© by Gary L Morton (17,000 words)
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1: Body in the Grass
2: New Guy in Town
3: A Castle Appears
4: He Rises in Flames
5: In the Stacks
6: Beasts in the Night
7: The Capture
8: Face to Face with the Vampire Queen
9: The Enemy Arrives
Part One: Body in the Grass
The train pulled out and rocketed west in a radiant blur of sunlight. I turned from the exit ramp and stared down the sand bluff at the dappled mirror of water. Willows and an arched bridge showed in the reflection. A rope and rubber tube rocked in the breeze at the shoreline.
My eyes followed a robin soaring up the bank into hazy blue sky and puffs of white cumulus. Oakdale rested on the far bank. Small compact towers and an odd sprawl of commercial structures. It had a definite small city feeling, but in a weird way. Something seemed wrong in the picture.
I sighed with relief, hoping this little hideaway of the North would live up to its reputation. Being outside of the central net of international law, the place was perhaps one of the only towns I could enter without being placed under constant surveillance.
My head suddenly whirled at the magnitude of my personal situation and failure. I found it hard to believe that the world track of megacities was now beyond my reach. Yet it was a certainty. Tiny unaligned places like Oakdale were my future.
It was a curse to have been born Grant King. A man destined from the beginning to become the star and then an outcast of entertainmentnet.99; on the run from corporate law firms and petty tyrants that wanted to see me in hell.
Anxiety and a charge of anger twisted my face. See me in hell; I'd see them in a hotter hell! I thought of breaking bones, then I spat in the dust as I turned to the sidewalk. Mud had got on my shoe. I slipped, and as I caught my balance I realized what had been wrong in the view of the town.
This train stop belonged in town, not on the outskirts of it on a lush riverbank wood lot. They didn't even have a terminal or transit into the core. Did they think people came here to study birds and jog the half-kilometer stretch into the city?
Muttering, dealing with mild confusion, I headed into town on foot. The beauty of late spring seemed to do little for my mood. Worries of my financial situation clouded my mind. I could last perhaps another month then I'd need a job of some sort. Producing blockbuster entertainment had been my only talent in New York. In a small Canadian city I had no saleable skills.
In my early days I'd survived as a stunt man. After I got lucky and moved up the ladder, money oozed from my pockets. Surviving without wealth felt like a new situation and it had me kicking stones as I walked.
Electric cars slipped quietly by and some of the net.99 billboards shielded the landscape as I passed hotels and rental cottages on the outskirts. It seemed incredibly quiet for a Saturday morning. My best bet seemed to be to head for the centre of this small city and its clutch of diminutive skyscrapers.
The road broke at the grounds of Oakdale College and circled wide around a park and the river. I cut through on the path and soon found myself following a rushing brook. Crossing a tiny bridge, I took a short cut over a field of wild flowers toward the central town square. I was about halfway across and on a path running through deep grass when I stumbled onto a large bundle in the weeds. As I looked down at it a jogger suddenly appeared on my left and came to a stop beside me.
A gasp escaped my lips as the image of a mutilated corpse fused itself to my brain cells. I stepped back quickly, raising my arms in a defensive gesture as my eyes flashed to the jogger. This was a big man standing in the morning glare, and his face was long, heavily whiskered and grim. His expression twisted into a speculative grimace as I watched, as though he were studying some minor oddity. Some irritating bit of morning road kill in need of explanation.
“It's murder,” I said bluntly. “Murder of the most horrible sort.”
He made a broad gesture. His sunken eyes widened. “I disagree. In this case it appears to be suicide. You wouldn't want to claim this body.”
I looked back to the corpse. The man lay crumpled in the grass and soaked in crusting blood. His head was thrown back and the neck had been torn open, perhaps by a rabid human or animal. The eyes were wide, bulbous and staring and his face was frozen in a last expression of horrified shock. “Suicide? Claim the body? Why would I do that? The police will be claiming it.”
“That's good to hear. Bill Thompson's the name. Glad to meet you.”
“Grant King,” I said, feeling more than a little baffled as I shook his coarse hand.
Bill Thompson reminded me of a friend of mine; a character actor from the old Sinematic 3Ds. He was positively morbid and definitely an individual of the loony sort if he thought in terms of claiming dead bodies. I decided to humor him.
Thompson pulled out a tiny pocket phone. “You can go on about your business. I'll call the police chief and clear this little matter up. I plan on claiming the body for my wax museum, so I'll need your address. You'll have to verify that I made the discovery.”
“Sure, I'll verify that. But I better wait and talk to the chief. I just came in on the train, so it'll look pretty darn suspicious if I leave the scene. He might even think I'm armed and dangerous.”
“Suit yourself, Mr. King. Just remember that I found the body, not you.”
“Don't worry. I wouldn't forget something like that, and I really do think that this fellow would look excellent done up in your wax museum. A sort of shocking dead man exhibit. Highlight the ghastliness of the whole thing in a way that will knock the pants off the soft bellies of small city society.”
“Precisely,” Thompson said, and then he got engaged in a strange phone conversation with the police chief. I could see the chief's personal icon on the screen, and as he rambled on with questions I studied the corpse. Violence had occurred on the upper body. His collar and shirt were ripped and I could see a wicked abrasion on his chest. Either a tiger had leapt and launched a deadly blow or a very strong and vicious human had mauled him. It certainly wasn't suicide and as further evidence I spotted a fresh trail beaten in the long grass. The killer had cut across the field to a copse at the edge of a small rise. I couldn't see beyond it.
The police chief arrived alone in one of those all-terrain cruisers that most small city cops use these days. This copper didn’t have professional style - his big wheels tore through the grass and he stopped right at the corpse. Another foot and he would have run it over.
A silver patch on his breast identified him. He wore a western tie and hat - sort of a clone of older US-style sheriffs. He jumped out and walked up to Thompson. “What you got, Bill?”
“Looks like another suicide. Probably a victim of a brain virus. I found him here in that condition. This fellow here is Grant King. He's new in town. Came down the path just after me.”
“Dan Shanon's the name,” he said as he turned and appraised me. “Chief Dan Shanon. What's your take on this death?”
“My take is that it's a killing. It looks like there may be a wild animal on the loose. It took him down and escaped over that rise.”
Police Chief Shanon stared uneasily at the corpse. Concern and suspicion showed as he squinted in the bright sunlight. His rugged features were perfect for a cop, but I detected a shallow aura … perhaps a hint that he was like a superficial movie cop with no real brains behind the looks.
He confirmed my impression when he spoke. “The victim is Alfonso Kreiger. He's a friend of yours, Thompson - isn't he? I suppose he'll look nice done up in your wax. For now I'll have to cordon off the area and do a search. My feeling is that this is a case of death by misadventure.”
“Misadventure,” Thompson said. “I just can't see how you figure that.”
Ignoring Bill Thompson, Shanon turned to me. “I don't want you to leave town while this investigation is underway. I'm not going to hold you. Just let me know where you're staying.”
“Sure,” I said, wondering just what brand of oddballs ran this town. Place the body in a wax museum - what crazy people.
New Kid in Town
It really would have been better to enter town without attracting attention. My original plan had been to remain invisible and maybe work under an alias. That idea was shot to hell now. If Chief Shanon ran a detailed trace he'd draw up my past and legal enemies far worse than organized crime. If they came to town, anyone in their way would probably end up in a case of net.99 storage wax.
Pressing on I noticed that lush greenery sprouted everywhere in this town. Dense bursts of grasses and flowers nearly choked the walkways and roads. Songbirds and butterflies sprinkled the air with flashes of color. A rustle beside me turned out to be a prowling feral cat, and I spotted hawks flying near the taller buildings downtown.
Entry to the core of Oakdale was marked by a series of arches, and whether by vehicle or on foot and regardless of the direction of approach, you got greeted by an immense Oakdale arch. I walked under a pedestrian version that dripped with vines and wore a beard of tiny bell-shaped flowers. Beyond it the green extravaganza faded and I encountered pedestrian traffic of the sort you would expect to find in a small city on a Saturday.
Unlike most cities and other small towns, all of the Oakdale structures were modern. Civic buildings, corporate digs and sprinklings of stores were all elaborately fronted. Eccentric local art and sculpture dominated. The largest open space surrounded the town hall - a public area, band shell and garden. In the garden a huge statue of a gloomy and long dead Canadian politician stared out at the commercial area.
I paid scant attention to the locals brushing by me. Caught up in my personal woes, I felt little need for others. Heading into the town hall and its garden, I found a bench under a hybrid broad leaf tree. This spot was slightly elevated and gaps in the greenery allowed a good view of town. Brushing the sweat from my forehead, I looked out at the crowd strolling in the commercial area. Casual spring dress was the norm and the locals were of a broad genetic mix - no serious hints of vanity gone wild or racism. In New York I'd often found myself surrounded by a crowd of the same white movie stars. And they weren't the real stars but the product of unregulated genetic selection and plastic surgery. In Oakdale some of the locals could even be described as in need of a face transplant, so there was definitely a separate social force at work here.
Passing cars misted the road with water vapor. Children ran and played on sun-glittering paving stones; adults snacked and chatted on patios under sunshades that twisted high in the air. Local shoppers rushed in and out, creating a mirrored spin of revolving doors. The entire scene looked normal on the surface and yet it didn't feel quite right.
Though their behaviour appeared to be normal social interaction, I knew there was definitely something odd about these people. Call it a gut feeling. I had the notion that intimate conversation would show them to be of the same weird strain as Chief Shanon and Bill Thompson.
