By Carl R. Merritt
"I tell you, Matt, it'll be a snap! We can do this and after we do, we'll be rich beyond our wildest dreams!"
"You're out of your fricken' mind, Jerry! We'll wind up dead . . . or worse!" his friend replied, shaking down to his very soul at the prospect of attempting something so crazy, so utterly bizarre. "I don't want to do this! Can't we forget all about it?"
"Look. You're either with us, or against us. If you're against us, you know the rules, you die. So what do you say? You in, or out?"
"In," replied Matt, who was wondering if by that single word, just lost what little hope he ever had for a happy life.
The New York City gang leader gazed at his friend with a look of disgust. He had seen Matt scared before, but not like this. "What's the matter with you anyway? I've got a buyer all lined up, the plan has been worked over a dozen times, and you're scared to death! We've done stuff much worse since you've been with us . . . so what is it about this that has you so spooked?"
Matt considered the question and waited until his shivering stopped before answering. "The spook," he replied.
It was Tuesday night, Marcia Lewis' turn for guard duty inside the cavern.
Her orders were to protect Darlene and Vampra from vampire hunters and not to prohibit anyone from seeing Abe . . . should any fool want to.
Remembering what had happened to Marc Lamas just a few days earlier, Marcia was fully prepared to allow anyone in to see the devious ghoul who wished to do so.
If anyone comes to see Abe, I'm not even going to ask them their names! She swore to herself. If the idiots want to commit suicide, why should I bother stopping them? I'm here to guard Darlene and Vampra, nothing else.
A gut-wrenching scream interrupted Marcia's thoughts. It was Vampra again, rebelling over being locked up. Marcia knew there were only two things that made Vampra scream like that: captivity, and being forced to consume cow's blood instead of human blood. Each evening, after Darlene returned from feeding, it was the same thing over and over. Darlene, the ethical vampire, would attempt to feed her evil cousin animal blood, and Vampra would in turn scream and carry on for what seemed like forever. Then eventually, always at the point of starvation, Vampra would relent and drink what she considered to be the most vile of nourishment.
Over the last few weeks, the wild screaming was beginning to rattle the nerves of every member of the assault team, Marcia especially. Patrolwoman Marcia Lewis was the only member of the group that had actually tried to befriend Vampra in the early days after her capture. But Marcia's efforts had been in vain. While the feral vampire had her lucid moments, for the most part Vampra continued to be the wild and screaming madwoman, always tearing away at whatever clothing Darlene had put on her, and pounding away at the heavily reinforced steel mesh of her cell in an attempt to escape.
It would be a long time, if ever, before Vampra could be trusted enough to be let out of her cell. Marcia wished she could help Vampra in some way, but in her heart she knew it was useless to try any further. The only person she would respond to was Darlene, her cousin.
Another scream. Marcia cringed and put her hands over her ears to soften the ear-splitting shriek, knowing it was of little help. The confines of the cave amplified Vampra's high-pitched voice and no form of ear protection was going to shut it out completely.
Suddenly, Marcia could hear Vampra go absolutely berserk with her screaming. It was like nothing the policewoman had ever heard before. Even the bats that had just recently returned to the cave fluttered around in dismay. Something had infuriated the vampire, that much Marcia was sure of. But what? she wondered as she looked down the cave in the direction of the vampire. Darlene is out with Bret finding fresh blood and I haven't heard a peep from Abe all night! Nobody had slipped past me into her cave... What could it be?
Policewoman Marcia Lewis never saw the blow coming. She had been looking in the direction of Vampra's screaming when the two hoodlums snuck up behind her, one of them slamming a heavy club into the back of her head. Marcia fell heavily to the floor, blood seeping from the base of her skull. She did not move.
"Did you have to hit her so hard, Jerry?" Matt asked as he bent down over Marcia's body to see if she was still alive. "We don't need to be killing no cops!
A policewoman at that! If she dies, we'll have every cop in the country looking for us!"
"Would you relax!? She's breathin', ain't she?"
"Barely," Matt replied, concern in his voice as he tried to stop the bleeding by pressing his hand over Marcia's wound. "Listen. Why do we have to do this anyway? The ghoul ain't here! Let's just get what we came for and leave before anyone catches us here! Better yet, let's just forget about all this crap and go back to New York! That would be the smart thing to do!"
