Meditation XVII By John Donne From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII:
“Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris” translation- “Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.”
“Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.”*
In a dark hallway, in a bomb shelter long unused, somewhere on Truman Annex, Key West. Two men stand in a darkened room studying each other intently. The first man is older, bearded, a silver tipped cane supports him, his right eye glows like a baleful flame. The other man is younger, his features non-descript, his voice, his dress, unremarkable. The younger man speaks.
“Don? Is that you?”
“You have forgotten me so easily my boy?”
The young man pauses, “Yes, and no. Seeing you, seeing you I remember. What happened to them, my pack?”
“It is best you do not remember,” the older man sniffs the air, “you’ve brought the others with you. It is too soon for us to meet. Though,” and the older man smiles, “you can tell your friend the Sheriff that I know he is here, and that when his wife died there was much screaming.”
Down the hall Dowd steadies himself, his teeth gritted, his eyes narrow. Absently he readies his weapon to fire.
“Why, why did you kill them?” the younger man asks.
“It was necessary, they knew too much. Have you forgotten everything?” The old man shakes his head, “It has perhaps been too long since you have seen her. Your grandsire, your queen will set you on your course.”
Dowd creeps slowly down the hallway, his boots nearly soundless as he rounds the corner he flips on the flashlight attached to his barrel. Standing before him in the beam of light is a man he has not seen in over fifty years. The man responsible for his life, or unlife and the deaths of his entire town. With trained percision he squeezes the trigger the barrel of his gun aimed directly at the man’s head. The sound of gunfire pierces the silence of the room, the smell of cordite is everywhere, the older man, the Don stands unwounded.
“Sheriff Dowd, have you learned nothing?”
The sign read “Welcome to Murk Hollow. Population: 600” A ‘47 Cadillac stopped at the edge of town, inside it’s spacious interior where four figures. After a brief pause the engine roared to life again and tore down the country road and onto Murk Hallow’s humble Main Street. The car once again came to a stop in front of the town’s small gas station. The driver cut the engine and four figures stepped out, three women and one man. The woman were an odd sight in this rural town, two dressed well in coutre travel outfits in understated dark tones, the third was an amazon with a cloud of platinum blonde hair above a statuesque body. The last passenger to step out was a tall man of indeterminate age with brown hair, also too well dressed for their current locale. The man scanned the area, head and shoulders held high, his nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Quaint, isn’t it. I forgot how much I detest the South.” The man’s voice is nasal, with a hint of a well-hidden Bostonian accent.
“Do you hear that?” the amazon asked in a husky tone.
“I hear nothing.” the third woman wore her dark hair short topped with a fashionable hat, she was flanked by a the third woman who bore a striking resemblance to her, but who remained silent and watchful. She was dressed in man’s suit, her right hand was under her jacket on the left side.
“That’s because there’s no sound, nothin’ sweety. A town like this, a few hundred people and it’s not so late at night, there should be a few lights on, a few people around. I don’t even hear dogs barkin’.” The Amazon gave a long look up main street and shivered. “Somethin’s not right here.”
“That may be the case Ms. Hurtz,” the man spoke up, “but we are duty bound to investigate. If those savages within the Sabbat have done something to the people of this town than for the sake of the Masquerade we must stop them.” He turned and strode into the gas station, warily he moved about searching for any evidence of what had happened there. Soon he found the wreckage of the register smashed across the wall behind the front counter, and streaks of blood nearby. As the others joined him in searching the wreckage they heard a noise from the back of the shop. A muffled cry and thumping against a barred storage room door.
He’d been out for hours, maybe longer. There was a blood caked to his face where the man had smashed him into the glass behind the front counter. He should be hurting, he gently reached for his scalp, there was a wound there, but small, like he’d had a weeks’ time to heal. He was hungry, he wondered if it was morning yet, he’d just had dinner before the man had attacked him. Sheriff Henry Dowd, Hank to his friends, stood slowly in the darkness. He stumbled a bit, knocked over a few boxes, he must be in the store room at the station. He tries the door, locked, he gives it a kick, must be barred too. Then he hears a noise, his ears were always good, but now, now it was like his hearing had been turned up like a radio. He could hear people outside now, they were talking about something, he couldn’t quite make out. A man and a couple of women, maybe another waiting outside by the sound of the idling engine. He began shouting for help!
“Who is it? Who’s in there?” the man’s voice from outside.
“My name’s Dowd, I’m the town Sheriff. A man attacked me and Harry, must of locked me in here, is Harry out there?”
“No sign of him, sir,” the Bostonian again, “are you alright, we’re going to get this door open for you.” He waves two of the women over, De la Croix and her ghoul.
“I’d be much obliged, I don’t suppose you’ve got something to eat, I’m starving.”
“We’ll see when we get you out of there, now please step away from the door, my colleagues will dislodge it.”
The two dark haired women make short work of the door, pummeling it from it’s hinges. For the first time Sheriff Dowd’s blocky features and graying red hair become visible. His skin however is pale, well beyond the previous rural Floridian tan he had once sported.
“Much obliged,” he nods to the man and women and takes stock of the wrecked store. The others give him a moment to collect himself before speaking. Mr. Burridge introduces himself first, and makes introductions for the others. After a short discussion the others reveal to the Sheriff that he has likely been turned into one of the Kindred, Embraced they call it. The Sheriff, to his credit, takes this in stride and decides to check out his town. The others follow slowly, fanning out across Main Street looking for any signs of life, of which there are none. Similar displays of stores and homes violated, blood stains, and wreckage. Their is a blood curdling roar from the far end of town, where the Sheriff has just found his marriage bed covered in gore, his wife no where to be found.
