Episode 2, Chapter 17

The conclusion to our tale might seem out of place, a bit, but only because your narrator has been coy with you. A scene of our story has been omitted. One will remember that it took Reggie several days to repair the Jenny and put it in flying shape. Neville also kept himself busy during that time, making certain discreet inquiries. In these pages our mummy protagonist may come off as flighty, even a bit of a dilettante, yet there was a distinctly curious mind inside that bandaged head, and once a mystery presented itself to him he couldn’t help but try to pick it apart.

It has previously been remarked upon that the people of Pinemont were surprisingly conversant in the science of aerodynamics and the biology of flying things, and he wished to know why. He began with Mrs. Patavatsky, asking her where she had first heard of the dragon, and the unlikelihood of its ability to remain aloft. It turned out she had received that information from the man who delivered the groceries. Said deliveryman, when asked, reported he’d been taught about mass-to-lift ratios by his employer, the grocer, who had been lectured on the non-existence of monsters by the butcher, and so on. The trail grew cold eventually but it was clear that it must have started somewhere.

Nor had Neville ignored some of the stranger details of the case. Namely the lack of blood seen around the fallen corpses. Or what Reggie had seen in the salt marsh before Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant Muldoon had moved to cover it up.

The last clue he explored was a tenuous one, truly, but it fit certain other facts and conjectures he had, and it turned out that he was quite right, as we shall see. This threadbare bit of evidence concerned the abandoned chapel in the woods, and specifically, the fact that the cross on top of its spire had been sawn off. In point of fact there was no religious iconography to be found anywhere on the quaint little building.

When he approached it that night, well past midnight, he did so on foot and as quietly as he might. This cautious approach served him well as, when he neared the chapel, he found that it was not unguarded.

A lone human figure stood outside its door, in a posture of attention. Like a sentinel. Neville studied this person at some length, because it was engaged in a most peculiar activity. The fellow—it was a man, definitely, even though it was shrouded in darkness—had his head tilted back and his mouth open. With one hand he attempted to simultaneously cover his eyes and pinch his nose. The index finger and thumb of his other hand delicately held a live spider by one leg. As Neville watched, he attempted to place said spider inside his mouth, but could not seem to overcome a natural repugnance.

Before he could try again, Neville cleared his throat noisily and stepped out of the shadows and into the moonlight.

The man discarded of the spider in a fashion meant to be furtive but which ended up simply being hurried. He stood up a bit straighter and looked down his nose at Neville.

“Good evening, Chief Superintendent Detective Sergeant,” Neville said, because despite the lack of a regulation uniform, he had finally recognized the fellow.

“Just Muldoon. I’m not here in any official police capacity,” the guard replied.

Neville kept his hands visible all the same. “I’d like to pay a visit to whoever lives inside there,” he said, gesturing at the chapel. “Your… master, I suppose is the term.”

Muldoon did not deny it. He did not step out of the way, either. “Very good, sir, but before I can allow that to happen I must ask you a question. Do you aver that you come here of your own free will, that is, not under the effect of any supernatural compulsion? Not that such a thing exists, of course, magical spells and the like being square in the camp of superstitious claptrap.”

“Then obviously I’m not under such a charm,” Neville pointed out.

“Is that a ‘yes’, sir? That is, do you so aver that—”

“Yes. I do. I so aver.”

Muldoon nodded in gratitude for Neville’s specificity. Then he stepped aside and gestured at the chapel’s door.

Neville bowed in gratitude and stepped inside.

The chapel had been transformed considerably from what it must once have been. All the pews had been removed and the floorboards laid bare. Atop the altar sat a coffin, not one of those old-fashioned hexagonal pine boxes, but a modern oak box with brass fittings and a crushed velveteen lining.

There was of course no crucifix upon the wall.

Before the altar sat an armchair of rich maroon leather, and before the chair a pentagram had been painted on the floor, a black candle burning at each of its five points. Neville had been certain there had been someone sitting in the chair when he walked in, but just then it was unoccupied.

He felt a puff of wind and sensed something moving around the room quite rapidly, far too fast for him to see. Evil laughter chilled the air around him and then a great weight was upon him, pushing him toward the floor, and fangs sunk deep into the crook of his neck.

Neville was stronger than any human, but the force that took him easily overpowered him and he was unable to resist or protest. Our story might have ended then and there, except suddenly all the weight fled and Neville saw a middle-aged man in an old-fashioned tweed suit back away from him, coughing and sputtering. A little cloud of dust burst from between the man’s lips—and from between his quite well-developed canine teeth.

“Terribly sorry about that,” the man said, when he’d recovered a bit. “Only I thought—well. I imagine you know what I thought.”

“Rotten trick to play on you, I suppose,” Neville said, readjusting his cravat. “No blood in these veins, though. Dried out millennia ago.”

About David Wellington

Author of horror, fantasy, and adventure novels.
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