“From The Papers of AvH” by Kathy Sherwood
Of all my experiences and studies of the undead, the first time I encountered them face-to-face has haunted me the most throughout my life.
I was in medical school, though at the time in question, it was a holiday, and I had left the city for some climbing. It was my plan to only spend the day in the mountains, and perhaps had taken too few precautions.
I had forgotten my watch, and I was still high among the cliffs and woods late in the afternoon when a monstrous thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere. Soon, I became lost, and quite frightened, wandered through the woods in the dark. Lightning struck near me more than once.
It was with great relief when I stumbled across the ruins of an old castle. And it truly was a ruin—to get out of the rain, I, foolishly, ventured deeper inside and down below to its crypt. It was dark, though occasionally punctuated by flashes of lightning above.
Without the rain on my head, I felt safe.
Then I saw them.
They stood still, no doubt as startled to see me as I was them. A man and two women, all engaged in unwrapping themselves from their shrouds.
The smallest woman recovered first, snarling like a beast, springing forward, fangs bared. Fortunately for me, she was not yet out of her shroud and could not get very far.
I turned and ran, taking the stairs two at a time—by some miracle not falling. The only indication of their pursuit was the noise of their hisses and snarls. Their feet made no sound.
In my shock and disorientation, I made a wrong turn, running up the stairs, and ran deeper into the ruins. And then I did fall, tripping over some roots that were tearing up what had been the old flagstone floor. I landed on my shoulder, and my right arm went painfully numb.
Staggering to my feet, I saw that the male vampire had caught up to me. He lunged at me, and though I tried to jump out of the way, he caught me by my numb shoulder. We grappled, his rotten breath making me cough and choke almost as much as his grip on my neck. Then I was suddenly snatched away by another force—the small woman had entered the fray. Her fangs were already extended, and my heart stood still, waiting for them to sink into me.
The man abruptly let go of me, causing the small woman to lose her balance, and I managed to pull myself out of her grasp. He advanced on her, striking her hard across the face with enough force to throw her to the floor.
With one arm still useless, I tried to run again, but it was further into the dark. Unable to see where I was going, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with the taller woman. She didn’t speak or move to attack me. She did raise one hand and pressed a finger to her lips. Then against mine.
She then pointed to a passage leading to the left. There was a hint of light in there, and I could vaguely hear rain striking the stones again. I looked back at her, and she shoved me down through the doorway.
I ran again, after a few yards breathing in fresher air. Hope surged within my chest, and along with a sense of confusion. Abruptly the hope died away when I realized I had come into what appeared to be a dead-end, the fresh air coming from a lack of roof. I looked over my shoulder, to find the tall woman just a step or two behind me. She pointed ahead, still silent, and not knowing what else to do, I looked at the dead end again.
Lightning flashed, momentarily illuminating the space. She hissed, sounding like she was in pain, as I took in what remained of the old castle’s chapel. A cross was carved into the wall, once ornate, but now rough and faded. The altar still stood, if a bit tumble-down.
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that I was alone. But I knew what she intended me to do.
Carefully making my way across the broken up, slippery floor, I stumbled to the front of the chapel and crouched down behind the old stone altar. Rain poured on my head and pooled underneath where I sat. It was terribly cold, but a sense of relief warmed me from within.
A cacophony of angry, animalistic noises outside the chapel made me cold with fear again, and I waited for the creatures to return. But they never did.
Gradually the feeling returned to my right shoulder and arm, and slowly the lightning stopped, the thunder silenced, and the rain gave way to a heavy morning mist. I couldn’t bring myself to move until sunlight peeked over the highest wall of my ruined sanctuary.
And when I first tried to move, I found I couldn’t. My limbs were stiff and cold from spending the night crouched beneath the stones. It took me several minutes of crawling, stumbling, and once grazing my forehead on the feet of a stone saint I could no longer recognize before I was able to walk somewhat normally again.
All my instincts screamed for me to run back to civilization, but my escape had been so narrow… it would not be right for me to leave this danger to befall anyone who might come after me.
