Nightfall: The Shadows Gather
Shadows hid many secrets, like those of the creature that stalked the Widow Gamble’s Hill on that moonless night. With no footsteps or shadows behind her, his young, female prey was oblivious to his presence, but her attacker was there. Despite local legends that the hill was haunted, the temptation of a shortcut proved too much for her. As the name suggested, Monkstown was an ancient part of South Dublin, and the killing ground of the fiend of similar vintage who now terrorised it. The girl would never see the creature’s heart-stopping features. Even if she had, no sound would come from her shocked mouth.
The predator passed a sodden newspaper in the grass. If he had taken the time to peruse the headline, he would have seen it was about him: ‘Vampire Killer Strikes South Dublin.’ Something else drew his attention. The girl fumbled in the pockets of her sleeveless white jacket and took out some roll-your-own cigarettes. An unattended bonfire crackled to itself on the hillside. The girl heated her hands over the flames for a moment and then picked up a burning stick and set her carcinogen alight. The vampire paused. Although he disliked the sticky, thickening effect cigarettes had on the properties of blood, his need to feed superseded his revulsion. The scent of her youthful life essence made him more determined to have it. The creature saw his chance to pounce.
The girl dropped the kindling back into the fire and inhaled deeply on her newly-lit cancer stick. The orange tip glowed brightly as the vampire’s red eyes appeared at her shoulder through the smokescreen of cigarette vapour. It was her last moment of pleasure as the vampire’s teeth tore into her jugular and began drawing her elixir of life into his undead torso. Her assailant’s stench filled her nostrils and her eyes went wide with terror. The coppery taste of her fresh blood only made his assault more intense and feral. Unconsciousness and death came quickly to her. The vampire had not exercised any restraint. He felt nothing for the girl. Her lifeless body hit the ground and rolled downhill. Her attacker became one with nightfall again and was gone.
Inspector Orson Healy of Dublin’s Garda police force was a drab, grey little man. The kind you would see standing morosely at a wet bus stop and offer a lift to or help to cross the road despite his protestations. His colleagues liked to joke that his bald pate was a solar panel. When he summoned you to his office and fixed you with his gaze across the desk, however, that meek persona faded away. The spark of the ruthless young cop who had got him to that lofty position was still there in his eyes.
It was late afternoon on October 26th when Healy arrived at the murder scene on the Widow Gamble’s Hill. He glanced at his phone and saw a speculative headline on a tabloid website: ‘Vampire Killer Claims Second Victim!’ There were no witnesses, no CCTV footage, just a corpse but not a typical one. Healy observed the odd puncture wounds on the corpse’s neck. Blood spattered the female victim’s clothing and surrounding area and the killer must have got some on them too. The forensics team found no footprints at the scene besides those of the dead girl and the jogger who found her. Her killer seemed to have floated into view and then vanished. The inspector was swamped with offers of media interviews as the chattering classes itched for more gruesome information, but he withheld comment as he departed.
It was the morning of October 31st and Orson Healy sat behind his desk perusing some papers. There was a knock at his office door.
‘Come!’ he said.
Officer Phil Meyers appeared at his shoulder.
‘The DNA results from that bonfire killing are back from the lab, Inspector Healy,’ he said.
Healy’s eyebrows arched with expectation.
‘Well?’ he asked.
Healy sighed and looked away.
‘Oh well, probably a first-time offender not in the database.’
‘You don’t understand, sir, the DNA we recovered from the crime scene doesn’t match any known human OR animal DNA.’
Healy stared in stunned silence with his bottom lip hanging open.
‘What?! Is this a joke?’
‘It’s not, sir.’
‘That can’t be right. The sample must’ve been contaminated somehow.’
‘I can only pass on the information they’ve given me, sir. If you have a query, I suggest you contact them directly.’
‘Who the hell are we looking for? A Martian?!’
Meyers shrugged and laid the lab report down on Healy’s desk.
‘Is there a DNA match with the first murder?’
‘I’m waiting on the lab results right now, sir.’
‘Let me know when you hear anything. Thank you, Phil. Good work.’
Meyers left Healy’s office. Healy looked down at the scuff marks and tea ring stains on his desk as he tried to process what he had just learned. It made no sense, but nothing related to the case did. He thought better on his feet. Healy scooped the file up with his arm, grabbed his hat and coat and went out.
‘From what I can see, these killings appear to some sort of sacrifice,’ Professor Sam O’Reilly said removing his glasses and raising his dark, bushy eyebrows.
