagnabbit!” he said aloud, “What I wouldn’t give to get to the Dutchman’s gold mine.”

“And what would you give?”

Hank jumped up in alarm, not expecting a response. A tall, pale, almost cadaverous, figure dressed in funereal black was leaning languidly against the rock face.

“Jumping Jehosophat you gave me a turn,” complained Hank, indignantly.

“I repeat… ” said the stranger, firmly, “what would you give to get to the Dutchman’s gold mine.”

Hank eyed his new companion with some disquiet. From the outset he had been convinced that Hopeless was Hell; if that  was the case, this fellow was probably after more than he was prepared to part with.

“Well, you ain’t having my soul, if that’s what you’re after…” he said, angrily.

The cadaverous stranger threw back his head and laughed. It was a hard, mirthless sound.

“Your soul… whatever do you think I would do with your soul? You might as well offer me your unkempt ginger beard or the ridiculous floppy hat that you’re wearing.”

Somewhat offended, Hank grew defensive. He was fond of his hat.

“Well, s’obvious I ain’t got nothing you want, so you might as well go before you get me all riled up and I do something we both regret.”

The stranger smiled. It was not a particularly pleasant smile but in that poor light Hank did not notice.

“How about…” said the stranger, in measured tones, “how about we come to some arrangement when you get to where you’re going?”

Hank was becoming suspicious that there was more to this stranger than he was telling. He had heard tales of what happened to folks in Hopeless after the sun went down.

“And you ain’t a-going to hurt me?”

“My dear fellow, why on earth would I wish you harm? No… no, I give you my word as a gentleman, I will cause you no pain whatsoever. This is purely a business transaction.”

Hank shrugged. If this character was being less than honest with him there was little he could do to avoid it.

“Alrighty,” he said, throwing caution to the wind, “get me to the Dutchman’s gold mine and you can have half of what I’ve got.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed the stranger, giving the cliff face the gentlest of pushes,  “then we’ll go straightaway. Follow me.”

With a faint scraping noise the rocks parted and the two stepped into the lurid green light of the cavern.

Hank had expected the road back to the Superstition Mountains to be rough and narrow. He was quite incorrect on both points. He found himself on a broad thoroughfare that meandered gently down through the belly of the hills. He was feeling better already. That green light – wherever it came from – seemed less sinister now and his travelling companion appeared to be decidedly light-hearted, despite his gaunt appearance. The only niggle that bothered him was the fact that it was taking a darned sight longer to get there than it had to come. A darned sight longer!

“Are we nearly there?” he asked, unwittingly repeating the mantra chanted by every child, ever since the earliest human migrations began.

“Indeed we are,” said the cadaverous stranger. “But first we must stop and eat. I have some particularly delicious cake that I’m sure you will enjoy.”

Hank took the cake gratefully. The stranger was right. It was delicious.

“Ain’t you eating too?” he asked suspiciously.

“No, I have a meal waiting for me at home. It would be a pity to spoil it.”

Hank finished the cake and they walked on for another mile or so. Suddenly the stranger stopped and pointed ahead.

“Look, look – there it is. The Dutchman’s gold mine.”

Hank stared into the cavernous space before him.

“Where? I can’t see nothing.”

“Oh you will.. you will. Here it is – yours to work for all time.”

The words flowed into Hank’s consciousness like a river of honey. He shook his head and sure enough, there was the mine, just as he had imagined. Thick veins of gold ran like ribbons through the rock and the ground was littered with nuggets of every size and shape.

“The Dutchman’s gold!” exclaimed Hank dreamily.

“Ah, yes, the Dutchman’s gold.” said the stranger, soothingly. “Look there are tools on the floor, picks and buckets – everything you need.”

“Everything I need,” echoed Hank in a flat voice, totally lacking in emotion. He bent down and reached for a pick that was not there.

 

Deep beneath the island of Hopeless, Maine, in a cavern wrapped in utter darkness, a figure goes through the motions of excavating gold from a mine that only he can see. Day and night he works, stopping only to drink brackish water and eat the thin shards of the mercifully nameless meat that is left for him. He has been told that it is beer and the best beef that Arizona can offer. He is content. His buckskin clothes are little more than tatters and shreds and his once red beard is now long and grey. Sometimes he sleeps and that is when they come to feed. The stranger told him no lies. There is no pain, no discomfort. Just a numbness as he unwittingly gives half of what he has. He is gradually fading and soon he will be no more than a wraith; only then will the illusion fade and the torment begin.

Story by Martin Pearson- Art by Tom Brown

An Englishman in Hopeless, Maine

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