The trees, courtesy of the violent storm, presented me with a bounty of broken branches, and I found several that possessed sharp points. The ruins themselves were full of heavy, easy to hold rocks. So armed, I descended down the stairs again, until I found the shrouds.
The first one I pulled back contained the man. He lay like a statue, his eyes open, like two gray islands in seas of blood.
I selected a stick and hammered it against his chest, just above the heart. His face contorted, but I knew I hadn’t broken the skin. His shirt was very old, though, and tore easily. And striking again, with more strength, this blow brought up a pool of black blood, and he howled in pain. It took me three more strikes before he was silent.
Standing back to catch my breath, I watched in horror and awe as his flesh melted away to become a dusty skeleton, still with pronounced fangs.
I pulled away the next shroud, revealing the small woman, who also rested with her eyes open. Out of delicacy, I left her clothes in place as I leveled my makeshift stake. It took six blows with the rock. My ears rang as I straightened up, and her screwed up features dissolved into bone.
Trepidation filled me as I pulled back the final shroud. The tall woman had scratches on her face, and I wondered if she received those as punishment for aiding me. Unlike the other two, her eyes were closed. My palms began to sweat, in spite of how cold I was.
She was a vampire, I reminded myself. Even though she had saved my life, eventually she would have to drink the blood of someone else. Maybe they would even become a vampire, like her. I had to do it.
But I still hesitated another long moment before I steeled myself, aimed my stick, and brought the rock down with all my strength. Then again. And again.
I looked down at her as her face shrank down, finally fading into bone like her companions. She still had fangs, but one of them fell away. As I took the shroud out from under her bones, her skull was knocked askew. I replaced it.
The others I left where they rolled when I pulled the shrouds away to burn.
Throughout the years, I encountered more vampires, and they all were reminiscent of the two creatures who attacked and fought over me. I never understood why the tall woman chose to help me—she had to know what would happen to her if I survived the night—and I still wonder if other vampires had any chance to rise above their monstrosity as she did.
Kathy Sherwood was born in Virginia, educated in Ohio, and now resides in the wonderfully morbid Wisconsin. She has written and loved the horror genre her entire life. Kathy recently published an ebook, In the Full Moonlight, and is currently working on another novel, Born Dead.
Ppppfffftttt, an RPG story by Jennifer Weigel
Poised Potion Poison Potential, an RPG story by Jennifer Weigel
(There – I finally said it! Second time’s the charm. Can we move along now?)
So I think Barbarella is losing it. Like she’s been sneaking healing potions. We never did manage to get to an alchemist before she downed one of those unmarked flasks we got off the goblins when we took their lair. Yeah, we all know they’re healing potions but I can’t help but think the goblins weren’t getting their goods legit. I mean, they are goblins, ‘nuff said. And I’ve heard some of the black market varieties have other weird properties too, so I fear maybe she’s gotten a bad one or something.
Anyway, she’s been acting strange, spending a lot of time by herself. And not working out, like usual, but rather rifling through the treasure trove. Not that she’s at all sneaky about it. I mean c’mon, it is Barbarella after all. She’s kind of the polar opposite of discreet. She’s always been more of a don’t-tread-on-me and mess-with-my-buddies-mess-with-my-war-axe kind of a girl.
It’s making Squidge suspicious. Yeah I know, Squidge is a bit edgy anyway, but they’re acting even more so now. They seem to have an even tighter grip on whatever things they’ve stashed away all up in that cloak of holding or whatever it is that they never take off and that makes it hard to remember much of anything about them. Hell, I don’t even know what gender they are, not that it matters anyway. I don’t concern myself with what Squidge is or isn’t up to so I don’t really care; generally the best is to assume the worst and move on. Nosing around in Squidge’s business is like begging for a stab wound to the back in your sleep, if you know what I mean. But they’ve been acting even more paranoid than normal, so I think they’ve noticed that something is off too.
You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve even had to down a healing potion; I tend to stay in the far back and let the other two hack n slash, it’s safer that way. And health elixirs aren’t my cup-of-probiotic-smoothie-protein-tea (it’s all too snake oil salesman fad craze diet antioxidant stuff for me). I’m more of a freewhellin fireball flingin kind of spell-slinger. The healing arts magics are a bit too… mushy gushy lovey dovey for me.