Healy paced beside him in the lecture hall of the folklore department at the University of Eire.
‘Sacrifice?’ Healy said.
‘Yes, the murder sites appear to form a pattern in ancient areas of South Dublin. Now it’s possible that some sort of ring fort once existed on these sites or that there were standing stones in these areas at one point.’
‘You’re saying that this vampire knew this area thousands of years ago?’
‘I’m a police officer. I deal in facts not airy-fairy beliefs.’
‘Yet here you are in a folklore department asking my advice. See the paradox?’
‘I’m not saying you have to believe any of this, merely suggesting that you entertain the possibility that your perpetrator does. To them, it could be reality while we see it as hyper-reality; the supernatural or paranormal. Would I be correct in assuming that this case has already challenged some or all of your beliefs?’
‘You would be.’
‘Still you doubt?’
‘It all comes down to whether I can prove something in a court of law, it’s not about what I believe.’
‘This case could set a precedent then.’
‘I’m open to whatever presents itself but then the legal process must take over. I’m retiring from the force today. I can drink in the implications of all this later.’
‘You must take home one of the booklists I give my students. Plenty of good reading there to fill up your time.’
‘I’ve taken up enough of yours. Thank you very much.’
‘Oh, wait, I’ve got something for you.’
The professor went into a back room and began rooting around for something. Healy’s mobile phone rang.
‘Hello? Oh…Okay, I’ll be there soon.’
The professor returned with a smile and a leather-bound object.
‘There’s been another killing,’ Healy said.
‘Abbey Road, Deansgrange. It’s named after that old ruined abbey there and not a Beatle in sight. An elderly resident died.’
‘There was ghostly activity off that road in the 1970s in Rory O’Connor Park.’
The professor marked the new murder on the map.
‘Look, he appears to be heading in the direction of the Glendruid Dolmen in Cabinteely. That’s a Neolithic portal tomb, easily the oldest in the area. I’m convinced that’s where the final sacrifice will take place on Halloween night tonight.’
‘I need to get to Abbey Road. What do you have for me?’ Healy asked.
O’Reilly opened the leather pouch and showed him.
‘It’s a wooden-tipped silver dagger. Basically, a stake that you can throw to kill vampires with. The tip pierces the heart and the silver prevents the vampire from removing it. They don’t like silver, apparently. The hilt is even shaped like a crucifix, so you can mesmerise the vampire before you let him have it.’
‘Where did you get it?’
‘I bought it in a market in Eastern Europe when I was a backpacking student in the 70s. They even claimed that a priest had blessed it for extra protection. I don’t know if it works, so don’t bet your life on it. I just thought you should have it. If you could stop that vampire with my knife, I might become part of folklore instead of a teacher of it. Maybe get some kudos from the kids.’
‘Ordinarily, I wouldn’t accept a weapon from a member of the public to aid me in an investigation. This case is extraordinary, however, and I’ll take all the help I can get. Thank you for this. I must go.’
Healy slipped the knife into his jacket pocket, shook the professor’s hand and left.
After visiting the crime scene, Healy drove alone in his unmarked car to Holmwood, site of the Glendruid Dolmen and waited. Distant fireworks peppered Dublin’s skyline. The sharp frost needled his goose-pimpled skin. Even his shrivelled penis had retreated into his body cavity like a tortoise head backing into its shell. He considered hopping out of the car and doing some quick exercises to get his heart pumping again but reminded himself that there was no point. His wife was gone, and his home was empty and silent. There was nothing to live on for and he left his leaden heart as it was. Healy opted for the liquid resuscitation of a steamy latte coffee sitting in a cardboard salver on the passenger seat. The silky texture of the caffeinated brew and its strong aroma revived him somewhat. He had added extra milk to it in the shop earlier.
‘Self-indulgent bastard,’ he said to himself with a grin.
The car windows were fogging up with condensation from his body heat. Healy rolled the window down to wipe it clear again. He was rolling the window back up when he felt the cold steel of a straight razor against his throat. He flinched, spilled his coffee and froze.
‘Are you following me?’ a male voice said.
‘Who are you?’ Healy asked.
More pressure was applied to the blade at his throat.
‘ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME?’
‘No, I’m not following anyone. I’m a police officer on a coffee break.’
‘I know who you are.’
‘What do you want?’
The man sighed and then breathed even heavier.
‘We are The Ring…’
‘The Dark Ring, a circle of diabolists.’
‘You’re behind the bonfire killings?’
