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What Rough Beast ... Session Two Part 4 - Death in the Darkness

Posted by Max_Writer , in Call of Cthulhu, Campaign Log 01 February 2018 · 67 views

CoC 7e Jazz Age

* * *

 

Richard tore up to Spearman’s house and dumped his bike in the road. Seeing lights on in the house, he ran up and knocked on the front door. Mr. Spearman answered.

 

“Hey, do you know where Jill is?” Richard said.

 

“Just right over there,” Mr. Spearman said.

 

He gestured to the front room where Jill sat on the couch.

 

“Is she in her bed?” Richard said, breathing heavily.

 

“No, she’s right there on the couch, Richard!” Mr. Spearman said.

 

Richard looked in. Jill was sitting on the couch with a book in her hand. She looked at Richard, turned her head away, and went “Hmph!”

 

“Daddy, no,” she said. “Daddy, he’s not allowed to come in.”

 

“I’m not trying to─” Richard said.

 

“I do not accept your advances, Mr. Messer. He’s been bothering me, daddy.”

 

“I’ve been trying to keep an eye out on you. There’s been weird men walking around.”

 

Mr. Spearman looked confused.

 

“There’s been someone walking around town late at night,” Richard said quickly.

 

“What’re you talking about boy!?!” Mr. Spearman said.

 

Mr. Spearman was a big man. He wore coveralls, probably still from his work at a factory in Atlanta. A large, stinking cigar stuck out of one side of his mouth.

 

“I’m just saying don’t let anyone you know in,” Richard said.

 

“You take me for some kind of dummy?” Mr. Spearman said.

 

“No.”

 

“When I take advice from a 15-year-old boy comes ‘round here mumbling stuff, I hope somebody shoots me in the head.”

 

“Well, I can do that for you.”

 

Mr. Spearman’s eyes opened wide and he grabbed Richard by his shirt, shaking him.

 

“Richard Messer,” he said. “Do not make me come over and talk to your daddy about you, all right?”

 

“Sorry,” Richard said. “Sorry.”

 

“I thought you were a good boy. Now you’re coming in here, bothering my daughter and threatening me?”

 

“It was a joke.”

 

“It was not funny.”

 

“I don’t have a gun on me.”

 

Mr. Spearman pushed the boy off and Richard stumbled back a step.

 

“I’ll leave you alone,” Richard said.

 

“You been hanging around with that damned Billy Hicks?” Mr. Spearman asked.

 

“No,” Richard said.

 

“Uh-huh,” Mr. Spearman said. “Don’t let his bad habits rub off on you. I heard about him.”

 

“I won’t,” Richard said.

 

“All right then,” Mr. Spearman said.

 

He gave Richard a hard look and closed the door.

 

Richard found a bush near Jill’s bedroom window and hid there, watching out for anything. He stayed for about an hour.

 

* * *

 

“We can’t just go barging in there, telling her we saw her son!” Ella-Marie said. “Much less that was flying off into the night’s sky!”

 

“You’re right,” Michael said. “Maybe … maybe … okay you go talk to her. Make a distraction. I’m going to go look in his bedroom. See if he might be there.”

 

She looked at him incredulously.

 

“You …” she said. “Okay! Fine! Fine!”

 

She headed for the front door. Mr. Hill answered.

 

“Hello Ella-Marie, how are you?” he said.

 

“Hi, Mr. Hill,” she said. “I just … I just was … I just was thinking about y’all … uh … and … uh … was just seeing how y’all were doing. I know, Mrs. Hill, we visited her yesterday and she seemed … distraught … which is to be expected.”

 

He nodded.

 

“So, how have you been?” she said. “How’s …”

 

“Well, we’re all pretty bad around here,” he said. “But we do appreciate you stopping by and asking.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, of course.”

 

“You’re a good girl.”

 

“Um … whatcha all cookin’ in there? It smells mighty good.”

 

“We had fish for dinner.”

 

“Yeah, what kind?”

 

She made small talk with him.

 

* * *

 

Michael crept around the back of the house and looked in the open window of Tommy Hill’s room. It was very dark in the room, the door being shut. There were also plenty of places someone could hide: under the bed, in the wardrobe, under the desk in the shadows. He went back around the front of the house and signaled Ella-Marie.

 

“You know what, I have contemplated the existence of God before,” Ella-Marie was saying.

 

“Well, you should be going to church,” Mr. Hill said. “That would help.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You can learn a lot at church. We’re gonna be going to church this Sunday. Mrs. Hill is very upset.”

 

“Thanks, bye! It was good visiting with you.”

 

“It was good seeing you too.”

 

Mr. Hill closed the door.

