A Communion of blood; a vampire tale
The tall man appeared in his dreams again, but the surrounding details were more vivid this time. His head just touched the ceiling as he moved in and out of the shadows around the bedroom. No matter what angle Fr. Malachy Gyre moved his head; he couldn’t make out the man’s features, just an oval void on broad shoulders, which tapered into the darkness.
‘‘I can make it all come true.’’ The man in black whispered, to Gyre, the voice was in his mind, calming, soothing, ‘‘just prepare the way..’’, it reminded the priest of children’s choirs.
‘‘Who are you? Answer me!’’ he cried out in his mind, staring intently, ‘‘I am a man of God.’’ The tall man chuckled and in the oval void, rows of teeth appeared, white, jagged and uneven like a shark’s,
‘‘A man, yes, of god, no.’’ Gyre looked down, on the bed sheets was a smooth black stone, the size of his palm. It was warm to the touch. A profound unease gripped him as he turned it over in his hands. It was heavier than he expected, like a rock found on a beach and then it began to glow faintly like an ember.
Gyre sought a hinge, a hidden lip, as he did, the rock suddenly split along its edge. Inside was an image of Christine; but not as she had been in the children’s ward, she was now complete and beautiful.
‘‘They abandoned her, her parents. Couldn’t handle the shame.’’
‘‘I know. Poor little Christine.’’
‘‘She had no-one, and you know little girls, they like to flirt.’’ The dark man’s chuckle ran through Gyre’s nerve ends toward his bowels.
‘‘I can guarantee she’ll be yours forever, intact as the day she was born.’’ Tears began to well up as Gyre looked at the dark shadow now sitting on the edge of his bed.
‘‘How did you know?’’
‘‘I’m as old as the fall priest. Prepare for a new parish, prepare the way for me.’’
The stone crumbled to ash in Gyre’s hands.
‘‘The bishop is the only one who has the power to do that.’’
‘‘I’ll arrange everything.’’
Gyre awoke in a sweat and checked himself to see if he had soiled himself, he hadn’t, but to his shock, the bedclothes were covered in fine ash.
Then his mobile phone rang.
Willy Deignan stopped and removing his peaked cap, mopped his brow, eyes squinting to the sun. The July heat clung to him along with the sweat of his exertions and he was thirsty. From the small back pack slung across the handle of the petrol mower, he removed a plastic bottle, unscrewed the cap and gulped down the warm orange laced generously with vodka. The headphones from his i-pod hissed The Wolf-Tones tinnily singing of tanks and guns and black-and-tans. Humming along, he reached into the bag and retrieved a packet of John Player Blue and lit one from a cheap plastic disposable lighter. He looked back at the church grounds; the lines perfectly symmetrical and neat, shimmering in verdant hues of emerald and gold,
‘Not too bad at all, Deignan.’
His eyes took in the small church and graveyard; the older stones nearest the nave were tilted and skewed like old back molars, the most recent headstones nearest to him were clean and chamfered, the inscriptions dancing in the heat haze. Christ it’s hot, he thought as he turned back to start the next section of the grounds; then he noticed the shadows. Across the grounds and lawns small black spots flitted and darted, then a larger shadow glided like a sudden cloud, but Willy felt no discernable drop in temperature. He removed the headphones and the sudden beating of a thousand wings made him look up. Ravens, rooks and crows flashed past, with magpies cackling in tow with glee. They moved in a wide line toward the old oak at the far side of the cemetery.
It was named the gallows oak because one hundred Spanish sailors were hung from it after the Spanish Armada had broken apart and washed the survivors onto the shore three miles from here. The Lord High Chancellor and his high-bred lady had been waiting for them with the English crown forces and made sport of their demise; beheading eighty on the beach that afternoon, and setting their dogs on three hapless cabin boys aged between eight and ten. This story had been told to him every time he came to do the mowing by Fr. Comerford, the man a veritable encyclopaedia about this parish of St Berach’s in Roscallaig.
The birds swarmed and swooped in spectacular patterns into the upper branches; sending leaves skyward. Willy turned off the petrol motor and stood watching; from the tree burst several birds tussling with something in their beaks; it fell and one crow broke free and dived, snatching it in mid-air, once secure, made good its escape. The upper branches were a cacophony of shrill caws, cries and beating wings. Willy felt a sudden chill. The birds, carrion feeders all, were in frenzy. He started to walk toward the tree, each step a little more sluggish than the last, his stomach now a frozen pit; he suddenly felt his bladder loosen, managing to drop his pants in time, he urinated prodigiously onto the nettles and weeds.
Peering up through the branches, Deignan was trying to see what the birds were attacking. The vibrations of the assault on the upper reaches made their way down the bark, and then he felt a splash of fluid on his cheek. Giving his cheek a wipe, he stared at the thick resinous blood slide between his finger and thumb; he dodged another droplet and watched it bloom on the ground. Then he felt the sticky flow of fluid along the bark, flowing over his nicotine stained fingers and down his wrist, clinging to his upper arm, it was fresh blood, the rivulets becoming streams,
‘What the fuck is going on up there?’