‘One of us might be. Just listen. Twenty years ago, we abducted a schoolboy around Samhain time. We kept him drugged up in a safehouse for a few days while we contacted other Satanic groups in Britain. They arrived in time for Samhain and we sacrificed the boy in the Dublin Mountains.’
‘Robbie Mahony! God, I remember that case.’
The man drew a little blood from Healy’s neck.
‘Mention your Christian deity again and I will slit your throat, is that clear?’
‘Yes, go on.’
‘When the boy was dead, we burnt his body and cast the ashes into a river.’
‘No trace of him was ever found. What has this got to do with the bonfire killings?’
‘I believe one of our members is responsible. If I give you his name, he’ll rat out the rest of us to save himself.’
‘Why tell me all this? Why not just kill him?’
‘We’re all respectable members of society now. We want this taken care of legally.’
‘What’s your friend’s name?’
‘We want immunity from prosecution.’
‘Give me your name and I’ll see what I can do.’
‘No names yet. If he offers any information about the killing of that boy, you just don’t pursue it. Deal?’
‘His name is Michael Morrisey of Wolfsbane Crescent. We’ll be watching you. Don’t take any further action against us. We are still powerful.’
With that, the blade was withdrawn from Healy’s throat and the shadowy figure ran off into the brush, crunching twigs and fallen branches as he went.
A massive cloud of breath vapour came out of Healy’s mouth with relief. His hands trembled as he leapt out of the car to pursue the man.
Healy followed the figure into the gloom. The fugitive was much faster than his pursuer and Healy began to lose him and fall behind. Clicking sonar sounds emanated from the bat colony in Cabinteely Park nearby. Healy felt something strike his cheek. At first, he thought it was leaves falling from the trees. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw that snowflakes were spinning out of the blackening sky. Snow in Dublin city on October 31st was virtually unheard of except on freak occasions or on very high ground. The snow rapidly grew in intensity until he faced an oncoming blizzard. Healy was in no doubt that the convenience of the snowfall was no meteorological event but a supernatural one. He noticed that whatever he was after had left no footprints in the newly-fallen snow just like the Widow Gamble’s Hill killer. It made tracking him almost impossible. Healy took a guess and followed a straight path to where his quarry might be hiding in Cabinteely Park.
He came to a laneway and paused. It was a bottleneck, a good place for an ambush and he had no gun. Healy wiped the snow out of his eyes and strained to see into the lane. Overhead cables shook furiously in the keening gale that drove the blizzard. They created flickering shadows in the blinding street light making visibility even harder. The snow was beginning to cover his shoes and wet his socks as it piled up around him. Healy knew he should turn back and wait for help, but he also knew that the thing would be long gone by then. He filled his lungs with the frigid air and continued with crunching footsteps into the darkness.
Healy ran with as much speed as he could muster through the laneway and stopped when he saw a fresh trail of blood on the snow. He started to follow it, half-suspecting he was being led into a trap. He dashed around the corner and passed the creepy, staring faces on newly-erected standing stones. There stood the majestic form of Cabinteely House before him. Healy followed the blood trail to a staircase leading down into the cellar of the old building. There were more drops of fresh blood going down the steps. His heart thumped against his ribs so hard that he thought he was having a panic attack. Cracked beams of wood gave way to tangled tree roots and then to the inky shadows beyond. Thick dust heaved up from the primal blackness below. The dense, icy atmosphere was apparent even several paces away. Every fibre in his being told him to flee as fast as he could. His policing instincts took over and reminded him that someone could be fighting for their life down in the dark. He had to go into that place. The thought sickened and thrilled him simultaneously; he had to admit that he felt more alive than he had in years at that moment at the maw of death. He rushed down the steps before fear changed his mind.
Moonlight poured through the open doors of the dark crypt. Healy took out his cigarette lighter and cupped his hand around the tiny flame. The extra light made him breathe easier. He thought he could make out some sort of red light like embers getting closer. As they neared, he saw they were raging eyes staring directly at him. Healy gasped as he witnessed the vampire floating several inches off the ground before him.
‘I am Coranus, the one you seek,’ the vampire said.
The creature held out his claws as if to grip Healy’s head, Healy backed off. The doors of the crypt slammed shut.
‘You’re not going anywhere,’ Coranus said.
‘You’re a murderer and I’m here to ensure that you get the punishment you deserve,’ Healy said with defiance.
Coranus laughed in Healy’s face.
