Corpses So Lively [My Soul To Take Part I]
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by William A. Veselik
Description: Professor Alfred Rhys Smythe returns home to Victorian London after years abroad only to discover that a blood-thirsty cult of vampires is stalking the city's theatre district. In My Soul to Take, Part I: Corpses So Lively, Smythe investigates the mysterious death of a young woman who has since begun haunting the dark streets of the theater district and preying upon the local residents. He quickly seeks the aid of Scotland Yard Inspector Arthur Jenkins, who has long suspected that a growing horde of undead may be nesting in the city, but has yet to act officially against the threat. The two men begin to suspect that a famous Russian actor may hold the key to the mystery of the origins of the vampire horde. Inspired by the eerie atmosphere and vivid action of the classic Hammer Horror films starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, author William A. Veselik weaves a tale that is blended with equal parts mystery and edge-of-your-seat terror. The story continues in Part II: Enter Death, Stage Right.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [479 KB]
Reading time: 317-444 min.
The red-haired man placed his empty beer glass on the bar and with a practiced flourish wiped his mouth on the back of his grime-encrusted coat sleeve.
"Charlie!" he called loudly to the barman, who was just drawing a fresh pint of ale for another customer. The barman turned and looked in the red-haired man's direction, an expression of annoyance clouding his features for a moment. He accepted the coins offered by the customer, tossed them into a cigar box under the counter, and approached the red-haired man.
"What now, Johnny?" the barman demanded.
"My bill, if you please," replied the red-haired man. He straightened his stained yellow cravat and carefully adjusted his rumpled suit coat as if he had plans to dine with the Queen herself in five minutes. "I have another appointment for which I am already tardy." His speech was slow but not yet slurred, despite hours of drinking.
The red-haired man took a step toward the barman--and tripped, falling hard against the polished wooden counter--but caught himself before he tumbled to the floor. Two nearby tavern patrons helped the red-haired man to his feet.
"You're three sheets to the wind, Johnny," declared the barman. "The only appointment you 'ave is with a flea-infested mattress over at Drury's Doss House, or with some 'ore in an alley down the street."
The red-haired man steadied himself, and then pushed away from the two patrons who had come to his aid. "I resent the implication that I am intoxicated, Charlie," he said, indignantly. "I have merely consumed an adequate quantity of alcohol to overcome the residual discomfort caused by the injury I received during my last professional engagement." He held his head high, even though he was barely keeping his balance.
"Professional engagement?" asked Charlie the barman with a chuckle. "You were so drunk the last time you went on stage at the Odeon Theatre that you fell into the orchestra pit and broke your bleedin' leg."
"As I recall, my leg did bleed a bit," the red-haired man noted. "But the role of Petruchio was always very taxing..."
"Go on 'ome and sleep it off, Johnny." The barman grabbed a filthy rag and began wiping the bar where the red-haired man had been drinking. "You can owe me."
"Thank you my good fellow," said the red-haired man, with a slight bow. He nearly fell as he lowered his head and swept one arm across his waist in salute to the barman. "You shall be repaid in full when you reach the realms of glory," he added.
"No, Johnny," the barman corrected. "I'll be repaid in full when you get around to pawning that silver stickpin you wear in your cravat!" He pointed to the only piece of jewelry the red-haired man was wearing. "...Which I suggest you do first thing tomorrow."
The red-haired man was suddenly offended. "I'll have you know that the Prime Minister himself presented me with this stickpin after he enjoyed my performance as Don Adriano de Armado in Love's Labour's Lost."
"Listen, Johnny," the barman said under his breath. "I 'appen to know that you pinched that silver stickpin off old Lionel Payne three nights ago after 'e got gigged in the back with a knife by Bill Morley."
The red-haired man instantly ceased his protestations. He regained his composure and dropped the pretense of having been offended by the barman's accusation.
"I won't bandy words with you any longer, Charlie," announced the red-haired man, "or I'll be late for my appointment." He turned to go. "But I shall happily sacrifice this token of the Prime Minister's admiration," he gestured to the silver stickpin, "to the local pawnbroker's generosity, if it will satisfy the wanton desire for financial gain which has so completely overwhelmed the owners of this establishment."
"It will," replied the barman.
"Then I shall return on the morrow with your money." The red-haired man exited the tavern with a flourish and stepped into the night air. * * * *
The alley in which the Slaughtered Ox tavern was situated was dimly lit by a single lamp at the corner, where the alley joined High Street in the heart of London's theatre district. The alley was empty, but for the intoxicated man who stood on the front steps of the tavern, dusting the sleeves of his badly-wrinkled suit.