A bird hurtled down through the branches, sleek like an arrow and he put his arms up to protect himself, the thin talons fixed onto his arm and the needle sharp beak stabbed into his eyebrows, seeking his eyes; its wings beating hard to pull his arms away. He felt blood flowing from him then could hear the mass of birds begin to crash through the branches toward him. In panic, Deignan turned and ran, his foot snagging on a root and pitching him over. The weight of the birds on top of him pinned him to the ground and the probing dart of beaks broke his flesh like white-hot needles. He realised he was going to die if he didn’t do something soon. As suddenly as it started, the attack stopped, the birds taking flight as if surprised. In moments it was silent again. Deignan felt his wounds, one a deep gouge into his forehead; blood streamed down his face, clotting in his stubble. Shaking, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile, he hit the speed-dial for Fr Comerford. In the upper reaches of the tree, the priest’s ringtone ‘Simply the best’ played. Willy thinking the priest, drawn by the antics of the birds, was on the other side of the trunk,
‘Hello, Father?’ he called out, ‘Excuse the language, but Jesus Christ, those fuckin’ birds are mad – are you ok there?’ he walked around, then back-tracked but he was the only one at the tree. Tina Turner’s voice stopped when Willy hung up. From the upper branches, he heard a whisper,
Deignan’s next phone call was to the police.
The following afternoon, Deignan sat with his
friend Mick Riordan, in the local bar, The Marble Arch. His head wound was fastened with paper stitches and his neck and arms were a variety of colours, to cover the stitches, he had his cap pulled forward, hiding his eyes,
‘Fr. Comerford, eaten alive? You’re jokin’, Jesus.’ Mick repeated. His usual bar stool banter revolved around sport and for once Deignan could enjoy his slow pint without having to recall every horse race, goal or rugby try since the dawn of time,
‘‘Took lumps out of him. Can’t find the eyes, or the nose. Took all his teeth and his heart out through the ribs. Sergeant Adams told me not to breathe a word about it, I told him no problem. Out of the ordinary, they said, never heard of birds doing something like that.’’ Willy downed the remainder of the pint down in one swallow.
‘Who said?’ Mick turned to his friend, his nose was pitted and red like a strawberry, the cream of his last draught of stout dripped from his moustache,
‘‘The village doesn’t have one.’’
‘‘Does now; one drove up from Galway last night, she had to put that donkey down.’’
It was Deignan’s turn now to spin on the bar stool. Around him, sat families, kids running around, unemployed parents shouting, the tables stacked with ‘recession buster’ pints and opened packets of crisps. Sunlight streamed in and music played from the radio behind the bar. Near the exit against the far wall, the wide-screen TV was showing horse racing from Epstow. Willy threw a glance to the bookies slip wedged between the cigarettes and beer mats; the horse he’d backed was running this one and by the looks of it would still be running tomorrow.
‘Put a donkey down?’
Mick paid for the beers and shifted his enormous gut around,
‘The widow Ryan’s donkey Desdemona– she found it with a metal spike in its forehead yesterday morning, all sorts of symbols cut into it. Weird fuckin’ stuff – numbers, stars, crosses and shit. The spike didn’t penetrate the brain, but it had been forced in just enough not to kill it.’
‘‘Why didn’t the donkey run or kick? Bad tempered bastard, that animal.’’
‘‘They don’t know. Adams thinks it was Satanists or something like that - it was all over the internet last night.’’
‘‘Global warming.’’ chimed in Ambrose. Both men paused, Ambrose the barman was pulling pints like he was playing the slots in Vegas, he continued without looking up,
‘‘Think about it, the Earth’s magnetic field is shifting polarity, earthquakes, tsunami’s the whole shebang. I read on the NASA website that the sun’s losing heat, and we’re heading into a mini-ice age.’’
‘‘Ambrose, explain to me how you tie in the death of Fr. Comerford, a mutilated donkey and the jaysus polar bears.’’
‘‘Signs and wonders, gentlemen, it’s all in the bible.’’ Said the Ambrose as he held four pints in his enormous hands, from behind, he had the width and gait of a bear. He brought the round down to a group of local fishermen at the far end of the bar. Two of the skippers looked down at Deignan and Riordan, one shouted over,
‘‘You boys looking to make a few quid?’’
The fishing boat Annie May, pitched and dipped once it cleared the shelter of Roscallaig harbour, taking the full brunt of the Atlantic. The skipper, Fergal Moynihan a ruddy-faced barrel of a man poured extra shots of whiskey into Deignan’s and Riordan’s coffee cups,
‘‘Pest control?’’ Deignan repeated, eyeing the
shotguns and axes in the two hold-alls on the floor. Riordan looked queasy with every lurch of the deck and downed his coffee in one swallow. Moynihan re-filled his mug with whiskey,
‘‘Yep, we’ve a bit of competition that needs to be dealt with.’’