We aren’t a goody-two-shoes fixer-upper team, more of a nice-fill-in-the-blank-I-think-I’ll-take-it kind of ensemble. You know the type. #thuglifeforever. But times like this do make me wish we had a paladin or a cleric or even a druid to tag along. Where do you find the moral high grounders when you need them anyway? Sure, I guess I could go to a church or something, but some of the lesser evil critters I’ve wagered pacts and bargains with may not take too kindly to that. And the nature nice guys are all save-the-treants which generally doesn’t mesh with the whole fireball jive.
I guess Squidge could ask someone, but they only really talk to The Guild and just in that you-don’t-stab-my-back-I-don’t-stab-yours kind of sense, so we don’t have anyone to consult with on these kinds of things. It’s certainly not worth seeking out a 100 gp pearl for a wizened old wizard to snort for further clarity, even if the relative scarcity and exchange rate has made them significantly smaller and easier to haul around at this juncture, assuming you can find them at all. I swear, if the alchemists didn’t need to get high to get anything done it’d be a whole lot easier for everyone. And don’t even get me started on the Oracle, that nympho dominatrix bitch. Suffice to say I will NOT be going back there anytime soon, for ANY reason.
So here we are. Maybe whatever it is’ll pass on its own. But I noticed a couple more of those goblin healing potions have gone missing. We all know they don’t work if you aren’t hurt. And I swear I saw Barbarella take her own axe to the shin before she downed one when she thought I wasn’t looking during my nightly séance with the campfire flames. My cohorts don’t realize I can actually do more than it seems from my ritual state. The demonspawn that grant me my powers aren’t always all-engrossing, especially if I’m channeling things I’ve done a bajillion times already and not trying to harness something new. Frankly sometimes it’s best to tune the spirits out since they pontificate at length for no reason, but I suppose I’m not one to talk.
I keep coming back to this thought though. Why would Barbarella hurt herself just to chug a stupid goblin potion anyway? Usually those dares go the other way. Goblin potions taste like bad grog two days following a dwarven ale upchuck hangover, and that’s if you’re lucky. Often they’re worse. And they’re not even that good as far as healing elixirs, mending maybe a minor flesh wound at best. They’re crappy, no getting around it, and a last resort at best. Why would she deliberately go out of her way to drink that shit?
You know, there’s a whole stash of the things left, and I am a bit down on health myself. Maybe I should try one to see what the allure is. Perhaps the camaraderie and shared experience could help me get Barbarella to sober up and leave the toxic sludge alone. Or at the very least, maybe I’ll understand what she sees in them. Perhaps they’re new and improved, but I seriously doubt it seeing as how they’re still just ill-obtained swag we got off some low-level goblins. You know, no one ever really gives goblins anything worth having unless they’re trying to exploit them in some way, and even then it’s really not worth it, seeing as how the goblins don’t have anything anybody wants to barter…
I swear those potions were in this satchel here; we had like over 100 of the things. Oh, here’s one, way down in the bottom of the bag having fallen under some of the other crap we looted that wasn’t worth much of anything. Wow I really had to dig deep to fish that out, and it’s only been about a week since the goblins’ lair… In the light looks like the same ol’ ordinary purple black pink tinged sludge we normally find, a tad more sparkle factor but not enough to care. Now why are Barbarella and Squidge both looking at me like I’m holding the golden goose egg of everlasting mana and fingering their weapons?
If you enjoyed this RPG story by Jennifer Weigel, perhaps you will want to see some art from previous campaigns or read the Twilight saga, both on Haunted MTL here.
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Nightmarish Nature: Vampires Among Us
This is the kickoff to a new series exploring nature that is kind of horrifying, at least in ways. Our first subject is Vampires Among Us. There are lots of animals named for vampires, sometimes due to folklore and sometimes for their appearance (like the Vampire Squid), but most of these animals don’t have blood sucking tendencies.