There weren't any hotels in view and I needed a cheap place to stay. Looking around I spotted a tanned woman on a bench just to my left. She wore a spring outfit of the environment sensitive type. In its current setting it showed as red. She had great legs and her hair was short, neat and blond. Gold tints clouded her lenses as she shifted lightly on the bench. Obviously she was locked into a broadcast. Probably similar to the sound and video I used to produce before I moved into entertainment vacation packages.
I decided to pump her for information and got up. My approach showed on her wrist screen and I saw her glasses clear and her blue eyes open. An invisible charge passed between us. Eye contact became an instant bond like love at first sight. But without the love. Neither of us belonged in Oakdale and that led to understanding. Perhaps it was close friendship at first sight.
“Sorry to interrupt you,” I said. “I just came in on the train. Never been here before. Do you know of a good hotel or place to stay - reasonable in price?”
“Yeah, I do. Other side of the town hall. There are four or five hotels there. I don't know about the price. You'll have to shop around.”
“Thanks,” I said and turned to walk away.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “There are a few things you might need to know about Oakdale?”
“I've already had a few surprises.”
“Sit down and I'll clue you in. I'm Alice Wolland and I'm not from Oakdale, either. I think I'm the only person staying here who is a stranger in the sense that I'm not related to anyone local.”
“That's bad news for me. I'm planning to stay around for a while. Maybe get a job. If this is a place of close relatives, doors might be slammed in my face.”
“It's not like that. People come here. They can stay but no one does. The local culture is weird.”
“My experience is that their conversation is weird, but mostly they behave like normal people.”
“If you don't mind my asking. Why would you be moving to a small town like this - without a job offer or family and friends?”
“I'm from New York. Lived in a few other big cities. For years I've dreamed of escaping the rat race and living in a small city. Janet, my wife, would never allow it. Last year she died of a rare form of cancer. I haven't worked since. I found this place while surfing the new net offbeat travel destinations. It seemed the ideal place for a new start. So here I am.”
“Here you are and you're full of shit!”
“What?” I said, taking on an offended look as I pulled away from her on the bench.
“You're really full of it. You came to Oakdale for the same reasons I did. You’re on the run from something and know this town is a free zone as far as international law is concerned. Isn't that right, Mr. Grant King?”
“That's right. How did you recognize me?”
“My mother pushed me to be an actress. Your Martian Experience thing was on my course list. I saw two of your recorded lectures. No one else looks exactly like Grant King.”
“Yes, they gave us the power to patent our looks – but it only worked in a personal way for the top executives in the entertainment industry. Anyone that pays the price can look like a star. It was never a problem for me before. Guess it is now.”
“So now you're on the run. How do you expect to escape them? The entertainment net is in complete control of the United Nations intellectual property committee and nearly all city police forces.”
“I suppose I would have to do like the others and kill myself to escape them completely.”
“But I'm not dead and I've escaped.”
“Yes. And I can see that it's a youth thing. My guess is that you're twenty-five and got the urge to escape from the perfect world of glamour society and your parents?”
“It wasn't perfect. They wanted to homogenize my life - an artist can't hide from the rough edges.”
“Have you found the rough edges here in Oakdale?”
”More than you know. What have you seen so far?”
“A corpse in the park. The rotten thing is that some nut from a wax museum and the police chief also showed. They call it death by misadventure. It looked like murder to me. Regardless of what it is I have to tell the chief where I'm staying. If he does a check on me I'll be found out.”
“No problem there. If Chief Shanon finds that you're a loser he'll cover for you and leave you alone. Anyone important he'd run out of town.”
“Isn't that the opposite of what police usually do?”
“It is. But here in Oakdale they don't like influential outsiders who might talk of the weird stuff that happens. You've already seen something, but you’re hiding and aren't in a position to reveal it to anyone.”
“What exactly do you mean by weird stuff? Got an example or two?”
“The rotten nut from the wax museum you mentioned. Thompson - he's a crazy mortician. There are killings all the time - every second or third day - and you know who got murdered because they end up as brief displays in his wax museum.”
“Thompson said he was going to claim the body we found today. You mean he really does put them in his wax museum. Why that's positively ghastly.”
“Not only that. He does it fast. The corpse you found is probably already on display. Has to be because its burial ceremony will be at sunrise.”
“I'd like to attend that.”
“Sure - I'll take you there if you want. You'll have to see it to believe it, but first let's book you a room.”
A Castle Appears
I ended up staying at the Oakdale Paramount, and to be honest it was more bottom of the heap than top. Its suites were located above an early variety of wired theatre, making it about the oldest structure in town. Bottom line is that it was affordable.
Before we entered Alice leaned back, hands on her hips. She stared up at the offbeat cake-like design and said the place had character. I read that as character like a character actor, where being ugly and unusual can often be an asset.
She seemed giddy while we were at the desk and kept elbowing and distracting me. On the inside the atmosphere was of a mummified sort - stale air and dreary vaults for hallways. Alice rang her knuckles on a brass fixture as we entered the room and she seemed quite pleased by the grand view. Choosing the fourth floor had been wise as it gave the best perspective of the town. The rear suites had beautiful cupped balconies set up with spring planters and patio tables. She immediately decided that we would have dinner out there.
Though it was still early afternoon, my light travel style presented a roadblock. Simply put - I had nothing but the clothes on my back. Not even a suitcase. Most people carry a bag of essentials or at least an open up pocket Surf-All or a wearable neo laptop for communications. I'd learned long ago that you could be tracked via anything you owned or picked up. In the business area my platinum Internet account had been cancelled, but I had hundreds of other business accounts plus my public accounts. I knew all of them could be tracked so I used none of them - it was a way of making it difficult for them. Anyone wanting further vengeance on me would have to work to find me.
I did have some cash and the ability to launder money so Alice and I decided on a straight exchange. I would pay her for the use of her net accounts, and show her a few secrets of privileged access. To make this enjoyable we took in the fresh air on the balcony. She watched the bustle in the open concourse below while I tweaked her connection to order what I needed. Beginning with a check on my own identify. I did a crack and found five active searches on my name. They'd turned up nothing so far, and I was glad of that. Two of them had been initiated by a dangerous character named Ming Tse.
In most things Alice remained a kid at heart. While net shopping she wanted to play a game of guessing my preferences in everything from clothing to food. At first I played along and we laughed a lot, then my humorous mood got swept away by an idea.
“Hold it a moment,” I said as an ugly revelation rose in my mind. “Cancel those orders. Don't let any of them go through.”
She giggled, thinking I was joking. “Why would I do that? You want to sit here in the same clothes day after day. Starving as you look at four bare walls?”
“It's not that. I just remembered that identity isn't the only way to trace people. Your purchasing profile can identify you just as fast.”
“Yeah, but that's illegal. There are consumer privacy laws, you know.”
“You're forgetting that I worked for the entertainment net.”
“You mean the people that spin the world with their spin, making suicide possible in a world where it’s genetically impossible?”
“I do mean them, though I call them petty bastards. Let's do the ordering at random. My whole life's been disconnected anyway so I might as well change all of my old habits.”
Alice agreed with the random thing, and then proceeded to order everything according to her preferences. It took an hour and later we went out to shop for a few items I didn’t want to purchase via the net. That went smoothly and evening arrived with a warm blaze of sun and dinner on the balcony.
Alice ordered an Italian pasta dinner. I wolfed the main course down and I tried to regain my dignity by sipping wine as I nibbled on desert. Sunset hues hazed the town below. Great mounds of greenery and a mix of trees hid most of the streets. Some open areas showed through as glimpses of small town beauty. About what you'd expect - people strolling with dogs, small groups of loitering teens, kids in their loose clothing, shouting and playing roller games. The scene contrasted with my memories of New York, where decadent people tended to gather in large party gangs at evening. New York had seemed beautiful when I was there, but in memory it came up as tarnished.
Alice smiled sympathetically as she finished her last bite. “The town looks idyllic from here. But it isn't New York. This place is lacking when it comes to men.”
“You mean there aren't many single men in this back alley?”
“They all have fatal personality quirks. Probably you have them, too. People in your business are divorced most of the time.”
“Thanks a lot for lumping me in with the others. I agree that I do have flaws. My wife got to be just another person making excessive demands on my time and emotions. Demands I couldn't meet. It went downhill from there. People who are proud and think of themselves as perfect see too much imperfection in their loved ones. Everyone in the business is like that. We are genetically primed for healthy personalities and relationships. Yet it never quite works out because our negative cultural conditioning overrides it all.”
“You were established. You had your place at the top of society. Was your downfall really because of petty squabbles?”
“We played god and I've never been fully satisfied with the results. This is a world like a zoo. There's a bit of everything in it and it is all in cages ready to be packaged and sold as entertainment. Politics is controlled by the media, which is under the thumb of the global info-entertainment net. Dissent and social change remain as another regulated form of entertainment. The celebrity class now exists for the sole purpose of perpetuating itself. Even art is limited to forms that can be quickly piped into the hungry brain cells of the preprogrammed masses. People shouldn't forget how this world came about. It really began when the Internet and the free dissemination of ideas threatened the profits of the old media and entertainment industry. Old and some newer media had the money and the power so they conned us all. We allowed them to chain freedom of speech and we let them commercialize the net and then the entire public domain. Every idea and communication form got packaged and labeled as intellectual property. A dollar value was assigned to everything. We spend our entire lives renting back tarnished ideas and rewrites of old fictions in order to experience a simulation of free expression.”
“Ah, so you decided to get political and reaped the reward of it.”
“I wrote a secret paper on the system and how it would crash within fifty years.”
“Do you really think it will?”
