The bedroom was cast in a soft orange glow by the light of a fire set to ward off the chill of the damp spring night . Patrice lay awake in her room, staring up at the canopy of her bed and watching shadows undulate erratically. No, not her bed, this was her uncle’s house. It was his bed, his room. A log in the fire place popped and sizzled as it was consumed - his fire, she amended bitterly. Patrice turned her hands up towards the fireplace; the heat on her palms pleasant and calming even at this distance. In the light of the fire she inspected her fingers and noticed some dirt lodged under a fingernail. Picking at it, it was impossible not to think of how it had gotten there. Once again, her thoughts progressed through the evening’s events, eventually lingering on the conversation with her family and explanations she had given for her ragged appearance and Camille’s disappearance.
While Wendell and Mr. Baine waited in the kitchen, filling their bellies, Henri and Marie had interrogated Patrice in the study as her mother sat in anxious silence nearby. She told them that she and Camille had gone horseback riding in the forest, eventually running into one of Camille’s many suitors - she could not remember which one, they all looked alike - who also happened to be out for a ride; riding off with the man, she likely would not return until tomorrow. Left alone in the forest, Patrice was easy prey for an unscrupulous highwayman who feigned distress in order to draw her close and steal the horse she was riding. Afraid she would be run down and further victimized on the road, Patrice explained how she had set off through the forest in order to escape the bandit, eventually running into the two men who accompanied her safely home. No one thought to interrogate Wendell or Mr. Baine, who, to their credit, had nothing to offer on the subject of vampires.
Patrice prayed this fabrication would satiate her uncle’s suspicious nature. Henri had only taken his half-sister and niece in out of a begrudging obligation to the blood they shared, a fact that he had no qualms pointing out when he was in a foul mood, which was often. The source of his anger was often Camille, though he would never admit it. Nor could he admit to his daughter’s reckless behavior.
It was Camille’s idea to see the vampire. She was the one who found out about it and begged Patrice to go along with her. Camille was the one who approached the creature, leaving her cousin to tremble in silent terror in the bushes, and it was Camille whose throat was torn out for her foolishness. But none of that would matter - it would be Patrice who would bear the blame, and for that, she and her mother could very well find themselves on the streets.
Tomorrow, she would search for her cousin’s remains. Hopefully, they would have been disturbed by some wild animal; the tragedy could be explained as an accident, a chance encounter with a wild animal, and Patrice and her mother would be safe from Henri’s wrath. Could they accept such a story? Would they?
A flower of guilt blossomed within her. How could she be thinking such terrible thoughts? Her cousin was dead! Maybe things would have been better if she had been the one to fall to the creature and not her cousin … Hot tears had begun to well in her eyes when a soft tapping drew her attention to a set of casement doors leading out to a second-floor balcony on the side of the house.
Patrice rose and slowly made her way to the doors, her breath held fast within her as she spied a set of dark blotchy fingerprints smeared on the glass. She leaned close to the pane to get a better look. A figure staggered out of the gloom to stand unsteadily before the door, eliciting a startled squeak from Patrice and causing her to jump back in alarm. It was a young woman, splattered with mud and leaves. Her neck was a ruined mess, with blood staining her once-fine dress. The blood extended up past her chin and gave Patrice the ridiculous impression that she possessed a slick red beard. Vacant eyes, half hidden by a mess of blonde curls, stared around the room, finally landing on Patrice in whom recognition finally dawned.
“Camille!?” she whispered as loud as she dared, “Vous êtes vivant!”
The girl placed a pale, muddy hand on one of the glass panes of the door, “P’trsss … ” A spark of hope kindled within Patrice and warmed her in way that the fireplace could not. She reached down and unlocked the door. On the other side of the door, Camille’s hand slowly followed hers, sliding down past the lock to rest on the handle. The pale figure paused and cocked its head slightly, as if trying to remember what was supposed to happen next. The weight of the hand was enough to turn the knob and open the door, allowing it to swing silently inward on well-oiled hinges. Patrice felt a rush of cool damp air wash over her, carrying with it the scent of damp leaves, mud, and perfume.
Camille staggered soundlessly into the room.
“Your turn, mate.” Mr. Baine shook his companion awake. Wendell yawned and stretched, his lean arms and legs protruding from the sides of the modestly sized guest-bed. He slowly rolled into a sitting position and stood up to look over at Mr. Baine, who was already lying on the matching bed against the far wall, his bowler pulled down over his eyes.
“At least take your shoes off.” Wendell chided.
“Fine,” Mr. Baine grumbled. He kicked off his boots and rolled to face the wall, "The house is dead quiet, do really think this is necessary? Can't imagine one of them tracking her through a city like this. I'm alive and I'll be buggered if I have a clue where we are."