Bats & Birds
There are legit vampire leaf-nosed bats in Central and South America that drink blood. They feed on mammals and are often shown to feed on livestock. They’d be kinda cute if they weren’t so creepy. There are also vampiric birds: some finches in the Galapagos have developed the taste for blood of other birds, mainly seabirds that flock to the islands to raise their young.
Leeches & Lampreys & More
And then you get into leeches and lampreys and other denizens of the water that are known to attach themselves to larger creatures and drink their blood. Leeches were even believed to have medicinal value (and still are in certain circumstances). And there are also numerous plants that are known to be parasitic and feed on other plants, wrapping their roots or vines around others to steal nutrients.
Now I’m going to drift off into the realm where this becomes truly horrific. Spiders. Now, spiders aren’t vampires per se, seeing as how they actually kill their prey – they don’t just feed off of it while it remains living and wanders about its business. But because of their structure, they cannot eat solid foods, so they have to inject their prey with enzymes to liquefy it so they can slurp it out like a protein shake. That’s sort of vampirism on steroids if you ask me, just the kind that no one is coming back from.
But let’s get back on topic. Now let’s consider mites and ticks and fleas and mosquitoes and the like. Some drink blood for their survival; others do so as part of their reproductive cycle (like mosquitoes which otherwise eat fruit and nectar but need the extra protein from blood to grow their eggs).
Ticks need to feed on blood once at every stage of their life cycle and can pick up diseases along the way (like Lyme Disease) but don’t always do so. Different ticks are more likely to come in contact with different things and often humans are not their preferred meal but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever is available when necessary. Symptoms of illness from tick bites may take years to develop and can have really weird side effects (like the allergy associated with Lone Star Ticks which makes a person unable to consume mammalian flesh).
Anyway, here are some brief glimpses of vampirism in nature. Thank you for joining us for Nightmarish Nature and may you avoid getting bitten by any true vampires among us… And I still think spiders take first place in the creepy eating category here, even if they aren’t technically vampiric.
Buried Treasure by “Dread Pirate” Jennifer Weigel
This story came to me in a sort of roundabout way from a rather unusual source. So I thought I’d share it with you, dear readership, and see if you can make heads or tails of it. – Jennifer Weigel
Dread Pirate Rum Tum Tugger could tell this was the right spot.
The site, beneath the sweeping limbs of the Live Oak, Spanish Moss swaying gently in the breeze, was a perfect match to the crude map he had bought off that soothsayer Deuteronomy.
The earth moved easily, as if it had been excavated previously. He dug in with greater fervor with each swipe. The sandy soil gave way to reveal something hard. He scooped and smoothed the remaining detritus from the surface as he uncovered a box.
The carton was simple.
No markings; no ornamentation; no writing. Just a plain cardboard crate, brittle from having been buried for so long but still sturdy. He hoisted it from its burrow.
“Ha HO!” he shouted to the passing breeze, rousing a small cloud of birds that erupted from a nearby thicket. They captured his attention for a moment, but he quickly refocused and returned to his task.
The box was locked but no difference.
Any self-respecting ruffian like himself could pick a lock in seconds. And he did so with panache, as was his way. He pried the lid open and licked his lips.
Inside was the legendary Kernel of Eternal Life, a small sparrow’s heart, still beating.
Artwork description: Myself as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty wearing black bell sleeve shirt and black vinyl skirt with strapping leather belt over leopard print shirt and tights, with strapping leather boots, pirate head wrap and leopard cat ears.
Image text reads: Purr! Avast ye mateys, Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty invites ye to check out her booty stash and dig ye up a dungbie prize. Seek ye some buried treasure! Just grab ye a plastic litter scoop and dig… dig… dig… to ye heart’s content.
I created this image for a promotional poster for a performance piece in a charity art show in which I, as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty, hawked a carnival sideshow style sidewalk installation. For a mere $5 donation to the animal shelter the show supported, gallery goers could dig around in a kiddie pool full of litter to find a prize: a cheap plastic trinket from the dollar store. I had some takers, including one kid who seemed to really enjoy the digging and whose parents were all in, saying “You know, you can totally do that at home too.”
For more cat antics, we invite you to read C-2747’s logbook here on Haunted MTL. Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.