‘I kill to feed. Do you not consume the bodies of slaughtered animals for sustenance? You impale yourself on your own hypocrisy.’
‘The law says that’s not a crime but what you’ve done is and that’s why I’m here.’
‘The undead are not people as such and therefore cannot be held accountable.’
‘The statute books may need to be updated in your case.’
‘The human animal is no more significant than any other, it is only your self-importance that makes murder a crime at all.’
‘I don’t make the laws, I enforce them.’
‘You are as devoid of life as I,’ Coranus said, ‘Your barren future holds only imminent death. Become my eternal servant and you shall live forever.’
‘You discharged your duties diligently in your pursuit of me and served your former masters well. It is a good pact we make. I place immortality in your hands. What is your choice?’
‘I’ve never taken a bribe and I’m not about to start now. Yes, my job has become my life but the wicked abomination you’re offering to replace it with offends me. I don’t want to die but I know that what lies beyond death is where I’m meant to be with my beloved wife.’
‘That imminent death I mentioned just took a giant leap closer.’
The vampire crept nearer to Orson Healy.
Healy felt O’Reilly’s wooden-tipped dagger in his pocket. Coranus kept coming and lunged at Healy with blazing eyes. His hollow, needle-like fangs protruded from puffy, ashen gums. In one fluid movement, Healy grabbed the dagger and let it fly from his hand like one of the pen knives he had thrown for countless hours as a boy. Coranus was so close that it was almost impossible to miss but it meant that the creature’s momentum was too late to stop. He slammed into Healy and fell on top of him. Healy’s back bore the impact and he winced with pain. The vampire pushed closer to Healy’s neck to bite him. The creature’s stench was overpowering. Healy could just make out that O’Reilly’s dagger had pierced the lower part of the vampire’s heart. It was a flesh wound and had not penetrated deeply enough to cause any damage let alone to end the life of the vile parasite that straddled him. Healy strained every sinew in his body reaching for the dagger, but in doing so, he exposed his neck to the vampire’s fangs. It was a risk he was prepared to take, he had nothing to lose. Coranus grinned as his prize presented itself willingly. Healy’s fingertips brushed the hilt of the dagger as the vampire drooled on his throat. The sharp tips of its fangs began to apply pressure to clamp down on Healy’s jugular. With a desperate thrust, Healy rammed the dagger deep into the vampire’s heart with the palm of his hand. Coranus let out a deafening roar of pain and fell backwards clutching his chest. Healy scrambled to his feet, terrified at the prospect of the coming onslaught from the wounded vampire. He looked around frantically for any weapons he could use but saw none. Coranus wailed and thrashed around violently. He tried ripping the dagger from his chest, but sparks burst from his fingertips on contact with its consecrated silver. Coranus the vampire was mortally wounded. He got to his knees and glared at Healy.
‘Remember me in paradise!’ Coranus said with a bloody smile as he fell to the floor dead.
The cadaver began to glow. Green orbs of light pierced the subterranean dimness as they shot past Healy’s head. The orbs gave way to thundering bursts of flame that incinerated the vampire’s corpse making it flake away into ashes. Healy collapsed back against the wall and started feeling his way out. As he staggered up the dark steps, he kept looking behind him, convinced that the vampire would grab his ankle and drag him back into the crypt. No attack came, and he found himself in the outside world again. Healy raced back to his car and called for assistance. Soon there were blue flashing lights illuminating the area and Healy handed over to younger detectives as he received medical attention. The blue lights were rapidly replaced with the white camera flashes of a scrum of press photographers. Healy’s superior, Charles Caughton arrived. Caughton got out of his car, smoothed his hair back and gave Healy a big theatrical hug for the cameras.
‘This is the man who ended The Bonfire Killer’s rampage tonight!’ a beaming Caughton announced, clapping Healy on the back.
Healy stepped into the blinding white light and blinked repeatedly.
‘Is it true you killed a vampire here?’ a reporter asked.
‘Don’t waste our time with stupid questions!’ Caughton said.
‘How do you feel after confronting the killer?’ asked another.
‘Ask me tomorrow, man. I can’t think right now,’ Healy said.
‘What will you do now?’ said a third.
‘He’s staying with the best police force in the country!’ Caughton said.
‘I’m retired as of now! Good night, everyone.’
Caughton’s face was a mask of simmering rage as Orson Healy walked off into the night leaving his career as a police officer behind him. He felt no regret and broke out into a broad smile. It was time to let someone else clean up the mess. His life was his own again.