The Search Party
Our children and elderly were the first to go, but then the fever took others. Rumors spread that Old Woman Brown was a witch and behind the deaths, but she too died from the sickness. Thompson was the first to volunteer to hunt down the source. He lost his youngest, Maria, and his two sons, Edward and Adam, to the consumption. I didn’t want to believe that a demonic presence had come to our town, but as the local priest, I felt compelled to join the search party.
*Bellini is a big man, with the body of a wrestler and dark, solemn eyes. He carries our three shovels easily over his shoulder and methodically scours the graveyard for signs. I must say, I feel better having him with us. He recognized the consumption deaths for what they were—a vampiric presence. He said he has seen it before, the labored breathing, the victims coughing up blood, and the slow wasting of body and soul. It took the lives of his wife and young daughter, and countless others in the towns where he has rooted out the evil, intent on purging it.
*We crowd around the grave, Thompson, Bellini, and I. We can see the holes in the earth and know that we have found the vampire’s resting place. The plan is stake her, then shove a brick in her mouth so that she can’t feed. We have also brought a pistol with us, just in case. Thompson is the first to grab a shovel and start digging. The ground is hard, so Bellini and I pick up or shovels, too. The thick metallic smell of decay gets stronger the deeper we dig, and it starts to make me nauseous. I try not to imagine what four months in the ground have done to Old Woman Brown’s body.
*The sun is starting to set when we finally hit the coffin lid. I wish we had started earlier. The impending darkness is making me uneasy. Bellini pulls the crowbar out of Thompson’s satchel. Thompson and I clear out of his way, and I hand him one of the stakes and the brick. In a haze of earth and dust, the coffin lid comes flying off. I turn away in anticipation, but I don’t hear the thud of the stake. Instead, I hear Thompson ask what’s wrong. Bellini is silent and I look down. The coffin is empty.
*I can’t read the expression on the men’s faces, and I realize how dark it has become. A thick layer of fog has moved in, blotting out any moonlight. We hear a rustle in the bushes and Thompson lights a torch, but it does little to dampen the blackness around us. Bellini goes to scout the woods surrounding the graveyard, taking the stake and the crowbar with him. We have agreed that if he isn’t back in twenty minutes, Thompson and I will retreat to the church. As Bellini leaves the faint glow of the torchlight, I don’t hear the usual nightly sounds of the woods—all I hear is Thompson’s anxious breathing.
*Bellini’s scream tears through the stillness, and Thompson and I run for the church. I can hear unnatural footsteps crunching across the ground behind us. I look over my shoulder and see Old Woman Brown behind us, blood staining her mouth and the front of her dress. She moves so quickly, her feet barely seem to be touching the ground. Thompson throws open the church door and we hurl ourselves through, heaving the metal bolt shut behind us.
*The silence of the church makes my ears ring. There’s a great pounding in my head and I can’t tell if it’s the sound of her footsteps outside or the blood surging through my brain. We sprint through the sanctuary, praying that our torch won’t go out before we can reach the safety of my office. If we can just make it there, we might be able to wait out the night.
*When we reach my office, we put out the torch, crouch down on the floor behind my desk with our backs against the wall, and wait. The office should feel like a haven, but knowing the demon lurks outside, I feel trapped. Thompson and I dare not speak—even if we could, what is there to say when death is waiting for you outside?
*A loud thud resonates against the window of the office, and all the blood rushes to my temples. Thompson grabs my wrist and we both cautiously lean out from against the wall to see what made the noise. The vampire has her face pressed against the glass, smearing blood across the clear pane as her ravenous, soulless eyes search the dark interior. I feel my eyes meet hers, and her breathing slows, forming thick halos of fog on the glass. Despite the darkness, she knows where we are.
*Thompson can’t take the waiting anymore. He turns to me and says that he’s going to go out there. I understand his need for revenge, and he hopes the darkness will provide him some cover. He takes the second stake out of the satchel and the brick. He leaves the satchel with me, containing the last stake and the pistol, and says he hopes I won’t need them. I tell him that I’ll see him soon. I think we both know that I’m lying. He holds his finger to his lips, unlocks the door, and silently exits into the blackness. I shuffle to the door and bolt it, then sink back against the wall and wait.
*The hours have dragged on and Thompson isn’t back. I hope that dawn comes soon. I know the vampire won’t waste her energy in a direct attack. She’ll wait for me to come to her. I know she’s expecting me to go mad and make a break for it. She might be right, but I’ll try to hold out as long as I can. I hear her footsteps treading on the fallen leaves outside—soft regular pats, like a tiger pacing in its cage. I just need to keep my wits about me. Keep lucid.
*The weak sunlight is breaking through the darkness—now is my only chance. I’ve written down these events to bide the time, but I can’t take her pacing anymore. I’m going to make a break for it, I’ve taken the shotgun, but I don’t think it will do any good. If you have found this letter, I’ve left the stake in Thompson’s satchel for you. I hope you never need it.
© Nikki Damon 2009