 

* * *

 

When Jebidiah, Teddy, and Billy got to town, it was quiet and still. They didn’t see anyone outside.

 

“Te-te-teddy, you see where it went?” Jebidiah gasped.

 

“It just went that away,” Teddy said. “It just went towards town.”

 

“Well …” Jebidiah said.

 

Billy biked on up the road.

 

“What do you want to do there, Jebidiah?” Teddy said.

 

“Teddy!” the other boy gasped. “I need a break! Can I catch my breath at your place?”

 

“Of course,” Teddy said. “Don’t push me no more. I can manage. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

 

They headed up the road. They saw Billy bike to his own house just up the road and drop his bike on the porch, going in.

 

* * *

 

Billy ran into his house to find his grandfather sleeping in his chair, the radio alternating between orchestral music and static. He sighed, happy he was safe. He left the house.

 

* * *

 

“I think we should go find the others!” Ella-Marie said.

 

They got back on their bikes and quickly found Jebidiah and Teddy walking up the road towards their houses.

 

“Jebidiah!” Ella-Marie said as they braked near the boys. “Have you seen anything?”

 

“No,” Jebidiah gasped, still out of breath.

 

“You still exhausted boy?”

 

“It’s a chronic …”

 

“He’s got the asthma,” Teddy said.

 

“It’s a chronic illness,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Get your device out,” Teddy said. “We’ll get it going.”

 

Jebidiah pulled out a device of glass with a rubber tube that led to a rubber bulb. The base appeared to be metal. Jebidiah took out a vial of medicine and used a dropper to put some of it into the glass throat tube. He put the glass piece in his mouth and then worked the rubber bulb, which sprayed the medicine as an aerosol into his lungs as he breathed in.

 

As the boy was catching his breath, his breathing finally easier, Teddy told the other two about seeing the bat fly over when he was all alone by the cemetery.

 

“Did you see which way it went?” Michael said.

 

“It went towards … no,” Teddy said. “It went towards town. It was just a bat. It flew towards town. I was out at the cemetery. That’s like half a mile … quarter of a mile … eighth of a mile … it’s a ways.”

 

“Are we going to keep watch over his grave?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“He has to return to it at some point,” Michael said.

 

“Uh … shouldn’t we fill it in?” Teddy asked.

 

“Oh … crap,” Michael said.

 

“Does that make a difference,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“To leave an open grave?” Teddy said.

 

“Oh yeah,” Ella-Marie said. “But I mean he got out anyway. It’s not like if we fill it up …”

 

“Well, I mean, it would look better for people in town,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Oh shoot!” Ella-Marie said. “You right. Probably.”

 

“Mrs. Hill might go out there tomorrow,” Teddy said.

 

“We can’t leave it like that,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“I don’t know if we should go out there at night,” Jebidiah said.

 

Teddy shook his head violently. Billy ran up from his house.

 

“He’s gone,” Teddy said. “We failed.”

 

“Do y’all think he coulda fed on that Match fella?” Michael said.

 

“Are you saying go back to the plantation and find out?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“It seems to me like that-that Match was under some kind of vampire control,” Jebidiah said. “When y’all saw Tommy …?”

 

“It felt like he was trying to grab our heads,” Michael said.

 

“You too?” Ella-Marie said.]

 

“Grab yer head?” Teddy said.

 

“Yeah,” Michael said.

 

“Like he put his hands on you?” Jebidiah said.

 

“No, like …” Michael said.

 

“Like your mind,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Yeah,” Michael said.

 

“Oh,” Teddy said. “Yeah. Dracula could hypnotize people. Like that.”

 

“I think that’s what happened to Harry Match,” Jebidiah said. “I think that creepy ol’ Yankee’s who did Match.”

 

“That Christopher,” Teddy said.

 

“Christopher St. Jordan,” Jebidiah said. “The Second.”

 

“But do you think Christopher would have let Tommy feed on Match?” Michael said.

 

“We don’t know what they’re capable of,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“I think that’s a wild assumption!” Jebidiah said.

 

“He had a scarf around his neck,” Michael said.

 

“What does it matter?” Teddy said.

 

“Yeah,” Jebidiah said.

 

“You want to go out to that plantation tonight?” Teddy said.

 

“Hell no!” Michael said. “Not tonight.”

 

“Tomorrow night?” Teddy said.

 

“Well, if we just know who he fed on … I had steak a couple nights ago,” Jebidiah said. “That help you?”

 

“It … it might tell us where he’s going at night,” Michael said. “I dunno.”

 

“I mean, just ‘cause he did it a night ago doesn’t mean he’d going to do it again,” Jebidiah said. “I mean, even if we know where he’s going, if he’s going back to the mansion, we don’t wanna go back there when the big ol’ master rich Yankee’s back there.”