"Not tracking, remembering" said Wendell, "Or using her memories, rather. This was her home."
"I'm sure it will make for some stimulating hypothesizing in the morning," Mr. Baine rolled over to face the wall. "G'night." The soft snores of his companion following him out of the room, Wendell gently pulled the door closed and began to stroll quietly down the hallway.
Everyone was in bed, the only light by which to see being the single hazy streetlight out front and what little firelight made its way from under the closed bedroom doors. Still, Wendell had more than enough light to successfully navigate the house. He paused by each door in the hall and, hearing nothing, proceeded downstairs. Entering the kitchen, his nose picked up the rich scents of a stocked pantry and, for a moment, was sorely tempted to collect some food for the journey ahead. Not mine, he reminded himself. I am a guest here.
Wendell walked to the window and glanced out toward the stable behind the house; Mr. Gaspard had opted to stay there with his horses and carriage. He could not help but wonder if the circumspect coachman had any other earthly possessions - not that living a life of simplicity was a bad thing, he reminded himself, shifting his focus to the window and the reflection of a man with a shaved head and orange robes therein.
Eventually returning to the upper floor, Wendell thought he heard a hushed whisper further down the hallway. Creeping ahead one light step at a time, he cocked his head to get a bearing on the source. His search ended before a door at the end of the hallway.
Pressing his ear to the door, Wendell’s sharp hearing easily identified Patrice’s voice, hushed and worried, on the other side. Unfortunately, because she was speaking French, he had no clue what she was saying. Her voice was raising sightly at the end of each comment - it sounded as though she were asking questions. There were pauses, Wendell assumed she was waiting for answers, but none came. A few more questions, each followed by a moment of silence. Her speaking sounded too direct and too involved for her to be carrying on a conversation with herself. But who could she be talking to? One more question, this time eliciting a response from her unknown guest - that of a low guttural hiss.
Wendell started to open the door, only to find that it had been locked. He started to call out to Patrice, to have her open it, but was interrupted by a stifled scream from within. Hopping back quickly, he stepped forward, raising his knee and snapping his foot forward to plant the ball of his foot on the door just below the knob in a solid front kick. The jamb gave easily before his advance and he followed his momentum into the room.
Patrice lay on the floor of her bedroom with another figure on top of her, that of a young woman of roughly the same age. The stranger was sitting on top of Patrice, pinning her to the floor. Twigs and leaves were caught in the tangles of her dark blond curls and her fine dress was nearly covered in mud. One hand, at once delicate and dirty, had both of Patrice’s hands pinned easily above her head while the other one, placed over her mouth, was holding her head sideways against the floor. The intruder had her mouth open and was leaning in towards Patrice’s neck. At the sudden appearance of Wendell, she jerked up and bared her teeth - a predator warning him off of its prey. Wendell realized that, deep within, the chains of will had suddenly been pulled tight; this was a challenge the beast yearned to answer. Not yet.
The girl - no, not a girl, he reminded himself - was pale to the point of having a greenish-blue tint about her; blood - recently spilled, he noted - ringed her mouth and stained her dress. She was covered with muck and gore to such a degree that Wendell almost missed the ragged, gaping hole in her neck. Ignoring the wound and her sickly pallor, the girl might have been considered healthy - this was a recent turning.
The creature leapt to its feet. It was faster than the older, more decomposed vampire in the forest had been, but was unbalanced, having not yet grown accustomed to its new state of being. A clumsy swipe allowed Wendell to get behind it, wrapping one arm under its chin and sliding the other behind its head. Locking his arms together, he effectively prevented it from being able to bite him. The creature tried in vain to kick and claw at the figure behind it, causing only a couple of random superficial scratches. Though not exceptionally muscular, Wendell easily maintained his grip.
“Please turn away,” Wendell looked over at Patrice, “I will break the neck and we can dispose of it.”
“Non!” Patrice looked at the pitiful creature, her eyes welling with tears, “This … this is Camille. My cousin.”
Wendell sighed and shook his head. “Fetch Mr. Baine, as quickly and quietly as you can.” Patrice rushed from the room. The creature had nearly ceased its struggling; Wendell relaxed his grip a tiny bit. A sudden lunge resulting in a near loss of his ear led Wendell to question if it was trying to get him to lower his guard enough to be caught unawares. Could they be so clever?
The longest of minutes passed before Patrice returned with a rumpled, bleary-eyed Mr. Baine in tow, bag in hand. “No rest for the wicked, eh?” he mumbled. Setting his bag on a small table, he looked to Patrice and nodded at the door, “Better shut that, dear, we don’t want to be interrupted.” Mr. Baine turned back to Wendell, “It’s a good thing this place is so bloody big, else your valiant rescue would have roused the whole house, I imagine.”