"We stick to the plan," Jerry said in disgust. "It's the only way we'll pull this off! Now, let's go!"
Somewhat reluctant to abandon the fallen officer, Matt finally gave up trying to stop the flow of blood and followed the gang leader down the tunnel. With his every step, Matt's fear heightened. Not only because of all the noise the vampire was making, but also on account of the bats hovering nearby, at times swooping down a little too close for comfort. The hideous looking beasts acted as though they were trying to protect the vampire.
When they reached the metal cage where Vampra was imprisoned, Matt's fear heightened to the point where he could barely stand. It wasn't the fact Vampra had torn her clothing so badly that she was nearly naked. That wasn't bothering Matt at all. There was just something about the vampire's eyes that he couldn't ignore. Suddenly Vampra stopped screeching and rattling the steel mesh walls. She simply stared at Matt, somehow inviting him to open the steel mesh door and join her...
...join her, Matt thought in a daze. I must join her . . . give myself to her . . .
By then, Jerry had his bolt cutters out and was clamping down on the heavy lock that secured the door. After a loud snap, the lock fell to the floor. But as the gang's leader set the cutters down so he could reach inside his gym bag full of supplies, he noticed Matt getting ready to undo the latch and open the door.
"Wait!" he cried out, grabbing his friend by the arm to stop him. "What the hell's the matter with you? We have to arm ourselves first!"
"...help her . . . join her and set her free... "
Jerry couldn't believe what he was seeing. His best friend was losing his mind right before his eyes. "Matt!" he yelled, smashing a fist into Matt's face. "Snap out of it!"
The pain distracted Matt's attention away from Vampra long enough for him to clear his head. With the breaking of the spell, Vampra's screams started up again, louder that ever. She knew she had lost a golden opportunity at getting human blood again, something she longed for more than anything else.
Seeing that his friend was back to normal once again, Jerry continued searching through his gym bag until he pulled out two crucifixes, two wooden stakes and a squirt bottle of holy water. He split these up with Matt and said, "All right! Undo the latch and stand ready. Now remember, if she tries to attack us, try to keep her back with your crucifix first. Use the stakes and holy water only as a last resort. Our goal is to release her, not kill her!"
It didn't take long for Vampra to realize she was being allowed out of her cell. The moment the door swung open, she dove out head first, rolled to her feet, turned . . . and started to approach Matt with a hungry look in her eyes.
Again, Matt was transfixed with Vampra's hypnotic gaze. He just stood there . . . gazing at her beautiful eyes which seemed to be inviting him to join her. In his trance, Matt was allowing the ravenous vampire to get too close...
Vampra was within a few feet of Matt when Jerry intervened by stepping between the two and bringing up his crucifix. Just the mere presence of the wooden cross was enough to make Vampra back away in fear. She never knew why she was to avoid such an object, but her old master had warned her that she was never to go near one. For all she knew, the crucifix could be harmful to her, maybe even kill her.
"That's right, bitch! Back away!" Jerry yelled, holding the cross in front of him and using it to force Vampra towards the exit. "Now get outta here! Leave! You're free!"
Finally understanding, Vampra transformed herself into a large bat, her tattered clothing falling to the ground. Fluttering around for only a moment to get her bearings, she darted for the tunnel that led to freedom.
The first part of their plan completed, Jerry and Matt gathered up their things and ran for the cavern's exit also. They couldn't be caught inside the cave by Darlene, Abe, or even another guard if one should happen to come checking on that cop they had knocked out.
As they raced through the tunnel, Matt's heart sank when he saw Vampra again. She had changed back into her human form and was just bending down to sink her teeth into Marcia. Thick, black saliva drooled down Vampra's canine teeth, dripping on Marcia's unprotected neck. Both Jerry and Matt knew it would only be a matter of a second or two and Vampra would have her meal. For different reasons, neither could allow that. Matt didn't want the vampire to kill the young, good looking cop. Jerry's reasons were a little more ominous. He knew that if Vampra fed now, there would be no need for her to go hunting for victims in town tonight. And that, Jerry knew, was not an option. If the plan was to succeed, Vampra had to raise as much hell as possible for at least twenty-four hours.
"Get away from her!" Matt yelled, running towards Vampra with the crucifix held high. "You heard me! Get out of here!"