 

“Not if he’s a vampire,” Teddy said.

 

“All I know is we need to get them shovels so they’re not tracked back to us,” Billy squeaked.

 

They all looked at each other.

 

“I’m a little … I’m a little worried about going back to the graveyard tonight,” Jebidiah said. “First thing in the morning, we might be able to do it but we’ll have to do it quick.”

 

“There’s gonna be a huge scandal,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Not many people go out to the graveyard,” Teddy said. “I don’t think.”

 

“But poor Mrs. Hill,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Well, we have to go there before she goes,” Teddy said. “Didn’t Richard say something about when she’s going out there?”

 

“So, after breakfast,” Michael said.

 

“I say before breakfast,” Teddy said. “I say get breakfast and go. Grab a piece of toast.”

 

“With a little jam on it,” Jebidiah said. “Put it in your mouth, run out the door.”

 

“Yep,” Teddy said.

 

“So, we start early tomorrow,” Ella-Marie said.

 

* * *

 

The children met right after they had each eaten breakfast on Friday, June 21, 1929. Some of their parents quipped they must have had a busy day planned, much to the youngsters’ nervousness. They got Richard and all of them went to the cemetery, leaving Teddy on watch near the path that led to it. When they arrived, Jebidiah went on into the woods again to watch the road in the other direction.

 

The coffin stood wide open, apparently untouched, the lid still lifted. While Richard stared at the empty coffin, the others noticed several handfuls of dirt were missing from the pile they’d made the night before. To Billy it looked like a small hand had grabbed a few handfuls of dirt and left with them.

 

Billy asked if they should fill in the hole, hoping if they left it open, it would get the sheriff involved. The others were not on board with that and thought they should fill it in.

 

They closed the coffin, the lib booming heavily down on the hollow box. It took them less time to fill in the hole than it had to dig it out but in less than an hour they had the grave filled back in. They fetched Jebidiah and Teddy and returned to town.

 

* * *

 

Michael wanted to return to the plantation that day. Richard thought they should check the people in town, noting Tommy had to feed.

 

“Hey y’all,” Billy said. “I have an idea. How ‘bout we fake my being missing. When everybody starts asking, you send them to the plantation.”

 

“That sounds like a terrible idea,” Richard said.

 

“I think it gets everybody at the plantation,” Billy said.

 

“What does that do?” Jebidiah said.

 

“I say we go to the plantation,” Michael said.

 

“Well, there’s a creepy man there and I feel like people would think a creepy man would take children,” Billy said. “Especially with what happened to Tommy.”

 

“And you want them to arrest him with no evidence, on just the suspicion …” Jebidiah said.

 

“Yes!”

 

“… while you’re hanging out …”

 

“Yes!”

 

“… shootin’ the beans …”

 

“Yes!”

 

“At the train station?”

 

“Yes! Then they’ll find all the coffins there.”

 

“And then crazy man will tell them they’re a mortician and they’ll believe it! They’re adults!”

 

“He’s right!” Ella-Marie said.

 

“I mean, someone might ask for his credentials,” Billy said.

 

“You think they’ll just go snooping around his house?” Jebidiah said.

 

“Hell yeah,” Billy said.

 

“Alright, now that we all agree that Billy’s idea was stupid─” Jebidiah said.

 

“The sheriff will need a warrant before he can go in,” Teddy said. “He’ll need a judge to give him that warrant.”

 

“Teddy’s right,” Michael said.

 

“I like that plan,” Teddy said. “I like that other people are doing stuff. And we can just go home. I don’t know how well it’ll work.”

 

“All for going back to the plantation?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Can I actually get a stake this time?” Richard said.

 

“Oh God, really?” Jebidiah said when everyone but he, Billy, and Teddy raised their hands.

 

Teddy looked defeated as well. While they talked about getting more stakes, Teddy admitted he didn’t know everything about vampire lore, just what little he’d read. He felt bad about that.

 

“But I can’t get to the library, ‘cause I’m just a cripple so … I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve let y’all down.”

 

“You’re fine, Teddy,” Michael said. “Don’t worry. You’ve done more than we could ever ask for.”

 

He looked at all of them.

 

“To the plantation,” he said.

 

“Yep,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Oh God,” Jebidiah said.

 

“To do what?” Teddy said.

 

“I am going to be looking for Tommy,” Michael said.

 

“Yep,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“You just wanna go snooping around again in the house!?!” Jebidiah said.

 

“Yeah,” Michael said.

 

“Okay, okay, okay, Michael! Go with me on this mind journey. What happens when you find Tommy’s body in there?”