“It might. But that piece was really written as a scare tactic. People at the top do it all the time to bring about small changes. Our leaders are not open to new ideas. Only the bogeyman can make them act.”
“But aren't we supposed to be genetically superior - born to be creative forever?”
“That's one of their fairy tales. Unlimited creativity is too risky for them. They've put walls up to prevent the rise of revolutionary ideas and change. This is a safe world for them. Safety has a high price and rulers who only get older become gods of petty revenge. I've angered them so they've kicked me off of Olympus.”
“Is there no way back up from the bottom?”
“There is. I've been punished before, but I always had something to trade like ideas for new blockbusters. I'm one of the few people who do think, but this time I'm in a dry spell. I have nothing. To get out of the hole I'd have to impress them with a marvelous new gift.”
“Okay, so there's no quick way back up for you. But why are you trying to hide from them?”
“They make the punishment work by taking away your privileges and leaving you an open target. My legal rights have been removed. Anyone who wants some sort of revenge on me can track me and do things to me. Some of them will eventually trace me here, and if I have to I'll kill them.”
The last of sunset opened like an Oriental fan in the West. Twilight began to sift through and I joined Alice at the railing - putting my arm around her as we chatted some more and studied the town.
We watched a crowd gathering out front of a dance club then my gaze got drawn back to the skyline. I observed something fading in and out in the distant light. It began to vanish then it returned like a sudden mirage. Its hues were subtle, touched by twilight. Almost like an etching or colored pencil sketch standing against the haze. The picture forming was of a castle - enormous, magnificent but also aged and crumbling in places. Central towers, a citadel, crenelated walls and the main gate fortifications radiated golden light. Blood-colored fog blew at the base of a massive southern keep. The northern portion had experienced a glorious collapse and it fell to earth as a waterfall of vines. Jagged walls and huge blocks thrust through in spots like broken teeth or fangs.
“Disney,” I said as I stared in amazement.
“Disney - what are you talking about?”
“I'm talking about that castle on the horizon. It's a relic of the ancient Disney entertainment empire. The design is unmistakable. I wonder why it's been left to decay that way?”
“I don't know. They've restored part of it. I noticed it weeks ago, but when I tried to get info on it the locals didn't have a name for it. Kids call it the Castle of Fangs because of those sharp stones poking through the vines to the north. I tried to visit it once and couldn't get through the gate. In spite of its condition there are live-in owners. Mostly it's a mystery. Whenever I ask people in town about it, they say they know nothing about it.”
“It's not on the maps either. I studied this area in detail before choosing it. That parcel of land is listed as wasteland. No structures are marked. I wonder if the older town records have anything on it.”
“They might, but the people sure don't or else they're keeping it secret. No one seems to know the names of the occupants.”
“Then it is certainly a key to our mystery. I mean the strange town and residents. You can be sure the castle is somehow related.”
“Who exactly was Disney? Perhaps it’s somehow tied in with him.”
“Disney was a creative man who built an entertainment empire that has lived on after his death. He would have been long dead when that castle was constructed. His empire and a number of others merged and gained control of the world's wealth and financial systems. Giving us the entertainment net. It was the cradle of our society and the downfall of mankind in some ways. I suppose Disney saw it coming way back then and simply bought into it.”
He Rises in Flames
The Castle of Fangs towered over me in my dreams, swallowing the sky like a living monster of decay. Huge stones thundered to the earth around me. I stared up into a halo of moon-glare watching cracked towers tilt and spew dust as they began to crumble. A corpse flew from the splitting rubble. Then a door banged and I woke from the nightmare. I opened my eyes and shielded them when the overhead light came on. Peeking through my fingers, I saw Alice standing at the foot of the bed. She wore a gold headband, gold loops, a gold jacket and a smile.
“Oh God, I'm hung over,” I said as I sat up in bed. “I can't remember a thing. Guess I passed out.”
“I warned you about drinking too much.”
“You did didn't you - and damn me for insisting on buying Calera classic white. That old-style alcohol is brutal.”
“I've brought the cure,” she said, pulling a foil pouch from her purse. “Get dressed and I'll mix it for you.”
My head and eyes felt swollen. I got dressed, put on a new jacket and went to the balcony for some fresh air. Alice was already there at the table and as I sat she poured the pouch into a glass of water.
It fizzed up and I immediately seized it and drank. Grogginess ballooned in my head as my thirst abated. “It's a bit early to be getting up,” I said.
“You told me to get you up. You wanted to see one of Oakdale's sunrise funerals.”
“I forgot. Yes, I can't miss it. That's my corpse they've got there, and they can have it. The sooner the case around it is buried, the better it is for me. Let me grab a quick shave and we're off.”
Alice's hangover cure worked smoothly. As we walked out of the hotel I felt like top of the morning. Though it looked more like the middle of the night, with Venus being the only indication of a new day coming.
We had time to walk, so I waited while Alice grabbed something from her glove compartment, then I took her arm and we headed down the street. A fine mist had rolled in at ground level and it picked up radiance from store signs and displays. These were the old models with nighttime interactive mode, meaning that if we got too close video clips would be triggered, perhaps even the horrid face of some huckster halfway around the world would appear to offer us late night discounts.
Alice took us north on a parkette path, and once out of the haze the stars seemed incredibly bright. I could see the moon buried in western clouds and a vague outline that I knew to be the Castle of Fangs.
A trail at the rear of a long shopping complex took us to the museum. Dark wet grass and weeds overhung the path and I felt cold dew trickling between my toes as we approached. I didn't get a view of the front of the place. Alice said the event was taking place in the field and graveyard at the back. From the rear the wax museum was a molded metal fortress lit by a faint light that spotted the haze with its blue glow. The rows of recessed windows were dark and glossy and the vaulted door had the authority of a tomb. What could best be described as a mob had gathered in a trimmed portion of the field next to the parking area. None of them wore any sort of special ceremonial dress but a number of people were carrying glow-all torches that imitate fire.
More than anything else the torches created the mob effect. Their flicker and shadow worked to turn the Oakdale crowd into sinister Neanderthals sporting hooded eyes, sharp cheekbones, beards of shadow and bruise-purple mouths.
We emerged unnoticed from the gloom and stood in silence at the edge of the cleared area. A faint smear in the east indicated the approach of sunrise and as I looked to the horizon I spotted a number of ebony objects in the field. A longer study revealed these to be totems and a few squat statues - the totems had a metallic sheen, the statues a dull stone appearance. Beyond them obelisks and gravestones were visible in the faint light. When I'd absorbed the full scene, I knew we were standing on the edge of a carpet of grass. The totems and statues rested to either side as the grass stretched to the graveyard. In that sense the graveyard was almost an extension of the mortuary they called a wax museum.
People whispered and Alice remained silent as I continued to look around. Then the museum door began to open. In spite of its appearance of great weight the motion was silent. Two men dressed in broad-brimmed hats and long jackets emerged from the totally dark interior. Their heavy boots echoed in the lot as they stepped up. I recognized one of them as Bill Thompson.
They halted at the edge of the parking lot and the somber cast of their faces drew a hush from the crowd. Thompson looked pale and bloodless, like maybe he'd decorated himself with his own makeup. The role of cultist come minister cloaked him well. I saw him as exactly the sort of guy who would be involved in the supernatural and magic.
Thompson cleared his throat and addressed the mob. His voice came off as affected with disproportionate emphasis at the end of his sentences. Call it a bad production in general, yet it seemed impossible that a prayer and address like Thompson's could be happening, and that made it spooky.
“Chosen Ones of Oakdale, a man has died in the holy manner and as always he will remain nameless in death - his estate obliterated, his family forgotten, and his children orphans. His gravestone shall bear the image of the mystic and the angel of dawn will consume his ashes. In death he will prosper in the valley of the fangs. Born from the darkness, to the darkness he will return as . . . .”
As Thompson rambled on, his bizarre eulogy drew shivers from the crowd. It failed to frighten me and instead got me thinking about the supernatural. It would be wonderful to believe in a dark power as he did. My personal vision had always been an atheist deal of thankless mortals. People living on for centuries, and as the shadow of the grave faded, it became more necessary than ever. It would be great to be up on that mountain, seeing creatures or gods, souls rising to the unknown. Thompson's delusion represented the world as it should be. He'd outstretched his arms to the graveyard, and I knew many petty people who would only obtain salvation six feet under.
Thompson's speech ended abruptly and his stocky assistant took charge at that precise moment. He turned to face the rear of the museum. Blue light gathered on his frozen face, and as he opened his arms a faint beam suddenly shone from his eyes to the door. The dull metal absorbed this light, and though it was definitely fake - a cheap laser trick - it did work to open the door. It also triggered lights inside. They flickered then lit up with great brilliance.
Rivers of candle power poured from the windows. Electrifying wattage that drew a shrill scream from someone inside the museum. Gasps and excited whispering swept the crowd. We could see someone stumbling to the doorway. This person was blinded and in agony. Hands covering his eyes, he emerged and fell on the steps. Radiant light backlit him making it nearly impossible to make anything out. Then the lights suddenly went out and I saw retinal flashes everywhere I looked.
As the blindness abated, I noticed that the door had shut and the man was now slowly getting to his knees. If you could call him a man. Sticky wax coated his entire body and the heat of the lights inside had melted it to a degree. Some of it had peeled from his face, revealing patches of rotting flesh and wine-stained skin.
This man looked familiar and as I studied his crumpled clothes I realized they belonged to the corpse I had found in the park. Only now the corpse was alive - in some sense of the word. This hideous reincarnation radiated death more than life.