Forty-five minutes later, the trawler approached a small island. The sun was beginning to set and the sea was calm. The Annie May reduced her speed and in the twilight, sailed around to the far side. In the gloom, a colony of seals with nursing pups looked up quizzically before huddling closer together. Moynihan lowered the anchor first, then a dinghy,
‘‘Let’s get to work.’’
Deignan paused for breath. His heart was racing from the whiskey and the rush of slaughter. His first attempts with the shotgun had been shaky, maiming rather than killing, and then he found his form. Any seal that didn’t make it to the sea was blasted mercilessly in the head. He could hear Riordan a few yards behind swinging an axe, grunting with each blow. Moynihan was laughing between swigs from his bottle, before reloading. Two loud reports rang out followed by whimpers, with a grunt; Moynihan then turned the butt his shotgun into a club.
The moon began to rise and the shale and sand was covered in pooled dark stains and trails out to the water. Then Deignan saw the boy. In the moonlight, he appeared to be about nine years old, the same age as his nephew. Standing just above them on the rocks, he appeared thin, pale and ragged. He was beckoning.
‘‘Jesus, there’s a kid here!’’
The other two stopped. The smell of blood and gore clung to them.
‘‘Over there, on the rocks.’’
The little boy’s smile was infectious, Deignan dropped the gun. The night felt warm and the smell of the sea was replaced with something else, he couldn’t put his finger on it. He started to walk, Come on! He heard in his head, Follow me! It’s over here!
‘‘Where is he going?’’ Moynihan watched Deignan start to run toward the rocks. They exchanged a glance, then they saw the boy, he was joined by two others, they were waving, laughing, dancing little jigs, giggling. They dropped their weapons amid the carnage and began to walk to the rocks.
Deignan reached the boy; he took the outstretched hand and allowed himself to be guided to the next beach. He stumbled a few times and found himself laughing along with the boy, who bounded nimbly from rock to rock. It’s soo close. Just here! He heard.
He found himself standing on the shore of a small cove. In the bay was a yacht. Something about it made him stop and sober up. The water was still, yet, he sensed that just below the surface all manner of creatures swam. Black dorsal fins of various sizes rose and glided around the vessel, a snout breached in the moonlight, lethal and glistening. Moynihan and Riordan came panting up behind him,
‘‘Where are the boys?’’
Deignan couldn’t hear them. The yacht transfixed him. It was sleek, sitting low in the water, clean lines, the conversation of the other two now background noise. From the cabin a figure rose, dressed in black, a black that Deignan couldn’t describe. He wished he had kept his gun so he could’ve loaded it and used it on himself. He was a simple man, his dreams in his youth had been to play soccer, and he loved to sing and so what if it ended in a pub brawl from time-to-time? His playing days were over and the odd-jobs kept a roof over his head. No woman would ever have him and he hadn’t any dependants, but now Willy Deignan was standing the shore of hell.
He rubbed his bloodied hands on his trousers and wondered where the little boy had gone.
The figure on the boat stretched out its arms to the side and ascended to the height of the mast. It hovered momentarily and then it lunged. Weaving through the air, its features became clearer; yellow eyes like points of light in the sockets, a long aquiline nose and the mouth revealing long, curved incisors and row upon row of teeth on distended jaws. Within feet of Deignan, it halted. It landed with the grace of a swan and strode toward him.
Watch. He heard in his head.
Following the tall figure, over six foot as it strode to Moynihan, Deignan watched it rip the man’s head clear from his neck and feasted on the arterial fountain that sprouted. Riordan began to wimper. Once the head was discarded, the figure turned its attention to him. Clamping its jaws around his neck, Riordan was lifted off the sand, his throat ripped out. The figure turned and Deignan thought of Comerford’s words
Your Turn, he heard in his head.
The sacristy was clean and well maintained. The rustic furniture and spotless range gave a welcoming feeling along with the vase of flowers on the table. Fr. Malachy Gyre gave his new housekeeper a warm smile,
‘‘Oh, this is marvellous, marvellous Mrs. Ryan.’’
Mrs. Ryan, a generously built woman blushed. Then, recovering herself, she remembered the day that was in it.
‘‘Terrible tragedy, Father, your first day here and a remembrance service for those poor, poor men.’’
‘‘The sea claims it own, Mrs. Ryan, I'm sure they're with their maker now.’’ He placed a hand on her shoulder, ‘‘The Annie May was found near here, so we can assume the emergency services will find their bodies.’’
‘‘I hope so.’’ She put on her coat and scarf, the sacristy seemed a little colder even for a summer’s day.
‘‘Good afternoon, Mrs. Ryan, see you in the morning.’’ He watched her walk up the path, once the gate was closed; he shut the blinds and locked the door.
Opening his case, he produced the shiny black stone. He caressed it tenderly.
‘‘I think we’re going to be very happy here, Christine.’’
Then sitting back, he closed his eyes and waited for the man called Deignan to bring the master.
© Robert Craven 2013