 

“We stake him.”

 

“You stake Tommy … in there … when you find his … wha … wha … we just buried the coffin.”

 

“He could be in any of the coffins,” Billy muttered.

 

“And you saw how many empty coffins there were in the house?” Michael said.

 

“How can one coffin be in two places?” Jebidiah said.

 

“Tommy’s coffin ain’t going to be there,” Michael said.

 

“He’s got his dirt!” Ella-Marie said.

 

“He doesn’t have to be in his own coffin,” Michael said. “He just needs his own dirt.”

 

“So, you’re gonna go into somebody else’s house, where a person we think is a very powerful major vampire, and you’re going to go through all the coffins, bust ‘em open, until you find Tommy, even though one was empty and just had dirt it in before,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Well, like you said, adults aren’t gonna believe us,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“What else can we do?” Michael said.

 

“Our folks aren’t gonna believe us so who else?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Well, Jebidiah, what’s the alternative option?” Michael said.

 

“I dunno,” Jebidiah said. “I just don’t wanna go back there.”

 

“My point,” Michael said.

 

“No!” Teddy said. “That’s not a point. Doing something when you don’t know what to do, just to do something, ain’t no better than doing nothing? Is it?”

 

“What?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“He wants to go bust open coffins, but it’s just ‘cause he’s flailing about,” Teddy said.

 

“If we could get more information on this Christopher man …” Jebidiah said.

 

“No, it’s because I have a hunch that Tommy’s back there,” Michael said.

 

“Do you?” Teddy said.

 

“Yes.”

 

“All right then. But at the same time, that’s trespassing, vandalism, destruction of private property─”

 

“He didn’t report us yesterday, did he?”

 

Teddy looked at the boy a moment.

 

“Your logic on the law is irrational,” he said. “And irrelevant. Just because he didn’t report us yesterday doesn’t mean he’s not gonna. And I understand. I just want you to understand we’re breaking the law. You don’t seem to care and that’s fine … I don’t know how your sister feels about that, but all I’m saying is, you should know what we’re getting into if they do decide to report us.”

 

“Teddy, maybe there’s something we can do to find out more about this Christopher gentleman,” Jebidiah said.

 

“I’m here for democracy, not the law,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“But the law’s based on democracy, isn’t it?” Teddy said to her.

 

“Loosely,” Michael answered.

 

“What can we do Jebidiah?” Teddy said. “Help me.”

 

“Well, if there’s any records in town we can find on him, if there were any books at a library …” Jebidiah said.

 

“Well, that would be at the county seat.”

 

“Yeah. Well, that would be a day trip, wouldn’t it?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“How could we get there?”

 

Just then Jebidiah remembered Doc Underwood had a lot of books and maybe there was something in them. He told them since he and Teddy would not be able to help much with the plantation, and since neither of them wanted to go up there, they were going to go to Doc Underwood’s house and wait to see some evidence of what Tommy was doing or what St. Jordan was up to. He felt they needed more information before they just charged in blindly.

 

They discussed that with Jebidiah and Teddy ready to go to Doc Underwood’s. Ella-Marie didn’t want to go to the plantation either. Michael wanted to go to the plantation but didn’t want to go alone.

 

“Billy, would you be willing to go to the plantation with me?” Michael said.

 

Billy ignored the boy.

 

“Billy, please,” Michael said. “I’ve asked your forgiveness.”

 

Billy screwed up his face doubtfully and waved his hand, face down, in front of himself.

 

“I’m sorry,” Michael said.

 

“Thanks buddy!” Billy said. “How ya doing? Let’s go to that plantation!”

 

He had merely been waiting for an apology.

 

“Teddy,” Richard said. “Do you think you’ll need help reading through the books?” Richard said. “Or do you think─”

 

“Oh, I can read,” Teddy said.

 

“Oh, I know that but it’ll go faster if we read more books,” Richard said.

 

“If you wanna come, come,” Jebidiah said.

 

“You can come if you want,” Teddy said.

 

“But I don’t know if they need extra help,” Richard said.

 

“Who knows?” Jebidiah said. “If you want to be there …”

 

“I’m going with them,” Richard said, indicating Teddy and Jebidiah.

 

“Oh my God!” Ella-Marie said.

 

She walked away, done with the foolish boys.