“I will endeavor to break down doors more quietly in the future,” Wendell grunted as the creature took a futile swipe at Mr. Baine, who was well outside of its reach. Mr. Baine pulled a slender wooden shaft from his bag; roughly one foot long and sharpened to a point at one end.
“What is that?” Patrice was having to hold the door closed.
“An ash stake. Carved up a bunch myself,” Mr. Baine held it up and smiled grimly.
“What will that do?” Patrice, despite the attack mere moments before, seemed to grow truly uncomfortable as she beheld the stake and the man who held it.
“A wooden stake through the heart will incapacitate the creature - don’t ask me how, I have no clue as to why. There are some superstitions about using ash, but mostly, it's sturdy, easy to come by, and makes excellent firewood.” He winked.
Wendell found himself wondering, not for the first time, if Mr. Baine consciously acted inappropriate during these situations, or if he simply did it without thinking. Another lunge brought him back to the matter at hand and he tightened his grip. If the creature had need of oxygen, it would have been choked unconscious by now.
“We cannot kill her!” Patrice felt like she was yelling, despite the conscious effort being made to keep her voice down, “There must be something we can do! This is her house.”
“We can’t save her; there is no cure.” Mr. Baine moved towards the creature, “Your cousin died in the forest.”
“What … what if we …” Patrice stepped forward, beseeching. Behind her, the door swung open just a bit.
“Lock her in a cage? Feed her animals? Turn her into some exotic pet?” Mr. Baine shook his head, “Forgetting for the moment that this is a dead thing and will eventually begin to decompose, I have yet to see or even hear of a vampire feeding off anything other than living human blood.” Mr Baine. taking care to stay just outside the creature’s reach, raised the stake in his left hand, point toward its chest, and pressed the palm of his right hand against the end of it, “Hold tight, Wen, I don’t want to bounce off of a rib.”
As he gathered himself to thrust, Patrice leapt at Mr. Baine, grabbing hold of his left arm. Anticipating the move, Mr. Baine twisted sideways, sending Patrice sprawling onto her bed, where she landed in a sobbing heap. Turning back to the captive vampire, Mr. Baine ran the stake to the inside of the left breast. A small spray of blood erupted at the attack, but Mr. Baine continued to push. No sooner had the point sunk out of sight beneath the flesh, then the creature seized violently and went rigid in Wendell’s grip. It made neither sound nor movement and, though its eyes remained open, they were vacant and unseeing.
Mr. Baine turned to bed where Patrice sat, tears streaming and a hand covering her mouth in silent horror. His face was a dark cloud, made all the more menacing by the firelight and the spatters of blood which painted him. “That is twice now we have saved you from your own stupid sentimentality!” He marched over to his bag and pulled out the bonesaw. The fire lent the implement an orange-yellow glow as it caught the light. Patrice, knowing what was to come, buried her face in her hands and sobbed quietly.
“That was unnecessary,” Wendell said quietly, moving past Mr. Baine to sit by Patrice on the bed.
“It had to be done,” Mr. Baine replied, his anger mollified. He sighed, and looked around the room,
“We need a sheet or blanket of some sort. This will be messy.” Mutely, Patrice motioned to chest at the foot of her bed. Mr. Baine opened it and began to rummage around.
“I’m not talking about the stake,” Wendell placed a hand on a trembling shoulder.
“Saving people from the occasional vampire is one thing. Saving them from two is frustrating, to say the least,” Mr. Baine sighed, “Saving them from themselves, well ... I do not much care for it,” As he spoke, Mr. Baine rose, bed sheet in hand, and stepped around the unmoving figure on the floor until he was standing by its head. Wendell found himself wondering if the vampire, transfixed as it was, could still see or hear what was happening. Could it even comprehend what was about to happen? He allowed himself a moment of pity for the creature as Mr. Baine rolled it on to its side and spread the sheet beneath it.
“What about me?” Wendell asked quietly. Upon hearing the question, Patrice risked a glance up at the strange man attempting to comfort her. She happened to catch sight of Mr. Baine preparing to use the saw out of the corner of her eye, and quickly returned her face to her hands, pressing in close to Wendell, who instinctively placed a hand over her exposed ear.
“You, my friend, are a fool. It is only morbid curiosity and a thirst for knowledge that compels me to follow you,” Mr. Baine’s words were hard, but the sting of them was lessened by the tone he used. This was not the first time they had been spoken. He knelt down and set the blade just below the gaping wound in the neck, “I suppose that makes me the bigger fool.”