As he rose fully from his knees the glow-all torchlight spilled on him, creating an image all the more ghastly. Stiff lips erupted as he spat bile and vomit. Pain and anguish came unbidden in the form of a guttural moan rising from his quivering chest. A red tint brightened in his swollen eyes, highlighting huge fangs and a beard of wet wax that hung like slime from his chin.
“I can't believe it. He's a vampire.” I said to Alice. Then his mouth twisted like a ravenous slash of decay, and he began to approach us, slowly like he was learning to walk all over again.
I didn't want to take my eyes off the drooling fiend, but Alice was tugging at my sleeve. As I turned to her, I saw Bill Thompson leading the silent crowd across the field to the totems at the edge of the graveyard.
Alice and I followed, hearing the waxen monster huffing just behind us as we walked. Thompson took us through the totems and we gathered next to the squat statue of a toad-like deity.
Bill Thompson remained calm and pale and the others were also silent and unafraid. I turned and could see the shambling corpse approaching. It sniffed loudly like it was scenting blood, and then something happened that distracted us all.
A halo of light appeared in the graveyard next to the statue of an angel. A nude woman stood in this light - her hair and flesh flowing, golden and beautiful. I could see voluptuous curves, breasts - the vision aroused me and it also aroused the beast.
Moaning like some monster from hell the waxen vampire charged toward the graveyard. The wet grass slowed him and tripped him. He stumbled to his feet and disappeared in the darkness of the stones. He showed beside the stone angel moments later.
He halted a short distance from the woman, let out a tremendous cry and then rushed forward. I expected her to cower, but instead she stepped forward, her motion indicating the toss of a knife. Something silver flashed from her hand and expanded to a cloud of brilliant dust that streamed into the running monster.
A wave of flame and steam rushed to the sky as the waxen vampire ignited. And he didn't collapse but stopped dead in his tracks. Small fireballs continued to ripple up his body and explode. His head ballooned with more fire and went off like a roman candle, trailing brain matter as it shot between the gravestones. Then his torso exploded in a grotesque flash of flaming flesh. Searing waves expanded from the burning rib cage and a moment later we could see little other than smoldering embers next to the stone angel. I looked for the woman, but during the explosion she had disappeared.
Bill Thompson stepped forward and led the mob into the graveyard, and though Alice again tugged at my sleeve, I remained firm and refused to move.
“I think I've seen enough,” I said.
“The rest is rather dull, anyway,” Alice said. “They collect and burn any remains they find and you never do get to see the grave woman or learn whether she's real or a projection.”
“She's real all right. That dead man walking as a vampire was real, too. He rose as the undead, which is completely impossible.”
“You’re right, and maybe Thompson's wax caused that to happen.”
“I don't think so. According to the mythology he must have been bitten by a vampire before he died, and thus rose again.”
In the Stacks
Oakdale's library stood on a long rise set off from Oak Lane by a covered walkway. The large structure had a community design with false brick, a weed garden, bay windows and skylights. Alice mentioned that the large northern extension contained the stacks.
“Print stacks,” I said as we stood on the sidewalk, shielding our eyes and looking up. “I haven't read a paper book in years.”
“Neither have I, but they have a print version of the town records, so it's better to check them here where we won't be noticed.”
“You really think they’re watching us?”
A horn beeped before she could answer. Turning we saw police chief Dan Shanon grinning and waving as he drove by in a black and white town cruiser.
I shook my head in dismay as we mounted the library steps. We entered, signed in, took the hall to get around the computer readers and passed a lonely scan machine to enter the stacks. This vast room was musty and cavernous. Rows of high shelves ran nearly its full length. The system of retrieval was antiquated - a single data base computer to search for the title tag, which you were then supposed to find in the aisles.
Alice took my arm and pulled me away from the computer, leading me down a narrow aisle. Filtered sunbeams poked through from above creating a patchwork of dusty spotlights on the towers of books. The silence felt comfortable and warm. I heard nothing but the soft pad of our footsteps as we navigated the maze of shelves. We stopped way back in the stacks and I waited as Alice searched the titles. She pulled out a few editions and thumbed through them, and she clicked her tongue with satisfaction upon opening a wide leather-bound file.
I followed her down a broad aisle that opened on a reading area. Sunlight streamed in the window and we sat at a table that granted a view of the weed garden. She opened the book and began to riffle through the pages, finally settling to read one of the final chapters.
I couldn't see the copy and she was chewing on her tongue with interest, so I interrupted. “Find anything interesting?”
“Yeah, a lot. Our Castle of Fangs first existed in Yorkville Heights on the outskirts of Toronto 300 years ago. Originally they called it Castle Borealis. When the theme park died it became a graveyard storing materials from other Disney parks. A man named Jack Marsden bought it for 65 million dollars and moved the entire thing stone by stone to its location here. Marsden also moved parts of the theme park. When he finished the monumental task, he lived in the castle for a grand total of three years before dying of a rare blood disorder. Marsden was an eccentric character and his reputation kept the castle alive as a tourist attraction after his death. There’s a book on the clever methods he used to move the castle.”
“So who owns it now?”
“I'm getting to that,” she said, flipping some pages. “Ah, here it is. The castle went through a long period of abandonment. Being owned by the Montezuma Group. They never found a use for it and 25 years ago they sold it to Daniel Saul, a wealthy Canadian scientist. He repaired the castle and took up residence with his wife - listed as a retired actress named Liz Parker.”
“Daniel Saul. I didn't know he married Parker. They both vanished from the public eye years back.”
“Who are they? I've never heard of either of them.”
“Daniel Saul made the news thirty years ago. As a wealthy scientist he created a scandal through experiments with animals involving gene therapy and nano technology. Supposedly he was attempting to create new life forms that would be both animal species and machines. He got busted for unethical practices and went to one of those paradise prisons. I didn't know he got released. Liz Parker had some degree of fame before she went mad. She was mostly involved in underground Gothic stuff - a sex goddess in old plays and film features to do with vampirism and the occult. Liz believed herself to be a descendant of actual vampires. She tried to raise her daughter in a weird manner and the international Child Protection Agency stepped in. She wasn’t connected with Saul at that time. Perhaps they met and married in a madhouse or prison.”
“We have our vampire connection in Liz Parker.”
“Yes, and with Daniel Saul in that castle, I wonder . . .”
“Oh, nothing. I have an idea of what might be happening.”
“So what's our next step?”
“I want to return to the field and check out a few things at the spot where I found that corpse. Maybe we can do it tonight.”
Alice agreed to proceed and that we were making progress. We decided to return the book and leave the library. Strolling out into bright sunshine we slowly made our way to the bottom of the steps. It came as no surprise when Dan Shanon appeared on the sidewalk. He wore a trooper outfit. A frown creased his forehead.
“Mr. King,” he said. “Just a word on that corpse you found. The death has been ruled as misadventure and the burial took place this morning.”
“You mean the case is wrapped up?”
“Not quite. Bill Thompson says you attended the ceremony this morning. I'd appreciate it if you keep quiet about what you saw.”
“Why? What difference does it make?”
“We don't like any advertisement of our eccentricities. Odd things can get to be news, and that would draw undesirable visitors to our little town.”
I grinned. “Most other towns are doing everything in their power to get publicity.”
“Yeah, and you would know. I did some checking on you. Oakdale's just about the only place you have left. After your experience with those people, you should know why we want to keep a low profile. You do anything to draw publicity and I'll throw you back to the sharks.”
“I guess you've got me there. The truth is that I want some privacy just like folks in Oakdale do. Anything odd that I see, I quickly forget.”
“That's good,” Shanon said, and then he turned and walked back to his cruiser.
Beasts in the Night
Alice and I passed the evening hours in a club called the Paper Lantern. We expected Dan Shanon to tail us there, conclude we were on a dance party trip and leave us alone. Chief Shanon did follow us. I watched from a luxury bathroom as he parked his cruiser out front and sent in a brutish undercover man. The guy walked through the club, looking around, and then he sat at a table near us. A half hour later he left and when I checked for the cruiser it was gone, too.
I wore fake headgear. It made me the only person in the place not tuned into the exotic dance console. Near midnight, I sat alone at a table sipping L.L. Latso rum cola. Layered music does not work without enhancement, and I was beginning to wonder if the noise bombarding me could be any indication of the true sound. Sensory images provided for the dance vistas didn’t register with me either. Without a direct connection to brain cells they came across as an assault of needling frames. Electrifying and skeletal stuff that tormented the optic nerve and produced nausea.
Alice had hooked in her wearable and a headset. She spent most of the time dancing with a tacky Tony Adams beach-movie look-alike. My headache grew like a tumor as I watched them. The last dance seemed to last forever, but it was really about 15 minutes, then she got thirsty and returned to the table for a drink.
The plastic Tony came in tow with her. She mocked my wearied frown and grinned as she sat. A passing waiter served her a lemon drink. Alice guzzled that then leaned back for a moment with her eyes closed.
Bronze-skinned Tony shuffled from one sandal to the other as he chewed on pacifier gum. Being too charged to sit he reached down and tried to pull Alice up. The rude move irritated me so I grabbed his arm and forced it away. Alice squirmed in her seat and jumped when I reached over and removed her headset. Her eyes glazed over with confusion. Tiny wrinkles formed on her freckled nose and she sneezed. In an instant her cheeks went from ruby to pink. She stared at me dumbfounded.
“We're going for a midnight stroll. Remember?”
Her eyes rolled like her brain had been jarred. Then she stiffened. “Right. We better leave through the back.”
Alice waved Tony off and as he shuffled back to the dance floor we rose and followed the aluminum railing to the back door. We were about to exit when Tony suddenly reappeared. He burst from the curtain of flashing lights to our left and made a grab for Alice. Fury and hot blood rose in my head. I stepped into his path and yanked his headset off. A hard shove and he went stumbling across the dance floor, and as he crashed into another man I tossed his headset in after him.