 

* * *

 

When they got to Doc Underwood’s around 10 a.m., Jebidiah told Doc Underwood they were interested in looking through his books ever since he told them the spooky story. It was on their minds and they wanted to resolve some of it. Doc Underwood was fine with that; he loved young children learning. He told them they were welcome to look at the books in the study but asked them just to be gentle with them. When Jebidiah saw the books, he asked if that was everything Doc had or if he had others. Doc told them he had some medical journals in the attic but he didn’t think they’d find anything useful there. However, they could look at them if they wanted, though many of them were out of date. When Jebidiah asked if there was anything specific about neck injuries, he noted he was sure there would be. He showed the boy where the attic entrance was in case he wanted to look.

 

The boys set to reading through the books.

 

* * *

 

Michael and Billy went out to the plantation and entered the place without preamble. They had gotten an axe from Michael’s house. They crept to the coffin in the north wing first and found it had been repaired with boards, screwing them into the coffin from the inside.

 

They went from room to room, Michael breaking open the side of each coffin with an axe while Billy held the crucifix while he broke them. They thought they heard someone moving around the house while they were doing it but no one approached them or accosted them.

 

By suppertime, they had broken open all of the coffins except those on the third floor.

 

“Do you think you can be late for supper?” Michael asked.

 

“We don’t really sit down to eat,” Billy squeaked.

 

It was close to 6:30 p.m. by the time they got finished. Nothing was in those coffins either. Only dirt.

 

Michael peeked into the room where Harry Match lived but no one was there.

 

* * *

 

Richard was not helpful finding the books they were looking for but both Teddy and Jebidiah found several books of ghost stories and folklore, some of them with vampire stories, they thought. It was going to take a lot of reading to sort out the vampire stories from the others though.

 

By noon they had found out quite a lot. They learned the traditional means of killing a vampire: staking it in the heart and then cutting off its head and stuffing its mouth with garlic. Burning the thing after this was also a common practice. They learned a vampire must return to the site of its burial or where its grave dirt was. Vampires could not enter buildings if they were not invited; public buildings were fine but they also could not enter a church or holy ground unless they were interred there.

 

Jebidiah noted they should all be safe in their own houses so long as no strangers were invited in. Richard noted Jebidiah said the wolf didn’t enter the graveyard when they were there. Jebidiah pointed out the man didn’t come into Richard’s house through the window either.

 

Doc Underwood made the children egg salad sandwiches for lunch, which they had with potato chips, carrot sticks, pickles, and iced tea. Then they went back to their research.

 

That afternoon they learned garlic was said to repel vampires and vampires would cast no reflection in a mirror and could possibly be repelled by it. They learned the cross or crucifix also repelled vampires and though the crucifix was more powerful, the cross can still be used. They learned ash, aspen, blackthorn, buckthorn, and hawthorn stakes were particularly effective and Jebidiah asked Doc Underwood which of those trees were local to the area. Doc Underwood told them there were ash trees locally, and a few buckthorn though there were no aspen or hawthorn and blackthorn was a European tree. When Jebidiah asked what they looked like, Doc found a tree identifying book he was willing to lend them. Jebidiah studied the pictures of the ash and buckthorn so he’d be able to identify them.

 

They also learned holly hung from the doors and windows was said to repel and keep vampires out of a house. Hawthorn trees worked the same way, though it was unlucky to bring it into the house. None were common to the area, unfortunately. They learned that holy water was said to injure or damage a vampire and the rose branch was placed on a grave to prevent vampirism. Rose petals supposedly also protected against vampires.

 

It was around 3 p.m. when Ella-Marie arrived at Doc Underwood’s house. She had decided to see what the boys might have learned. Doc Underwood greeted the girl, gave her some iced tea, and told her the boys were in the study. She found books all over the place and the three boys reading.

 

“Do you know anything about carving stakes from trees?” Jebidiah asked.

 

“I know about carving,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Amazing,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Okay!” Ella-Marie said.

 

They told her everything they’d learned and then showed her the pictures of the ash and buckthorn trees, telling her he wanted everyone to have at least one stake.

 

She helped them look through books along with the others. They learned if seeds or grains such as mustard or poppy seed, or oats, millet, or rice, were sprinkled on the ground around a home, it was said the vampire would stop and pick up or count every one before it could go further. A gypsy tradition stated hanging fishing nets over windows and doors protected a home as a vampire was forced to count all the knots and/or untangle the net before entering. An old Polish tradition stated eating bread made from flour mixed with vampire blood made one invulnerable to vampires. Romanian folklore suggested burying a bottle of wine near the grave of a suspected vampire for six weeks and digging it up. Those who drank from it were protected from vampires. Gypsy tradition stated twins born on a Saturday, ideally brother and sister, had power over vampires if they wore their underwear inside out.

 

The boys all looked at Ella-Marie. She and her brother Michael were twins. They asked if she was born on a Saturday and she told them her birthday was March 23, 1914. She wasn’t sure what day that was.