Frustrated at having yet another meal denied her, Vampra tilted her head back and after taking a deep breath, let loose an earsplitting scream. When it was over, she immediately changed back into a bat and flew off into the darkness. It would be the last Jerry and Matt would see of her for some days to come.
"Come on, let's go," Jerry said, pulling his friend by the arm before Matt had a chance to fret some more over Marcia. For the next twenty-four hours, they had to hide while the other gang members carried on with their own assignments. If all went well, this time tomorrow night they could leave Moore's Lake with their prize . . . Abe's skeleton.
It was almost midnight. Captain Roscoe Long, sitting with his feet up on his office desk and reading a paperback, knew he should have gone home hours ago, but there was just something in the air that told him he ought to stay around the station a while longer. With the secretary gone and the janitor finishing up over an hour ago, the captain was alone except for the duty officer, Marc Lamas.
Up until recently, the slightly overweight Lamas had been working for the city as a fireman and paramedic. However, after the fiasco of trying to attack Abe's tomb, he applied for and got accepted into Moore's Lake Police Force. He was now a full fledged patrolman and a member of the town's small assault team, two jobs he was handling quite well.
Captain Long put his book down and gave some thought to his assault team. There was Lamas, of course, who a few days ago had been turned into the country's only mute policeman by Abe for disobeying orders. Next, there was Marcia Lewis, an ex-meter maid, who in the service had been classified as an expert with nearly every weapon in the Army's arsenal. Roscoe knew it was her shift to be standing guard for Vampra and Darlene tonight. He hoped her skills with weapons would not come in handy any time soon...
Then there was Jake Anderson, a traffic cop who rarely carried a weapon at all. Probably couldn't hit the side of a barn with a shotgun if he was locked inside it, Long thought with a smile. But that wasn't the reason Anderson had been picked for the team. Captain Long cut the young cop a lot of slack because, for all his ineptitude with small arms, Jake was a pure genius when it came to explosives.
Lastly, there was Sergeant Samuel Baker, a tough old bird who had survived three long tours in Vietnam. When he retired from the Army, he came to Moore's Lake in hopes of finding a peaceful place to live out his remaining years. After being accepted as a police officer, Captain Long gave the man the easiest assignments, thinking Baker had seen enough death in his lifetime. There was no way Long could have known back then that Baker's talents would have once again come in so handy...
All in all, it was truly a motley bunch, but it was a group of people he would gladly risk his life with, knowing he could trust each and every member of the team to do their jobs without hesitation.
Captain Long felt his mind getting cloudy from lack of sleep and decided to do something about it. He thought he knew just the right person to not only bring him a cup of coffee, but a little amusement as well.
"Lamas! Get in here!"
Speechless for the next year, Marc entered the captain's office with a question mark plastered on his face. Seeing this, Long wondered how Lamas was going to perform his duties as a police officer until his punishment was over and Abe restored his speech again.
Captain Long decided to give the man a test. "So tell me, Marc, you're the duty officer tonight . . . how are you handling answering the phones?"
Marc motioned the captain to follow him out to the duty desk. Once there, Marc sat down and turned the computer monitor around so that his boss could see it. Studying the screen a moment, Captain Long soon understood that the computer was running a synthetic voice program. There was even a number of preprogrammed responses set up whereas at a click of the mouse, assorted answers would be vocalized, presumably loud enough for the caller to hear over the phone. The captain was impressed.
"But if someone asks a question that you don't have a preprogrammed response to already lined up, what then?"
Marc smiled and used the keyboard for a moment. Not long, just a few clicks of the keys. Suddenly, a deep mechanical voice boomed out of the computer's speakers. "in that case i type my responses using the same program that the court reporters use. it takes less time than trying to type words out normally."
"Say, now . . . that's something else! I like it! Now why don't you go get me a cup of coffee while I play with this thing for a while. I could use something like this on my home computer and... " Captain Long was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Marc picked it up with no uncertainty whatsoever and cradled it on his shoulder, leaving both hands free to type.
He hit one key only, and the computer said, "thank you for calling moore's lake police department. this is patrolman lamas speaking. how may i help you?" Marc listened for just five seconds before his face took on a look of shock . . . of horror. He froze in place, unable to even breathe, much less use the computer.
Grabbing the phone, Roscoe said, "This is Captain Long. Can you repeat that?"