Confusion developed as more people collided on the dance floor. Putting an arm around Alice, I hurried her outside. It was like rushing into paradise. The back of the Paper Lantern contained a garden and club playground for people who wanted to do more than just dance. A midnight game of volleyball was underway and lovers strolled in the garden. I didn't get to see much more than that because I could feel Alice's angry glare burning up the corner of my eye.
I turned and faced her.
“That was rude of you. Shoving my partner like that.”
“Sorry about that. I guess I panicked.”
“It looked more like jealousy to me.”
“What if it was?”
“Damn, this whole place is walled in. I thought there was an exit here.”
“See that recess just behind the fountain. The grass banks up against the wall there. We can grab that branch and swing to the top.”
“Sounds like you've done it before.”
“Many times. Escape is often the only remedy for the kind of guys I meet here.”
We followed through, taking a romantic stroll through the garden. Moonlight glowed on the gushing fountain, making the romance seem real. I saw something more than friendship in Alice's glittering eyes, and wished we could stay. Moments later that idle wish vanished in the burst of sweaty energy it took to get over the wall.
Alice plunged into sheer darkness and a soft weed bed. I remained in the haze of colored light and noise at the top of the wall. Jumping into the unknown did not suit me. I heard water flowing and did not want to land in it. Seconds later the moon passed out of a cloud and melted the darkness below. It gave me the confidence to drop down. Rolling up I saw Alice at my shoulder, facing a rushing brook that curved like a moat around the back of the club.
A graceful leap took her to a stone at the centre. A second hop and she reached the far bank. My own lack of agility put me beside her with soaked feet. I looked down at dripping cuffs and flattened silverweed, then ahead at a moonlit vista of parkland.
A grassy field ran for a quarter of a kilometer south before turning west. The lights of a residential area glowed just beyond a soft line of firs in the east. Heaps of huge stone blocks reinforced the bottom of a ravine that rose at the bend in the park. Moonlight created an eerie saucer of gloss on a water tower at the top.
Alice put her hands on her hips then turned her gaze to me. “We pass the bend. From there the trail forks in three directions. The spot where you found the corpse would be near the river.”
She led the way as we waded through thick weeds, then it was smooth going on the trail. It dipped toward the bend and into the ravine. Large blocks of stone reinforcing the banks dwarfed us, and the rising ravine-side and thick lilac brush buried us in a shadow of silence and gloom.
Alice pulled a glow flashlight from her purse and we used it for light as we pressed ahead. A breeze carrying sweet odors of the river touched us and at the bend a broad scene opened. Some of the town's taller buildings lined the heights bordering acres of parkland. Night-lights, the moon and stars cast a glow of silver on the treetops and fields.
We could hear the murmur of the river though we couldn't see it. And we also heard something else - a distant growl.
I gazed up the ravine-side. “That sounded mean, like a cougar.”
Alice glanced back. “I doubt it. Raccoons are the fiercest beasts in this town. If you're worried, I brought this just in case.”
She'd pulled a pistol from her purse. It had the Remington label.
“I hope you don't plan on firing that antique. It'll likely explode and blow your hand off.”
“It won't explode. The antique look is just the design. I borrowed this from my father when I left home. It has a molecular computer for a fast lock on a target. The bullets are super-heated projectiles that are instantly generated by a nano engine in the barrel. It's guaranteed to penetrate just about anything.”
“It's also in violation of the gun control laws. You better make sure that Shanon never catches you with it.”
“I never use it. It's just something I like to have.”
“Okay, let me get my bearings. Is that set of lights Oakdale College?”
We took a trail through the centre of the parkland, walking slowly as I looked about, trying to pinpoint the place where I'd discovered the corpse. I aimed for a spot between the lights of the college and the other distant lights from the town square. Once there I saw the field of wild flowers I had crossed on entering town. The grass was beaten down in one area, and we found Shanon's tire tracks.
“What exactly are we looking for, Grant?”
“In the dark, not much. But we already have our first clue.”
“This area wasn't searched. Most of the field is untouched. Chief Shanon didn't have to investigate because he knew exactly how the murder happened. His investigations are just to cover things up.”
“It puts us at a dead end, really. We can't go up against Shanon.”
“There's something else I want to look at. When I found the corpse, I saw a fresh trail beaten to that rise.”
Grass and wild flowers rustled at our shins as we walked to the rise. A copse of maples towered over the field there and a path wound over the top. Scrub choked the path and moving up it in the dark was a frightening experience. My nerves tingled and I felt Alice press close at my back. She moved beside me when the bushes broke at the top.
The Castle of Fangs glowed in a spill of moonbeams to the West. Just ahead the rise dropped off sharply and the sand cliff descended to the riverbank. Flotsam spotted the swollen river. Logs and branches bobbed in its skin of moonlight. A shadowy island of debris drifted slowly in the main current, its bloated appendages lapping the water. Bubbles and foam rose in its wake, giving the impression that something large and vile had risen from the bottom.
Alice pointed to the far bank. A spot to our right. We could see a green light, and it was an odd effect. Swamp gas picking up rays from an unknown source and forming a shape like an eye. It aided the moon in creating ghostly illumination in a swampy area that stretched back into acres of widely spaced firs.
Looking along the shore I saw a dock at the swamp's edge and a large motorized raft tied to it. Other glow lights began to show in the fir trees and they cast shadows, some which appeared to be human forms.
“They're doing something in the woods over there. I can't tell what.”
“Heading in the direction of the Castle of Fangs, Grant. That's what.”
The glow brightened and we saw a shadowy group of about twenty people passing through a small field toward more firs and the road to the castle. As they reached the firs lights began to whirl and strobe in the boughs. We heard faint snarling reverberate over the river. There were sounds of a struggle, branches crashing. I strained to see but it was impossible to make anything out in the shifting mass of lights and darkness.
Moments later the song of a night bird was the only sound, and we could see the lights pressing deeper into the firs.
“How do we get over there? I want to see what happened.”
“We have to go back, and over to Oakdale College. The nearest bridge is there.”
The brush snapped at us as we raced down the rise, then it was a pleasant late night jog over to the college. Its front gates were closed so we followed the perimeter of the fence. At the rear spotlights illumined the exit, a road and the bridge. This was an arched bridge and from the top we could see a black flow of moonlit water and little else. A rutted road ran along the shore on the far side so we crossed and followed it to a dead end. From there we had to pass through an acre of staghorn sumac, using a narrow path.
The sumac took us into a long shallow ravine and broke at a broad elm tree. We eased around its trunk and found ourselves with a sudden open view. A glow of moonlight capped the roof of a temple situated in a shallow depression ahead. Deep grass banked the open central area. The edifice looked primitive and incomplete, being just a sculptured slab of deep gray stone mounted on five squat pillars. Though the stones making up the floor were smooth, the rest of it was roughhewn. A dense core of darkness marked its heart and it cast an illusion of impenetrable power.
Alice leaned on my shoulder. “This place must be one of Thompson's temples”, she said.
“Yeah, and the ceremony they practice probably involves sucking your heart out and replacing it with a ball of hot wax.”
Ground ivy sprouted through the jigsaw of cracked stone pieces that made up the temple floor. Some of these pieces were tablets marked with inscriptions in an unknown language. The silhouette of a huge object showed in the veil of shadows at the centre.
Though the place appeared abandoned, we didn't want to walk unprotected into its darker areas. It had the unsettling feeling of a cursed tomb with the enveloping silence leading one to assume the presence of snakes, black widows or lurking demons.
“We've got to check this place. We'll have to chance using your light.”
“Okay,” Alice said, then she fumbled with it while pulling it out and accidentally triggered its brightest setting. The layered yellow flash dropped to normal illumination as she adjusted it. Darkness receded, opening a view of another tablet at the center. This one had been raised and mounted with straps on poles and an iron rail. The sketch-like carving appeared to be ancient and authentic. It was of one image that stretched to the crumbled edges … a picture that looked morbid more than spiritual. It showed a primitive man being devoured by a huge fanged beast.
“Repulsive isn't it,” I said.
“Let's just hope that Thompson hasn't brought it back to life. Whatever it is.”
“He's probably tried.”
Exiting the temple we climbed the bank on the far side and took a path out of the ravine. Night flies began to dog us and a faint odor of rancid mud in the air told us we were approaching the swampy area. Debris blocked this path in many places and twice we had to climb over the rotted trunks of fallen trees. Eventually a broader path opened and it was banked by bushes, mostly lilacs.
About a hundred yards into it, we detected some movement in the lilac bushes, then we heard a dragging noise and loud rustling. I raised a finger for silence as Alice switched off her light. Crouching on the path, we watched as a heavy shadow emerged from the bushes ahead of us. The long bulky phantom appeared to be dragging a body.
The creature stopped and panted from the exertion and it gained definition as it moved away from us and out of the cover of overhanging foliage. A filter of moonlight put it fully into focus, revealing it to be a large cat. Its hindquarters were of a powerful design and it resembled a cougar, though it was much bigger. Red markings on its hip identified it as a genetic hybrid, though not of known registration.
As it moved to a turn in the path we spotted the corpse dragging under it. The beast had its jaws sunk into the shoulder of this corpse, pulling it up as it padded forward.
It seemed like we were in the clear, then a night bird fluttered in the bush, causing the beast to halt and drop its cargo.
It sniffed and growled as it studied the brush, and then it turned and looked back on the path. Its features were awe-inspiring and terrifying. Moonbeams transformed its eyes to brilliant coins of light. Blood dripped from extended canines, whiskers and its chin. Without a doubt it detected us, yet it chose to ignore us.