The red-haired man, once known to theatregoers as John Chesterfield, had been a bright star of the stage, but his career had been ruined long ago by a liquor bottle and a drug addict's needle. Now, at age fifty-five, his days of glory had given way to little more than half-remembered nights of drunken debauchery. The red-haired man had once boasted a strapping physique, but his frame this night more closely resembled that of a man enduring the last stages of consumption. The red of his hair was only a product of his vanity--and a bottle of dye.
John Chesterfield gathered the last of his dignity and stepped into the alley. He turned to his right and began staggering toward High Street.
The tiny voice behind him was that of a small child, sounding lost and alone. The red-haired man swung his head around and surveyed the dark alley. There were only a few trash bins and broken bottles to be seen. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he attributed the voice he had heard to the drink he had recently imbibed and continued his stumble-walk toward High Street.
"Help ... me..."
The voice was closer now. More lost. More alone. The red-haired man turned completely and began walking slowly back in the direction of the Slaughtered Ox. A few steps past the entrance to the tavern, he saw a shape moving in the darkness.
The child was no more than five or six years old, the red-haired man reasoned through the haze of alcohol. A little boy, he thought. The child was wearing a white nightshirt, which appeared to be covered with filth. The boy was barefoot.
"What are you doing out here in the dark my young fellow?" asked the red-haired man. He approached the boy, who was now cowering beside a pile of refuse. "It's very late, you know, and I'm sure your mother is worried sick."
The red-haired man stooped beside the boy and reached out to take the child into his arms. The strong smell of rotted flesh struck the man's nostrils, but he fought off the urge to retch from the odor. There must be dead rats in the alley, the red-haired man thought. He grasped the little boy with both hands and tried to stand, but the weight of the child, in addition to the man's state of inebriation, caused the red-haired man to stumble and fall against a dustbin that was located only a few steps away. Slowly he regained his feet, shifting the limp form of the boy to his left shoulder. The red-haired man moved, unsteadily, toward the entrance to the tavern.
Suddenly, a lightning bolt of searing pain shot down through the man's body and struck his feet numb, causing him to lurch forward and crash hard into the wall about ten feet from the door to the Slaughtered Ox. He slumped to the ground in a heap.
The boy was now holding tight to the red-haired man. He could feel the little shape close to him. The pungent stench of the child's dirty clothing was enough to bring tears to the red-haired man's bleary eyes. He tried to sit up.
"Damn!" He flinched as another sharp pain exploded through his neck and stabbed down his back. The boy was moving now, clawing and scratching at the red-haired man's clothing. The child seemed to be panicking, he thought, like a cat that doesn't want to be held any longer. He let go his grip on the little boy, but the child held tight.
Then the pain was gone. It drifted away like a funeral flower tossed into the tide, he thought. The red-haired man relaxed a bit, but the little child kept moving, gripping him harder. He could feel a tugging at his neck, where the child's face was nestled.
"There, there." The red-haired man tried to console the little boy by gently patting his head. Surely the child had become frightened when he had fallen, he reasoned.
Just then, the little boy raised his head and looked into the red-haired man's eyes. The child's eyes glimmered and almost glowed in the dim light of the alley. They were fathomless, thought the red-haired man, like the depths of the ocean. He felt an odd sense of vertigo that made his head roll on his shoulders for a moment.
And the blood he saw on the little boy's mouth was odd as well. Had the child struck the wall when they had fallen? No, he had protected the boy with his body, he recalled. The red-haired man was feeling very sleepy. He struggled to keep his eyes open.
A nearby click sound came to him. He turned his head slowly and saw a man close the tavern door and head toward the bright lights of High Street. The red-haired man moved his mouth but no sound emerged. Help, he thought. The tavern patron exited the alley.
The red-haired man turned to look down at the little child's face. He saw the child's scarlet lips again and knew that the blood was his own. His heart skipped a beat and his eyes stared wide as the little boy smiled an inhuman smile and bared tiny fangs. There were bits of gory flesh in the corners of the boy's mouth ... his flesh.
Just then, merciful unconsciousness overcame the red-haired man and he slumped into fitful dreams of the long-ago footlights and curtain calls of his glory days upon the London stage.
The little boy in the filthy nightshirt stopped his feasting and stood up. He looked furtively around the alleyway and then stepped to one side of the red-haired man. His hand reached out and grasped the man by his coat lapel and began pulling. The red-haired man's body began sliding along the ground, slowly, toward the back of the alley. The little boy was dragging him--easily, effortlessly--with one tiny hand.
In the darkness, the scrape of a heavy metal grate being moved reverberated through the alleyway, followed by the muffled sound of something heavy striking stone and water simultaneously.
The metal grate moved again and all that could be heard in the alley was the faint echo of a child's laughter and the patter of bare feet on sewer stone.