"I said you gotta get somebody out here to the mini-mall!" the caller said in desperation. "She's going nuts! She... "
"Hold on, sir! Who are we talking about? Who is this 'she' you're referring to?"
"That crazy vampire . . . Vampra! She's tearing up the town!"
Daybreak was only minutes away, and Captain Long was still without sleep. For six hours, Vampra had been running amok, trying to find herself a meal. The assault team had been hastily mobilized along with every available police officer along with those that could be spared from neighboring communities. Even with all that manpower, Vampra was still on the loose, presumably still looking for a victim.
Charles Peterson, the town's top newspaper reporter and Abe's closest colleague, was also allowed to participate in the search for Vampra. He had been riding in Captain Long's squad car. His job was to coordinate everything between the ghoul, the benevolent vampire Darlene, and the troopers. But as daylight approached, he began to worry for his favorite vampress. When she swooped by in the night sky to inform him that she was going to search the park once more, Charles motioned for her to land and said, "Darlene, you've got to get back to the cave! The sun will be up in just a few minutes!"
Giant leathery wings glided the beautiful vampire to the ground just outside the squad car's passenger window. Darlene was sweating and had a worried look on her face, but that didn't dampen her enthusiasm in finding her cousin in the least. "But that just means we're running out of time! Gail will be killed by the sunlight too! We've got to find her!"
The newspaperman and Captain Long were still not used to Vampra being referred to as "Gail." In fact, Darlene was only one of a few people to call her by her true name. Most everyone else in town, especially the family members of her past victims, liked calling the evil vampire by the name she preferred, Vampra. That name just seemed to fit her better.
"Look," Peterson continued, "Captain Long will keep the search on until we know something. There's no sense you getting trapped in the sunlight and dying. How will that help your cousin? If you want to continue helping during the daylight hours, go on back to the cave and help me coordinate things with Abe! Use the police radio that Lewis had before she went to the hospital! That'll help a lot! Now go, damn it!"
Looking towards the east and seeing that the sky was beginning to brighten, Darlene knew she had no choice . . . not if she wanted to live. Unfolding her huge wings, she prepared to take flight and said in a voice that cut right to the soul, "Find her . . . please!"
Darlene took off, her giant wings beating the night sky and causing a wave of night air to brush over the two mortals sitting in the squad car.
"I hope like hell she makes it back in time," Captain Long said, starting the cruiser in motion once again.
Before Peterson could reply, the squad car's police radio came alive. It was Sergeant Sam Baker making a report.
"Captain Long, come in!"
"This is Long! What have you got, Sam?"
"Vampra finally struck gold, Captain! It's Mrs. Drake over on Fifth Street. It looks like she's been dead for about an hour! What do you want us to do?"
Everyone knew that once Vampra fed, she would go into hiding until after sundown. By now, an hour after her meal, she could be anywhere - hiding as a bat in some cave, in some attic, in the hollow of some tree . . . anywhere. There was little to be gained from further searching. The best thing, Captain Long knew, was to call off the search for a few hours and let everyone get some much needed sleep. They could all resume the search for the elusive vampire when they were all refreshed.
"Spread the word, Sam, the search is over until 1:00 PM. Then I want everyone hitting every warehouse, abandoned house and every knothole in every tree! As for you, call the coroner and once he's arrived, go home and get some rest too. If you need me, I'll be home getting some shuteye. Long out." The captain no sooner let go of the transmit button when he heard Darlene's frantic cry over the radio's speaker.
"Roscoe! Charles! Anybody! I need help at the cave . . . NOW!!" Just as her plea ended, the transmission went dead.
When Captain Long tried to raise her again, he got nothing but static.
The instant Darlene entered the cave, her unearthly sixth sense picked up that something was terribly wrong. Her giant wings folding into themselves as they retracted, Darlene ran towards Abe's tomb, hoping that what she feared was all a mistake.
She had no such luck.
The ghoul was in a rampage. He was just outside his tomb, using some sort of energy beam to tear apart the table and chair that Marcia had just recently used, the cave walls, the ceiling, everything. Not even the bats were safe. Abe was also taking potshots at them as they fluttered around helplessly. Dust and debris flew in all directions as the powerful entity vented his frustrations on anyone, or anything that was near.
"Abe! What's wrong?!" Darlene asked, too naive to know any better than to approach the ghoul when he was like this. Her only concern at the moment was to help him, to try to comfort Abe the way she has all these weeks with Gail.