 

“You can just wear your underwear inside out either way,” Jebidiah said.

 

Jebidiah also found a poem in a book that, for some reason, seemed to be relevant. It was by William Butler Yeats, written in 1919, and entitled “The Second Coming.” He read it to them:

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

 

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

 

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

 

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

 

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

 

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

 

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

 

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

 

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

 

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

 

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

 

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

 

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

 

The darkness drops again but now I know

 

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

 

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

 

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

 

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Jebidiah went to the attic to look at the medical journals but found they were all simply medical journals and nothing that he thought might be useful to them. They continued to look until dinnertime but found nothing else that was helpful.

 

* * *

 

Michael’s mom had kept food warm for him but he got a talking-to for being late. Ella-Marie approached her parents.

 

“Hey mom,” she said. “Uh … dad … I have a question that might seem kind of strange.”

 

“Okay,” her mom said.

 

“I know we were born on the 23rd,” Ella-Marie said.

 

Her parents smiled at each other and nodded.

 

“Y’all were born March 23rd,” her mother said. “You know your birthday.”

 

“Good for you!” her father quipped. “You know your birthday!”

 

“She has a question!” her mother said to him. “Shush. It might be a sex thing.”

 

“Uh … do you know what day that was?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Oh,” her mother replied, obviously surprised.

 

The two of them talked about a bit.

 

“That’s right!” her father said. “That was at 3 a.m.! Y’all made your momma stay up all night.”

 

They teased the children about that.

 

“Yeah, I had to get up go to work that morning,” her father said.

 

“Oh that’s right!” her mother said.

 

They finally told them March 23, 1914, was a Monday.

 

* * *

 

After supper, Richard went looking for ash trees. It was a hot, clear night. After a while, he found Michael cutting down an ash tree about a hundred yards north of Sanguis just outside of town. Ella-Marie had told him what she had learned. Richard helped him gather branches and pieces to make stakes out of.

 

They were returning with their wood when they saw Morris Vanzant stumbling down the street. Richard approached the man, who collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. He didn’t smell of alcohol. He was shivering and shaking, was pale, and looked very ill.

 

Richard checked his neck and found two marks that looked like the ones on Tommy’s neck.

 

“Quick!” he said. “Get a stake!”

 

The two boys got Vanzant off the street. The hobo seemed conscious but didn’t recognize either of them. He called for Billy, which is what he called all of the children in town.

 

“Does murdering a man who’s been bitten count?” Richard said. “Or does it only work on corpses?”

 

“Hang on, hang on,” Michael said. “There’s a chance he won’t turn. Teddy said he has to be bitten three times and/or fed the blood.”

 

He looked in Vanzant’s mouth. He didn’t see anything there.

 

“But Tommy just had one bite on his neck,” Richard said. “He still turned into a vampire.”

 

“But he could’ve been bitten multiple times,” Michael said. “We don’t know.”

 

“But we don’t know with Vanzant. He’s gonna die. Do we wanna bring him to Doc? Let’s bring him to Doc.”

 

“All right.”

 

Michael lifted the man, putting him over his shoulder. Richard headed for his house with one of the bundles of wood.

 

When Doc Underwood opened the door, he looked surprised. The two of them carried Vanzant upstairs to the guest bedroom. Doc Underwood said he’d see what he could do. He covered the man up with several blankets as he seemed very cold and was shivering. Then he started to examine the man. When Michael pointed out the marks on his neck, Doc said they looked like bedbug bites most likely.

 

“If they disappear by any chance I want you to call on the line and I’ll pick up,” Michael said.

 

“All right,” Doc said. “I will.”

 

He frowned.

 

Michael returned to Richard’s house and peeked in the window where Richard was still hiding the ash wood.

 

“Hand me one of those bundles,” Michael said.

 

Richard handed off one to the other boy.

 

That night, several children spent hours sharpening ash stakes.

 

* * *

 

On the morning of Saturday, June 22, 1929, the children learned that Doc Underwood had been taken to the hospital in Anniston the night before. Their parents were rife with the gossip. They also learned Morris Vanzant had been found dead in Doc Underwood’s house. A little questioning proved that their parents were fairly well-informed.

 

Apparently, Doc Underwood had a heart attack late the night before but managed to get to his telephone and call for help. A hearse was sent from Heflin that drove Doc to Sellers Hospital in Anniston where he was recovering. Anniston was in Calhoun County, one over from Cleburne County. Morris Vanzant was found dead, probably of a heart attack or something as well, and he was taken to the small morgue at the county seat in Heflin.

 

That was all their parents knew when they were asked for more details. As it was the weekend, they were unsure if any kind of an autopsy would be performed on Vanzant. If it was, it wouldn’t be until Monday, they were sure.