As the strangers gather together back at the car, they’re prepared to call it a loss, to move on to the next town in hopes of finding the Don and his fiendish Sabbat. That is when the bell tolls, and the strangers turn toward the little church steeple in the center of town. The coterie moves to investigate, they enter the church slowly, the lights inside have been cut, the only visible light streaming in through the stain glass windows along the back of the church and behind the alter. Giselle, the lead woman with the dark hair and aristocratic features moves in first. She shifts her sight, calling on her blood heritage to invert the light and the darkness. To her eyes the church becomes well lit as every shadow becomes bright light, and the wan light streaming in through the windows becomes long shafts of darkness.
She looks up, scanning the pews, the altar, and then she sees it. The body of a man, crucified upon the church’s large cross at the rear of the building. She moves quickly to investigate, the man is not breathing, grabbing it with both of her hands she pulls it from the wall. She brings it gently to the floor behind the altar, the man, obviously the small town’s priest begins to gasp and twitch. He mutters something beneath his breath, a prayer. He gestures with his head, his eyes, pleading her to come closer, to hear his words. She bends closer to hear him speak, he whispers, “Hungry, so hungry, her children. The old wolf, the stalking lord, he is her herald…he touts the coming of our Queen!” With this last he pulls his hand free of it’s restraint, the nails through his wrist tearing tendons, flesh and veins. He grabs her neck and pulls her close with inhuman strength fangs flash in the darkness and she can feel him drinking greedily.
Outside the others are searching the grounds. The Sheriff, never a deeply religious man finds himself unable to approach the churchyard, unable to bear the cold wrath of the simple steepled church. He decides he’d be of better use armed, he makes for his office nearby, there locked away should be his old .30-06 Garand. While the others search the church for whoever has been ringing the bell he makes a beeline for the office. Once inside he hears the bell again, but focuses on the task at hand. He finds the rifle, his keys stolen from him in the attack, he smashes the glass case and grabs the rifle, his hand is not even scratched. He pulls out boxes of ammunition and begins loading it as the bell continues to toll.
Behind the church Mr. Burridge and Ms. Hurtz have found a mass grave dug in the town’s small graveyard. A long low trench recently covered in soft black earth. As they watch the dirt parts and and a tattered figure pulls herself free. The woman stumbles to her feet, caked in dark earth she looks around bewildered. She turns toward the two Kindred at the edge of the graveyard,her eyes begin to glow balefully in the darkness as more earth shifts behind her. Several more figures unearth themselves scrabbling with broken fingernails and pale limbs. Each begins to moan, the hunger has struck them. Some have eyes that glow in that same crimson spark deep within shadowed eye sockets. Burridge and Hurtz back slowly away, moving towards the front of the church, Hurtz reaches into her handbag pulling out a small caliber revolver with antique scrollwork.
Inside the church Giselle struggles with the crucified priest. He has pulled his second hand free and is using all of his strength in his struggle against the Archon. Summoning up the strength of her blood she pulls free of his grisly embrace and stands. Kicking him swiftly, she takes a few steps back and summons tendrils of darkness as her sire had taught her. Willing the darkness into solid form, tentacles shoot from the darkness grabbing the priest by the wrists and pulling him into the air. Dusting herself off the tentacles appear as bright ribbons of misty light to her inverted night sight. She smiles as the priest begins to scream, being stretched to his limits by the darkness itself. “That will teach you a lesson little man.” She laughs as she steps out into the night, the priests screams rising to sudden crescendo as she steps out into the muggy Floridian night.
Outside the three Kindred gather close, shambling closer are the townspeople, newly turned vampires hungering for their first taste of blood. One, a woman lurches forward quickly and grabs Giselle, smelling the blood from her recent tussle with the mad priest. The woman clamps down on her with strength born of desperation and instinct. The two struggle while Burridge and Hurtz try to fend of more of the fledglings. De la Croix’s ghouls bolts for the car, the others turn in horror as the car goes careening through the streets and towards the end of the street. It turns there, accelerating towards the group, and the vampire woman attacking her mistress. She hits the creature dead on, sideswiping a number of others that have pulled themselves from their graves.
“Kill them my children, and your queen shall reward you greatly!” a man’s voice shouts from across the street. Burridge and Hurtz turn toward the voice, the man smiles at them, his left eye catches a glint of moonlight, his right begins to glow with the same crimson light as the fledging vampires now streaming from the cemetary. “You should give up now, these lands were granted to me long before you drew your last breath.” Suddenly a shot rings out, the mans head jerks back as he stumbles a few steps backward, and then looks upward and down Main Street toward the Sheriff’s office.
On the roof Sheriff Dowd cocks his rifle, and squints down the iron sight at the older man’s head. He takes another shot, the mans head jerks again, but he looks up, totally unharmed. Not even a mark, the Sheriff can almost see him smile.
The ghoul brings the car around in a wide arc, carving donoughts into the dust. She rolls over several more of the vampire townsfolk as she comes to a stop in front of her mistress and the others. The three vampires quickly hop into the car as the ghouls guns it to the Sheriff’s office. Dowd tries one more shot which goes wide before abandoning the battle. He takes the stairs down from the roof by twos and is in front of the building as the Cadillac comes barreling up, engine roaring. He takes one last look down Main Street at the town of Murk Hollow, his home for many years. His next movement takes him into the back seat and the car speeds off.
The Don smirks at the two vampires before him. “My Queen will arrive soon, but we cannot tarry long. Soon enough we will be able to face eachother childer, soon enough.” With that he fades from view, his form growing translucent until he is completely gone. Dowd and Lando search the room before catching up to Jayden and Hurtz in the hallway. Outside a cloud of darkness has settled on one of the back streets of Bahama Village. Within, Giselle De la Croix speaks with her son, dead and undead since the French Revolution. What secrets their conversations hold are a tale for another time.
To Be Continued…