"AAUUGH!!!" Abe howled at the top of his horrifying voice! In his obvious madness, he apparently didn't even recognize Darlene, or perhaps he did, but in his infuriated state, didn't care. He shot a bolt of immense energy directly at the beautiful vampress. Only out of shear luck was she able to dodge the deadly beam. As it missed Darlene by inches and slammed into the wall behind her, it tore out at least a five foot section of solid rock. With the sun already up and not being able to run outside, Darlene had no choice but to run towards the radio that Charles had mentioned. With the all-powerful ghoul trying to kill her, the two mortals, Long and Peterson, might be her only hope for survival.
Twice more, Darlene had to dodge the deadly raw beams of energy that erupted from Abe's fingertips before she was able to grab the radio. She cradled it in one arm and ran towards her motorhome, located deep inside a cavern at the end of the tunnel.
Abe was following, spewing streams of ungodly terror in her direction.
Darlene hit the transmit button and screamed, "Roscoe! Charles! Anybody! I need help at the cave . . . NOW!!" As a beam of energy hit the ceiling just above her head, showering her with large chunks of falling rock, Darlene dropped the radio and, in total desperation, changed her form into that of a bat. As her body transformed, her leather jumpsuit fell to the cavern's floor and was struck by one of Abe's bolts less than two seconds after Darlene flew away.
"AAUUGH!!!" the ghoul howled again. Not having a target didn't hamper Abe's fervor for destruction, however. He continued firing his immense beams of power in all directions. Soon, the tunnel was a lot larger both in height and width that it was just moments before.
Captain Long and Charles Peterson didn't let the sounds of Abe's destruction stop them from entering the cave. They knew that Darlene was in trouble and regardless of what lay ahead, they were going to help her. Both men were forced to bring their shirt tails up to their faces in order to breathe - the dust in the cave was that thick. Being able to see where they were going was another matter. Even though both men were very familiar with the cave and had brought along flashlights, the thick dust made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Still, they went on, not having any idea what to expect. They could hear the sounds of what sounded like bombs going off, but didn't let the noise stop them. Both men filed the sounds away in the back of their minds and kept going, all the while trying to figure out what was happening. Those sounds and Darlene's radio call was all they had to go on.
They came to Abe's tomb and stopped for an instant, listening for more sounds to follow. When they heard a horrifying bellow that could only have originated from Abe coming from the direction of Darlene's cavern, they took off in a run, stumbling over fallen rock every foot of the way.
Then they saw him. Abe was hovering just off the ground about twenty feet from Darlene's demolished motorhome, six or seven dead bats laying on the ground beneath him. He was in the process of shooting some sort of raw energy at the scurrying mammals. At that point, both mortals knew the ghoul had gone mad and that they had better somehow put an end to his demented behavior as quickly as possible.
Charles Peterson, having been inside Abe's body and knowing his very thoughts intimately, had an idea how to accomplish this. He just hoped he was right, or else both he and Captain Long were in deep...
"Captain Wilkes! Stop this foolishness and give me a report this instant!" he yelled in a very authoritative voice. Peterson knew that Abe had once respected authority and was never one to purposely disobey his superiors while in the Confederate Army. Peterson was betting that even in madness, Abe would still hold on to those qualities.
At the sound of the new voice, Abe spun around and readied himself to shoot off another bolt of energy. However, just before firing, a bewildered look appeared on his ghastly face, as if the words he had just heard were somehow familiar.
Captain Long, following the lead of his friend, called out, "Abe! You heard your superior officer! Report!"
The ghoul lowered his arms and slowly floated back to the ground. His rage had diminished and Abe was once again aware of what he was doing. "PETERSON... ?"
"Yeah, Abe, it's me. Hey! What's going on? I haven't seen you this upset since . . . well, you know. What got into you anyway? And where's Darlene?"
Abe couldn't answer, he was too ashamed. He simply looked to the ground at all the bats laying dead at his feet. With there being no other sign of her around the cave, it was a pretty safe bet that one of the hideous dead creatures was the beautiful vampire . . . Darlene.