It turned its long body, giving us a view of the corpse; the victim being a man with wild brown hair and a death expression that was both predatory and ghastly. Veins had exploded in his cheeks, swelling them with blood. His forehead was a purple welt and the eyes were open and shot with red. Fangs pierced his swollen lips, causing them to run with blood and pus.
Sinking its canines firmly into the corpse's shoulder, the cat growled, shook it then continued down the path. Alice and I trembled, and didn't dare move for about two minutes before we stood and began to whisper.
She seized my elbow. “What do you make of that?”
“I think it's one of Saul's animal creations. He's been at work again combining nano technology with genetics. Not only is that beast powerful, it also appears to be intelligent.”
“It saw us. I'm sure.”
“We're fortunate in that it seems to be on an assigned mission. The body it is dragging is one of the townspeople freshly risen as a vampire. The cat is doing some sort of cleanup. It had the strength to hunt down the vampire and take it down. I'm not sure what it's doing with the body. Taking it to the castle or maybe just disposing of it somewhere.”
“I suppose Daniel Saul creates the vampires, too.”
“That's my belief. I think Liz Parker had him recreate the vampire myth. He must have created nano technology that works in the blood. Once bitten on the neck in the classic fashion by one of those vamps, the nanbots enter and cause the corpse to rise again as another vampire.”
“I think we've got it, Grant. But why? And how do Thompson and the townspeople come into it?”
“Through technology Liz Parker has realized her dream of becoming a vampire. She uses Bill Thompson and his cult to supply her victims. They also do cleanup work. When the monsters rise they dispose of them with their fire ritual. Any they miss the cat picks up. Daniel Saul gains in that his wife is happy. With control of the town he can continue his work without interference.”
“If that's true, it's a risky game they're playing. Sooner or later they won't be able to contain it completely and the vampirism will spread like a plague.”
“Now that would be entertainment. A bigger package of it than anything our ruling class would want.”
Ducking off the path we slipped through deeper brush and walked slowly over the lumpy ground. Faint light and green-tinted haze began to show in the distant firs, indicating that we had reached the swampy area we'd viewed from the hill. Patches of boggy ground appeared. Mist poured like smoke over these mud holes and in the end, we had to go around the entire swamp as it was impassable. In some spots misted reeds were lit up by lights from the castle entry road. The green eye of the swamp we'd seen from over the river had been an effect of this mist and light.
The castle was now close by. We could hear dogs howling in one of the flanking towers. Ahead ground fog drifted over the forest floor, submerging most of the wild flowers. It was easy going as there was very little brush - just the broad pine trunks, the occasional boulder and mound. Further in the shore of a pond appeared as glaze and shimmer, and we could see across it to the castle gate and its fortifications.
Spotlights illumined a portion of the entry road and a black caped guard marching in billowing mist at the edge of the darkness. The castle clock tower shone with magnificent light, and more lights glowed in the upper yard.
Faint voices and the sound of a car engine carried on the breeze. A group of people walked into view behind the gate. Some of them were guards and a pale blond woman at the centre of the group appeared to be Liz Parker. Her outfit was loose and black and her movements were sleek, trailing a glitter of jewelry as she walked.
Alice halted at the shore and turned to face me. “I think the queen vampire just passed there. That puts the front definitely out. There's no easy way inside. If we climb the wall, they'll spot us.”
“How do we get to the ruins? We might be able to enter there.”
“Okay. We follow the shore of this pond and pass through some more woods. Keep in mind that the ruins have no lights. It's going to be dark.”
Polished stones lined the shore and we heard nothing but the gentle lapping of the water as we walked. Cold fingers of mist touched us and then faded as we reached a solid curtain of brush. Prickly branches lashed at us as we pushed through and I felt relieved when the foliage broke at a path that ran beside the castle wall.
The track was ill defined, tufted with grass in places. Rubbish indicated occasional human traffic. We couldn't see the ruins yet but the wall was obviously a part of them. A heavy growth of ivy bit into the crumbling blocks and many stones had broken away in the higher sections. The whole thing rose like a giant's broken dentures and the decay showed everywhere on the path. Often the broken fragments were embedded in the earth or heaped in gravel near the track.
Dark cavities in the wall spooked us more than the trembling forest. If another of the cat creatures existed and lurked up there, it could be down on us in a second. Alice showed the bravery that I lacked. Her slim hips swayed confidently in front of me as we followed the wall. Finally the path widened to puddles and patches of pebbled mud and we halted.
We didn't dare use the light. The scene was gloomy but just bright enough for us to see that we'd reached the perimeter of a trash yard. Strong odors were another clue. The breeze had died and the air felt stagnant and heavy. It tickled my nostrils and placed a flavour of dead roots and musty rot at the back of my tongue.
Alice led the way around the puddles and we'd soon eased our way to drier ground. Two huge piles of concrete rubble rose beside us and from that point we could see a portion of the wall that had collapsed completely. The view across the rubbish heap added a completely new decrepit aspect to the castle. A damaged flanking tower rose oppressively and blotted out the moon. Ramparts, crenulated walls, and a citadel loomed in the darkness. Time had hit this portion of the castle like a slow bomb. Most likely it had been the structure's shoulder against the 50 years of hurricanes that rode in during the last phase of global warming.
Battered junk and rubbish poked from the weeds and from mounds of earth and rubble. Rusted fenders, broken appliances and skeletons of worm-eaten wood and plastic were the rising evil in this graveyard. The scene stretched to a second castle wall. It was fortified yet had some missing stones. Someone had placed a rickety fence to create a path there. Clean grass and earth bordered this path. We spied one section where the wall had eroded to steps and decided to use it to climb to the top.
It was slow going as the yard was a minefield of broken bottles and sharp metal. We got about halfway across and then I saw something move near the wall and halted.
“I think I saw something jump the fence there.”
Alice stopped and stared. “I can't see anything.”
“Maybe it was nothing,” I said as I scrutinized the offending section of the yard.
Piles of drums and lumber and some scrub prevented a clear view. I wanted to be sure so I picked up a broken piece of brick and tossed it. There was a double bang as it ricocheted off a car wreck and some drums. A fluttering of wings followed and we saw a bat rush up into the night sky.
Ruts and a bed of cracked mud were immediately in front of us. We moved through the spot cautiously. At the last deep rut we had to look down. As I finished the hop over it, I lifted my head and saw something red and white flashing down an invisible wire of night. I didn't get out of the way in time and it hit me like a ball of snarling fury. I crashed into Alice, sending her rolling aside as I went down into the rut with an assailant on top of me.
Though the impact was stunning, I still managed to come through with an instinctive move that remained in my memory from my early days as a stuntman. Holding the attacker, I rolled and the bank of the rut gave me the back support to throw him off.
Sharp stones bit into my shoulder blades. A gasp of pain escaped my lips as I burst to my feet. I'd done it fast enough to beat the attacker up, and I could see him rising. Dizziness swamped my vision as I got out of the rut and backed away.
The blurred scene sharpened. My assailant was a man in badly tattered clothing and I could see him pulling on a huge shard of glass that had got embedded in his arm. Blood trickled as he tossed the shard away.
The rest of his appearance came as a shock. Cherries of black blood oozed from a plague of scabs on his arms and torso. Burn tissue, blackened wounds and a protruding rib cage made up his chest. His face was little more than a fanged skull. Seared flesh and bone formed a mask over eyes deep as shotgun barrels and bright as afterburn. A projection of hate and hunger created his personality, and I had only a moment to think before he hissed, raised a clawed hand and lunged.
His fanged mouth snapped at me and bits of vile decay sprayed my face as I grappled with him. He screamed horribly as I threw him down into the rut.
I backed off a few steps then he flew up and came at me again. This time I was ready. Going down into a fast crouch, I bucked him over me. He went into a mound of concrete, hitting his back hard. I could see the light in his eyes glimmering electrically as he struggled to rise, and in that free moment I looked around for Alice.
She was to my left and on one knee. I could see that she'd been stunned but was now coming around. She had her gun out.
The vampire didn't appear to see her at all. He got to his feet and stumbled over a crack as he staggered toward me. Then Alice fired and the super-heated projectiles created a chain of light that turned his chest into a shower of fireflies. The charge lit the rest of the body to bright neon. Vapor hissed as it melted.
Hot ashes exploded from the liquefying mass. Sparks winked as the ashes fluttered to the ground, and I saw Alice smirk as she put the gun away. “How do you like that for scattering the ashes?” she said.
More bats flew overhead as we hurried across the yard. The fence proved easy to vault and the path along the wall revealed no surprises. I boosted Alice up into the eroded portion and she used the gaps and vines to get the rest of the way up. I waited for her signal then made the climb.
Crouching at the top of the wall, we looked deeper into the castle grounds. This was a better view of the collapsed northern portion. The court directly below was composed of flag stones that looked like they'd been heaved loose by an earthquake. Weeds, shrubs and vines burst through the cracks and covered most of it. A large heap of rotted shingles rested against the wall nearby. The remains of a collapsed shed were at the centre of the yard. It had been partially swallowed by a ridge of limestone that had been pitched up during some past rumble of the earth.
An intact keep rose at the end of this wreckage and it looked much older than the restored Disney towers of the castle. Spotlights from the yard beyond backlit it while the front portion in the damaged court was plunged in darkness.
“Looks like a dead end,” Alice said. “That wall running to the keep is fortified with a defense rail.”
“It's impassable, but we could try entering through that door at the bottom of the keep.”