 

Each of their parents actually received a telephone call that morning. Doc Underwood was telephoning from the hospital, asking if each of the children could come visit him. Plans were made to get the children to Anniston and, after some talking with others in town, Randall Spearman was elected to drive them. The boy would have to go to Heflin to retrieve the family Model T, as Mr. Spearman drove it there to take the train to work in Atlanta, but the boy was willing to make the journey.

 

It was a tight fit but all of the children could get into the motorcar. Randall was a terrible driver and it was a terrifying drive. They had tied Teddy’s wheelchair onto the back of the motorcar, though Randall had suggested putting Teddy in the wheelchair and tying it to the running board to give them all some more room.

 

“There’s a running board,” Randall had said. “He’ll be fine.”

 

Randall went into the hospital with them to help them find the room. Once they had found Doc Underwood, the youth only stayed a little while before he said he’d pick the children up in a few hours and left to explore the city. He obviously wanted to drive around town.

 

Doc was a little pale and obviously uncomfortable but conscious. He wore a hospital gown and they were glad to see he didn’t have any marks on his neck. He looked nervous and out of sorts.

 

“What kind of research were you doing yesterday?” Doc asked them. “What were you looking for?”

 

“Vampires,” Richard said.

 

Doc reached over to a glass of water on the table, putting it back after taking a sip.

 

“What … why … ?” he muttered. “Something happened last night.”

 

“Tell us,” Michael said.

 

“Well, you were there … you helped me take that man up to the room on the second floor.”

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“And … uh … this is going to sound crazy. I can’t imagine telling it to anybody but a bunch of kids.”

 

“Doc, what did you see?” Ella-Marie said.

 

“I didn’t see anything … thank God,” Doc said. “But I heard something. My bedroom’s on the second floor too, you know. And I thought I heard movement in Vanzant’s room. He was in the guest room at the end of the hall. And I thought I heard him talking. He was talking to somebody. And then I … and then I thought I heard a child’s voice. And then it sounded like … I crept down there. I thought ‘This can’t be’ but something kept me from … I couldn’t go in the room. I couldn’t make myself go the last few steps and open that door when I heard the sash of the window open up all the way. And then there was a … there was a … sucking noise. And then I heard, I swear to God, I heard a child giggling. And I sat there in that hallway for some time before I felt this … terrible pain in my chest … and I … I got some aspirin and called for help. They came and got me.

 

“Vanzant was dead. There were no marks on his body at all. Nothing on his neck.”

 

He looked over the children.

 

“Doc, you trust me?” Jebidiah said.

 

“You’re a good boy, Jebidiah,” Doc said. “Yeah.”

 

“We dug up Tommy’s grave,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Jebidiah!” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Yeah, that was Tommy,” Billy squeaked.

 

“You what?” Doc said to Jebidiah.

 

“And he stood up,” Jebidiah said. “And he turned into a bat and he flew away.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Doc,” Michael said. “I should’ve stayed there with you.”

 

“We live in the 20th century,” Doc Underwood said to Jebidiah. “I’m a doctor and a man of science and medicine. Ghost stories and spooky tales are not real.”

 

“We both been in that plantation, Doc, and you and some of us saw the same things,” Jebidiah said.

 

“Folklore is something that helps people get through the night,” Doc said. “Or hides it from ‘em.”

 

“Doc, we … we believe you,” Ella-Marie said. “We’ve seen it too!”

 

“I coulda just been a dream,” Doc said. “Or maybe brought on by the heart attack.”

 

“You just said you were certain!” Jebidiah said.

 

Doc looked away. He obviously didn’t want to believe what he’d seen but the children were giving him no choice.

 

“You go, Jebidiah,” Teddy whispered to the other boy.

 

“Doc, we’ve seen the mysterious tall man who speaks with the weird voice around town,” Jebidiah said.

 

“I’ve seen him,” Richard said. “A shadow of a man. He spoke in a weird accent and acted like a vampire. He stood outside my window and he wouldn’t enter.”

 

“And you remember the night Tommy died, some of us said we saw marks on his neck and you didn’t,” Jebidiah said.

 

“I do,” Doc said. “I remember that.”

 

“Just like what happened to this man,” Jebidiah said.

 

“You saw the marks on Vanzant,” Michael said.

 

“I did not see the marks disappear off Vanzant,” Doc pointed out. “I’m just telling you what I was told.”

 

“But they didn’t find any at the morgue,” Jebidiah said. “And you saw them.”

 

“And there’s that creepy man at the plantation that talks about his master,” Billy said.

 

Doc looked at the boy.

 

“What?” he said.