Five minutes later, Abe had finished telling the story. Evidently, a gang of young hoodlums had fooled them all when the two leaders of a gang, Matt and Jerry, had turned Vampra loose. All she had been to them was a distraction while they carried on with stealing what they really wanted . . . Abe's bones. While everyone was out searching for the blood-thirsty vampress, three more members of the gang snuck inside Abe's tomb and removed his bones. Meanwhile, Matt and Jerry, the two culprits who had originally devised this plan, kept track of everyone's movements and would warn the others if anyone was seen returning to the cave.
Distraught not only over Darlene's death, but over Marcia Lewis' desperate fight for life in her hospital bed as well, Captain Long asked a question of the ghoul without giving thought to the possible consequences. "But I don't understand what the big deal is, Abe. So what if your old bones are missing? It's not like you were ever going to have use of them again."
Abe turned his gaze on the captain and gave him a look that may have just been his death warrant. Seeing this, Charles Peterson quickly intervened.
"His bones are what hold Abe to the mortal world, Captain. Without them, he cannot remain in this realm and . . . wait a minute! Abe! How is it you're still here? Shouldn't you have been swept away back to the spirit world as soon as your bones were stolen?"
"I SOON SHALL BE. IT MAY ONLY BE A MATTER OF A FEW HOURS."
"Then we've got to find them before that happens!" Peterson concluded.
"IT IS NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT, MY FRIEND. I COMMITTED AN UNJUST ACT WHEN I DESTROYED THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, DARLENE. I SUSPECT MY POWERS HERE ON EARTH MAY BE HAMPERED IN THE FEW REMAINING HOURS I HAVE LEFT."
"Oh, I dunno. I think you'll be all right," a voice called out from the other side of the cave.
"Darlene!" Captain Long and Charles Peterson shouted in unison. Even Abe was surprised by the sound of the woman's sweet voice. With all the echoes the cave produced, it was difficult to tell exactly where her voice had originated, but still, everyone quickly turned in the general direction they thought Darlene might be. There was no sign of the beautiful vampress, just Vampra's empty cell and some rocky outcroppings slightly beyond.
"Where are you? And why are you hiding anyway?" Captain Long called out.
"Look a few yards behind you, gentlemen. See that pile of burnt rags over by the entrance to my cave? Those are my clothes. And since Abe also saw fit to destroy my motorhome with all my other jumpsuits inside... Well, let's just say I'm not coming out from behind these rocks for a little while yet. Get the picture?"
With a wave of his hand, the all-powerful Abe quickly rectified the situation. Darlene's destroyed leather jumpsuit rose from the cavern floor, spun in the air for a half second at an eye blurring speed, and then raced over towards Darlene . . . fully transformed back into perfect condition.
Before the jumpsuit reached the rocks where Darlene was hiding, a large bat flew out and grabbed them in midair, then raced back behind the outcropping.
"Thanks, Abe! I'll be out in a moment!"
While Darlene was dressing, Abe did a little more redecorating of the surroundings. First was her motorhome. With nothing more than another pass of his bony hand, it was instantly changed back into mint condition. Next, was the cavern itself. Giant boulders that had fallen, rose and reformed back into the ceiling and walls. By the time Darlene emerged from behind Vampra's empty cell, the cavern was in such order it was hard to imagine that just moments before the place looked as though a bulldozer had run through it.
Darlene, now dressed again in her familiar black leather jumpsuit, strode up to the group and quickly asked, "What about my cousin? Any news?"
"Wait a minute?! Just like that?!" Captain Long exclaimed. "You're not going to blast Abe for damned near killing you, or even try to get an apology out of him? All you want to do is ask about Vampra?" Roscoe couldn't believe this gal. If it was him who had been chased by the ghoul and nearly turned into a pile of charred flesh, he knew he wouldn't be taking it so lightly.
"Yes, Captain . . . just like that," the beautiful vampress stated as she went over to Abe and patted his bony shoulder. "I understood right away that he didn't know what he was doing, that he had lost control. Am I supposed to hold a grudge, or something? What would that solve?"
Not for the first time, the two mortals were deeply impressed with Darlene's character and wished everyone could hold the same high moral values as this free-spirited girl.
"Nothing, I suppose," Roscoe admitted with a smile. "All right. Seeing you asked . . . your cousin found her victim an hour or so before daybreak. She's fed now and won't be plaguing the city for food again until after sundown. I've called off the search for her until one o'clock this afternoon."