“It's bolted, and solid reinforced oak. We'd need explosives to open it.”
“We've got your gun, remember. It'll cut the lock easily.”
Our jumping point was down to the mound of shingles. I went first, sliding to the bottom before Alice followed. Numerous stones stood askew in our path. We picked our way through them, sometimes hopping over ridges of broken limestone. The ground leveled out as we got nearer to the keep, and we were almost at it when fresh trouble arose.
An incredible cracking noise startled us and we swung around and looked back to the tumbled shed at the centre. Boards and earth were rising there, and roaring accompanied the movement.
“Run for the keep!” I said. Though I may have said it to myself as Alice had already gone into flight ahead of me.
In moments we were in the shadow of the towering structure, and rather than wait for Alice to act, I simply seized her purse and took out the gun. She was looking back at the ruins and a gigantic thing tearing out of them. I looked long enough to see that it was bigger and uglier than any cat, and then I turned and fired at the locked door.
A combination of vaporization and force took the lock out of existence and threw the heavy door open. It hit the interior stone with a loud crash. I grabbed Alice to pull her inside then stopped dead because something was racing out.
We both staggered back and nearly fell as a rushing cloud of bat wings swept us. Alice went down as they swarmed up into the sky, and I turned back to see if the creature was getting any closer.
Gleaming coils spun in the darkness. It appeared to be an armored snake moving toward us at incredible speed. Raising the gun, I aimed, fired and staggered back from the visible shock of the impact.
The blast stopped the creature and lit it up with fire, but it did not kill it. Flaming coils writhed; a vicious hiss of pain flew with steam from its fanged throat. In the light, it appeared to grow in size and ferocity.
“It's recovering, let's go,” Alice said.
She rushed through the open door and I followed at her heels. Cobwebs swept my face, and I couldn't see a thing, but I was still able to get hold of the door and force it shut.
Alice's light came on and we suddenly found ourselves in a dungeon-like room. This place could only be described as grisly and vile. The walls were hung with torture implements that had been set up like some sort of decorative ironwork. Bones and skeletons had been heaped at the far wall. Most of the room was hard to see due to enormous cobwebs that floated everywhere. We did see a stone staircase we had to ascend if we wanted to get any further into the castle.
Scraping sounds near the door worked to speed us across the room. Alice cursed as she swept cobwebs from her hair, then we were at the stairs and on the way up. Below us, the door flew open and flames rushed in, causing us to sprint for the first the landing. We went up so fast that we burst off the steps and got tangled up in a dusty curtain in the archway.
We choked on dust as we got out of the curtain. Alice's light revealed another room - this higher one had some furnishings but it lacked the beauty of cobwebs and skeletons. The stairs to the third level were on the far side so we hurried over. I paused there to look around the room, only to find that the snake was still pursuing us. It burst through the curtain like a fiery worm and set it to smoldering.
Panicked, we began the climb to the next level, and then did a blind run through it and up more stairs. At the fourth level, a broad walkway connected the keep to the castle's inner fortified wall. Electric sconces lighted this section, though the keep's adjoining room was in darkness.
“I don't hear the snake,” Alice said. “Do you suppose we've escaped it?”
I looked back down the stairs, and saw nothing. Then I heard a grating noise. Turning right I saw something white emerging from a darkened room. It wore cobwebs like bandages, had a face that was both evil and cadaverous, and was seven feet tall.
I couldn't fire from such close range. “Run,” I said to Alice. And as she sprinted off, I shoved the gun in my belt and rushed the thing. Clouds of dust and rot puffed up as we collided. It was like hitting a heavy canvass bag. My check barely moved it and arms like tough rope were closing around me in a bear hug. I came up with a desperate blow to its chin and heard brittle teeth crack.
Releasing me, it staggered four steps back, and the full view of its face came as another blow. Veined mold and brain matter showed in mostly empty eye sockets. A blood-crusted jaw protruded hideously while rest of its face was fleshed by oozing tissue and stained linen bandages.
Dust and insect rot spilled from its lolling mouth as it moaned and charged again. Ducking to the side, I ended up backed against the wall. It did a clumsy turn and came for me there.
With only a moment to act, I dived and rolled over the edge of the stairs, tumbling down a few steps. The fall stunned me and just as I was about to scramble to my feet, I saw the snake. It had been quietly slithering up from below and was almost on me.
The other beast had smacked the wall in its rush on me and it was now turning and heading for the stairs. I didn't have time to look but I heard its footsteps. Heading up as fast as I could, I went for its knees and hit them hard.
That move bowled it over top of me and as it crashed down the stairs I scrambled to safety. I looked back and saw the snake lunge. It caught the thing's head and shoulders and sucked them down its throat. Foul smoke rose but the rest of the body didn't want to go down.
Satisfied that the snake was choked I turned. Alice was a few steps away so I hurried to her. She hugged me briefly then we both ran off in the sconce light to the end of the walkway.
A doorway led out onto the wall walkway and a set of stairs ran down into the castle underground. Alice feared we would find horrors in the subterranean depths and I wanted to get a view from the wall so we eased through the door. That put us out on the walkway with stone fortifications rising just over our heads on both sides. A charged rail glowed along the top and faint sulfurous light lit the interior stones, giving us a dim view. Deciding to go right we walked down and stopped at a loophole that gave us a view of the inner grounds.
Spotlights on the walls lit the towers and created a haze of light below. Small trees, greenery and walks of interlocking stones created a garden atmosphere. This section led to a paved court near a tower and beyond that the citadel basked in strange green light. A number of the black-clothed guards stood near the citadel and these emaciated creatures had skeletal faces and eyes that glowed like red embers. They carried beam guns of some sort. Movement in the garden below attracted our attention and we saw something large and spidery moving in the shadows at the dark end near the wall.
Alice sighed. “Maybe we should just try to get out of here. I can't see any point in going any farther.”
“We can escape the castle, but we can't escape the town. They'll know we're onto them and come for us there.”
“Then what do we do?”
“I have a plan, but we have to talk to Liz Parker.”
“She's too well guarded. We'll never get to her.”
“We've got this far, and we've got a weapon. There's still a good chance of catching her by surprise. I see a way in, too. This wall runs to that tower near the citadel.”
Our feet sped silently on the stone as we continued along the wall. We came to a bend and the tower came into view. Spotlights on its sheer side provided enough light to reveal an open door. Gloom filled the interior and though no guards showed I drew the gun just in case.
We crept up then entered quickly to escape being exposed by the light spilling down. One of the black cloaked guards stood over by the stairs. He had his back to us, and I didn't wait for him to turn and possibly shout. Pushing Alice to my side, I fired a blast from the gun. It hit and made a staggering flare of him. He burned like cork and crumbled in silence, leaving only glowing embers for us to tiptoe over.
Descending on the stairs, we found another large cheerless room. I peeked through the arch, saw that it was full of people, and then pulled back, taking Alice with me. It was absolutely silent so I took a second look, and discovered that none of the people were alive. They were wax figures of an abnormal variety.
I slipped in with Alice glued to me. We moved deeper into the room with our eyes flashing from figure to figure, just in case one of them turned out to be more than wax. This ghastly show appeared to be a display of historical figures. Their dress was of various periods and their faces were all pulled into ghastly leers of either lechery or fright. I guessed it to be more of Thompson's artistry, and I wondered if he'd coated real bodies to create this work.
Alice stopped and studied a Greek figure with lifelike brown eyes. A crash echoed from the stairs above. Something heavy and metal clanged and scraped. Heavy boots thudded and shouts rang out.
Guards were rushing down. They were on to us and we were left with no option other than to race to the bottom. Fortunately, the exit room was empty and the door was ajar. I burst through the opening only to find myself charging straight for one of the black clad guards. His moldering jaw fell open in surprise. I hit him and sent him flying to the pavement.
Alice halted beside me and we looked around for the best direction to run. Ten more guards were approaching from the direction of the gate and others were streaming from the tower. We took off toward the dark evergreens at the side of the citadel. Bullets and fire streaks ripped off the stones. A laser flash and an explosion vibrated behind us with such force that for a moment we were running on air.
My feet came back to the ground and I was able to burst ahead, dive and roll to safety in the shrubbery. Bullets tore through the leaves as I scrambled up with the gun in hand. I was about to fire then I noticed that Alice wasn't with me. She'd fallen wounded in the explosion. Hostile guards were surrounding her. Other guards tailing me were holding their fire. Behind them in the drifting smoke, I saw Dan Shanon and Liz Parker approaching.
Face to Face with the Vampire Queen
Torches flickered on the sweating stone walls in the dungeon-like room. Shadows shifted like menacing monsters as I tried to shake off the grogginess. I wondered how long I'd been out. Then a heavy iron door opened and my thoughts went to my immediate survival.
Liz Parker entered, three of her guards in tow, and they had Alice with them. Alice gave me a defeated glance, but except for a bandage on her arm and a small bruise on her face, she looked to be okay.
The contrast between Liz Parker and the creatures she chose to live with was stark. Though they were grotesque, she was beautiful. If anything, her looks had improved. The gaunt unfed appearance of her movie days had vanished. In the older flicks, she had sunken eyes and a pale face. Those features had matured. Her cheeks now had color and her blue eyes were softly shaded and compelling. Full red lips blended into a smooth complexion and her blond hair formed natural curls as it fell to her shoulders. Bands of pearls on her neck carried the same gloss as her irises and teeth, and more jewelry glittered on her wrists and fingers. She had the full magic of female youth and beauty, so if vampirism granted her any powers of mesmerism, they were powers she didn't really need.