 

“We didn’t tell you about that,” Michael said.

 

Doc Underwood told them he would be released that afternoon as it had been a minor heart attack. Jebidiah said they needed to put a stake in Vanzant. Billy suggested they cremate him. Doc told them he didn’t have any control over that as the county was in possession of the body. He told them the body would be locked inside of one of the two drawers there. Richard pointed out that Jebidiah and Teddy had seen a mist rise up from Tommy’s grave. He noted even if he was locked into the box, he could still get out. Doc didn’t know what to do as the courthouse was locked up on the weekends. Billy suggested if he didn’t have any grave, he wouldn’t have any dirt to go back to. Teddy agreed and wondered if maybe he had to be buried first.

 

“If we’re safe ‘til he’s buried …” Teddy said.

 

“We gotta find some roses,” Ella-Marie said.

 

“Do you know when Vanzant will be buried?” Jebidiah said.

 

“I do not, but I’ll find out,” Doc Underwood said. “I’ll make some telephone calls tomorrow or early Monday morning.”

 

Richard gave Doc the ash state he had “for protection.”

 

“How do you protect yourself with one of these?” Doc Underwood said.

 

“Stab him in the heart,” Richard said. “According to the stories.”

 

“You probably gotta pound it in,” Jebidiah said.

 

Doc Underwood gave it back, noting he didn’t think he could use it as a weapon.

 

“If you have a cross in your house, you might wanna keep it nearby,” Jebidiah said.

 

“I have a Bible,” Doc said.

 

“Well, it’s worth a shot,” Jebidiah said.

 

Richard warned him not to invite any strangers into his house. He said if Vanzant came back and asked to come in, not to let them. Billy pointed out Tommy had already been let in. They discussed who might have let him in.

 

“This is crazy talk,” Doc Underwood said.

 

They realized he was trying to deny what he had seen and protect his own psyche from the horror of the situation. Jebidiah told him, as a man of science, he knew there were still many mysteries in the world and there was probably a scientific explanation for it. That seemed to calm him and he stopped trying to deny what he’d seen though he still obviously hated it.

 

“I will say, Doc, don’t go around telling other people necessarily,” Richard said. “ Because they probably won’t believe you like we do.”

 

“I don’t think you have to tell me that, Richard,” Doc told him.

 

They had a nice visit. Randall didn’t show up until 6 p.m. He wanted to eat so they went to a restaurant in Anniston and had dinner. It was after dark before they headed back to Sanguis. Randall took a different, longer route on the way back to town, going the southern way that took them across the Red Bridge. Just the other side, Michael, the only one paying attention, saw a really big dog by the side of the road. It was only in the headlights of the motorcar for a moment before it was gone. It seemed to have red eyes.

 

“God damn it,” Randall muttered. “That’s a big dog.”

 

It had looked more like a wolf to Michael. He was glad Ella-Marie had fallen asleep in the back seat.

 

The children’s parents were mad when they got home late but when they blamed Randall they were forgiven.

 

* * *

 

There was more gossip the next morning, Sunday, June 23, 1929, of Doc, having gotten home from the hospital the day before, calling for help once again as he had a worse heart attack that night. Again he contacted the children’s parents about them visiting him and once again, they allowed it. Randall Spearman volunteered to take them to Anniston once more but he didn’t visit.

 

Doc Underwood looked much worse when they got to his room.

 

“Yeah, they’re real,” Doc said to them once they all got situated in the room. “And I seen ‘em.”

 

“What’d you see?” Richard asked.

 

“I went home last night,” Doc Underwood said. “After I went to bed, I heard a noise and found Morris Vanzant in the guest room, lying in the bed. He sat up and told me he was glad to see me.”

 

“Wait, how was he there?” Ella-Marie asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Doc Underwood said. “I said ‘I rescind my invitation to my house!’ and he shrieked and he jumped out the window.”

 

“Oh, that’s good to know,” Jebidiah said.

 

“And I barely made it to the telephone because my heart exploded inside me, it felt like,” Doc said.

 

He told them they were going to keep him in the hospital for observation for a few days after this heart attack. Though he looked bad, he was hopeful he would be fine. He told them they were welcome to use his library if there was anything they could find in there. He knew they were looking for information.

 

Michael gave the man a cross and Richard gave him a stake. He took both. Billy gave him a pat on the back.

 

His only question was where all of it had started and they told him they thought it had to do with Christopher St. Jordan II, who purchased the plantation. At that, he asked them to tell him everything they had learned. They did. They told him everything.

 

“What do we do about it?” he asked.

 

They looked at each other. They weren’t sure.

 

Randall took them all home before suppertime that night.