She looked at me and frowned, and then she signaled with a painted nail. Her guards obeyed the silent command, taking Alice back through the door to be imprisoned in another room.
I'd hoped for signs of weakness, but saw none in Liz. Her walk was confident and the height of feminine elegance. She wore a mildly cynical smile and when she spoke her words carried like music in my ears; each sentence seeming to rise from some hidden current of the English language.
“Mr. King. You knew our game before you came out here. So what is it you want?”
“I guessed the truth when Alice and I dug up the records on the Castle. I thought about turning you in then. It would have made me a new hero of the establishment and you'd have ended up on display in a zoo. But how long would my good fortune have lasted? In time, I'd be back on the outside again. I decided to try to get a look around this place. I was going to approach you with an offer.”
“You mean you intended to blackmail me. Force me into cooperation for one of your sleazy entertainment extravaganzas. It never would have worked. I left that business behind long ago.”
“I assumed you'd left the entertainment business behind, and I also considered your husband, Daniel. A deal I could offer him to protect his work.”
“Daniel has passed away. He's been dead for more than two years. A victim of one of his own experiments. He died having finished his work and he left me complete control of the technology.”
“Sorry to hear about your loss. I do know you have control. If you didn't vampirism would escape from this area. So you have a system, but there is an area of control you don't have. I can give that to you.”
“What do you expect to get for it?”
“I expect sanctuary. For myself and for Alice.”
“I ran a trace on Alice. She's just a rich kid. Sooner or later, she'd try to run back to her family. I haven't decided what to do with her. I'd be a fool to trust her.”
“She'd never run back. I ran her profile through a stolen security account I have. They faked the legal and psychological data on her. She isn't a runaway at all. The truth is she was sexually abused by her family. Alice tried to kill her father. They decided to cover for him and made her an outcast. They dumped her in Oakdale to get her out of the way. She doesn't know that I've found out, but she's lucky I did. I attached myself to her because of it.”
“This is all interesting, but you really have nothing to offer.”
“Yes I do. My expertise on the inside. I can get the dope on others just like I did on Alice. I also know how their security works and that eventually the big fish will detect you. When that happens, they'll destroy you. I propose that we solve that problem. My plan takes us out from under their thumb, and destroys their entertainment empire altogether.”
“That would be wonderful. But I don't want to work with a person whose only motive is revenge.”
“I admit that revenge is part of it. But it's not all of it. The truth is that they are the vampires. They drank our freedom, and they force the entire world to drink from a blood supply of creativity that's gone stale. As an artist, I don't want to work for them. So we get rid of them. Put some new blood in at the top and unlock the prison doors. Once that's done Castle of Fangs is free, and others will be at liberty to pursue unfettered creativity.”
“And just how do we do that?”
The Enemy Arrives
Oakdale's airport, its landing strip, hangar and tiny passenger terminal rested in a checkerboard of open green fields a half kilometer outside of town. We'd arrived early and I was beginning to perspire as I shuffled back and forth outside the terminal building. A fat sun hung in the haze over the runway, forcing me to shield my eyes. Finally, I heard the buzz of an engine and spotted the gleam of a plane.
A blast of cool air hit me as Alice came through the terminal door. She stood beside me, sipping a pop as the plane winged out of the horizon like a big fly.
“Tell me about this Ming Tse guy,” she said. “You say he's connected to organized crime, yet he's flying a plane with the net.99 colors.”
“He works with both. At the net, he's a global fixer and talent scout. I've sold work to him in the past but only when desperate. His real job is to find new feature ideas and enslave the creators to the industry. Ming is about the worst there is in the business, but he will get us in the door.”
Radiant vapor and heat shimmies enveloped the plane and trailed it like a disintegrating energy shield as it taxied up and turned. It stopped and ran cooling gusts for a minute then the ramp began to lower.
Five heavily armed plainclothes guards suddenly appeared from the interior. They rushed down, disarmed the lone airport security man and roughed him up. We were left staring in amazement as Ming appeared on the ramp. At first, I didn't recognize him. Instead of his usual business suit he wore a khaki hunting outfit. He descended to the tarmac and assembled his armed entourage. Then he saw us and walked over.
Sunlight glittered in his fierce brown eyes as he gave Alice a quick assessment. In spite of the show of force he appeared excited and not suspicious.
“We had a deal, Ming,” I said. “Why have you brought the Secret Service in tow?”
“Don't be intimidated by them, Grant. They're just a few company field agents. I brought them along to make sure you're on the level. Last rumor I heard had you in Mexico and surviving by selling cadavers to the transplant industry. I hope you haven't been trafficking in the victims of these vampires.”
“That's a malicious rumor. I wouldn't sell corpses. Liz Parker destroys all of the bodies in Oakdale as an extra precaution. She doesn't really have to do it, though. Her late husband, Daniel Saul, set up the technology of nano vampirism to disable itself when outside of this local area.”
“We did a pass over the castle on the way in. I have to admit that I'm impressed. One look and I decided to go with a hunt design for the property.”
“Judging from the way you're dressed, that's obvious.”
“Hunting adventures are where the money is. Recent legal restrictions have made big game rare. Not nearly enough for the industry. I want to keep the name Castle of Fangs and set the place up as a hunting adventure world for the super-rich. Our lawyers will include legal protection for Parker in the contract, and we'll pull some legal strings for you. That's if you keep your end of the bargain.”
“We had some other ideas,” Alice said. “Hunting those beasts is a high risk game to be playing. Your super rich clients will end up dead. We nearly got killed just scouting the place.”
“Who is she?” Ming said.
“She's my partner in this deal. Tipped me off on the place.”
“What's this about nearly getting killed?”
“That was part of the discovery. Our vampire queen didn't come into this scheme willingly. At first, we didn't even know what was going on in this town. When I got wise, we went in on a night expedition and almost got killed by monsters. Our chances of survival were slim against such horrifying attacks by blood hungry creatures. We blew a few of them away in the ruins. In the end, we got captured. I convinced Liz Parker of her need for long-term protection. Otherwise we'd be dead.”
“My clients would pay any price for an experience like that. I want to go in on a hunt right away and start setting it up.”
“Sure, you can do that if you want. We can drop your bags off at the hotel, contact Liz Parker and set up a midnight adventure. You would have three basic choices; a hunt in the ruins, a battle on the castle grounds or a terrifying adventure in the catacombs. It doesn't matter if you blow a few of the beasts away because Parker has the technology. She also has the entire town of Oakdale as flesh for use in any production.”
Alice and I stepped off the clock tower elevator at the stroke of midnight and climbed a curved stone staircase to the very top. We entered a well of stuffy darkness and used a glow light to find the light switch. Soft rays filtered through a stained glass panel overhead, illumining the musty stone room.
This attic had been converted to a guard post, though it wasn't currently in use. Sparse furnishings included a bench, a table and some scratched wooden chairs. An axe and an ancient clock gear were mounted on the wall. Directly across from the door a heavy iron grille covered a window gone completely opaque with dust and cobwebs.
Alice winced at the dusty table then pulled a tissue from her purse and began to clean it. I watched as she dumped her pack and rummaged through some stuff, then I went over to the window and tried to slide the grille open. It wouldn't budge so I took the axe from the wall and used the blade to pry it. Cakes of rust showered to the floor as it creaked aside. Three feet of heavily streaked window space showed and I coughed as I slid the second panel left.
The view was excellent. A fresh breeze rushed in. I stood in the white glow rising from the clock face, which was below me. Looking down I saw Bill Thompson and a gang of townspeople arriving at the gate. Liz Parker and a few of her black clad guards were walking across the court to meet them. Figures of a more sinister variety could be seen moving in the shadowy garden near the citadel.
Oakdale showed as a starfish of lights in the sky to the east, and the river came into view as a ribbon of moonlit silver just beyond the wall. The water turned and flowed out of sight near the ruins, and a twinkling of colored lights drifted toward the shore at that spot.
“I see Ming and his men,” I said.
Alice stepped beside me, holding binoculars. “Where?”
“The river. By the ruins. Looks like they're following our map exactly.”
“I have them in focus. They're docking the raft. Wait! Ming has jumped ashore. He's fading into the brush. The rest are following on his tail and one man is staying behind to guard the boat.”
“Check the grounds near the old keep. If Liz arranged it right, something should be happening just about now.”
“Murk is about all that's happening. I can see our favorite trash yard and the collapsed wall. Ah, something is moving there. One, two - a whole damn crowd is coming up from graves of trash. They aren't pretty either. I'd say their faces are uglier than the slime dripping from them. Obviously they plan to feast on something meatier than garbage. The biggest one is walking in the scrub near the wall. He must be eight feet tall.”
“Want to bet on how long Ming can last?”
“Maybe five minutes, once the fighting starts. Much longer after he rises as the undead?”
“I think we should finish our bottle of wine here. We can go out to pick up the bodies in about an hour. Shanon will see them to the airport.”
“Where exactly are we flying Ming?”
“My old neighborhood. The private net.99 community of Scarsdale in New York City. The parties have gotten dull there over the last hundred years. I expect that Ming and his company of vampires will dance things up.”
“I see - you get your revenge. Now the hunt goes back to them, with vampires as the hunters.”
“It's more than petty revenge. By the time they figure out what's happening, nearly the entire ruling class will be vampires. Then Liz Parker pulls the nano plug and they perish.”
“Leaving new artistic forces in control.”
Alice lowered the binoculars and smiled as we embraced. “Let's drink the wine,” she said.
We kissed then I looked over her shoulder as I held her. Gun fireworks were rising in the treetops near the ruins and explosions skated on the river, taking Ming's raft under. The greatest vampire show on Earth had begun.
---- the end -----