"Okay. Yeah, that sounds good, I guess. I need a bath and sleep anyway. But what about finding Abe's bones? How are we going to... ?"
"LEAVE THAT PART TO ME," the ghoul replied. "YOU FIND VAMPRA, I'LL TAKE CARE OF THOSE WHO STOLE MY EARTHLY REMAINS."
"Will you be able to locate the punks, Abe?" Peterson asked.
"EVEN IF I HAVE TO TEAR THIS TOWN APART DOING SO!"
It was 4:00 PM and the town of Moore's Lake was more or less under siege. Between Abe searching for his bones and the combined efforts of nearly every police force in the state of Virginia looking for Vampra's daytime hideout, no stone was being left unturned. Factories were being inspected, restaurants were being searched, and even private houses were being invaded by the police. As for Abe, he seemed to be everywhere at once, allowing nothing to get in his way.
At 4:05, Bret Talman, Darlene's dearest mortal companion, struck paydirt at the town's meat processing plant. While searching for Vampra's hidden lair, he found Abe's human remains hidden underneath the bones of slaughtered cows. They were already prepared to be shipped out to the county's disposal site. The human bones, however, were in a cart separated from the others and had been carefully packed, each segment of the skeleton wrapped in clean white cloth. Clearly, these were not going to be disposed of in an incinerator, Talman knew. Whoever put the bones in the cart had hoped they would go unnoticed as being human.
Suddenly, Bret noticed movement coming from the shadows on the other side of the room. It was too dark to see clearly, but it looked like a teenager and he was trying to escape through an open window. Bret knew he should have realized the ghoul's bones would have been watched by those who had stolen them. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, Bret reached for the police radio Captain Long had given him.
"Talman to Long! Come in, Roscoe!"
"Long here. What've you got, Bret?"
"I've found Abe's skeleton! Get someone over to the slaughterhouse as soon as you can!"
Before Long could reply, someone did appear . . . Abe. And he was anxious as hell to catch the young thief. After fully materializing, the ghoul shot out after the young punk, with Bret Talman following behind on foot. By the time Bret caught up with Abe, the ghoul had already captured the hoodlum and was holding him pinned to a tree by only God knew what sort of evil energy.
Bret watched and expected to see some type of interrogation, but nothing as prosaic as that happened. Abe just stood there staring at the lad, who by now was sweating feverishly and acting as though he was trying to chase away some nightmare running through his head.
It was then that Bret fully understood. There was no need for Abe to question the boy about his companions. The immortal being was simply reading the kid's mind.
Finally Abe spoke in a deep voice that sent shivers down Bret's spine. "YOU CAME TO THIS CITY FOR BONES. SO BONES YOU SHALL HAVE!"
As Bret watched in horror, the kid's skin began to disintegrate, patches of flesh disappearing from his face, hands, neck . . . everywhere . . . blood with no veins or arteries left to contain it ran freely down his body to the grass at his feet. The young hoodlum screamed in pain while his skin and muscle tissue melted away. As his bones became visible, Bret noticed these too were being transformed somewhat. They were taking on the shape of the bones inside the slaughterhouse. Abe was showing no mercy whatsoever to the teenager, tormenting him until the very last breath of life left his tortured soul.
When it was over, nothing remained of the hoodlum except the skeletal head of a bull, and bones that looked to be only half human, all of which now lay in a pile at Abe's feet.
"Jesus!" Bret exclaimed, wishing he had not witnessed this terrifying scene.
"HE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS . . . AS HE WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MY NEXT ACTIONS!" Then, in a brilliant flash of ungodly energy, Abe disappeared.
Glad he was not in the shoes of the remaining gang members, Bret went back inside the slaughterhouse to stand guard over Abe's skeleton until Captain Long and the others could arrive. But as he approached the cart where the ghoul's bones had been, Bret saw there was no need for him to be there. Abe had already collected his human remains and was gone. The cart now held only the remnants of a swirling mist that dissipated even as Bret watched in total amazement.
Sundown, a time for work to stop, lovers to join . . . and Vampra to feed. As the town of Moore's Lake slowly became engulfed in the dark shadows of night, an ominous feeling of dread came over every citizen and every cop involved in the hunt for Vampra. Still remembering Vampra's last feeding spree, everyone was all too aware of the dangers the darkness brought along with it. As a result, a full curfew was in effect and the majority of the town's citizens were safely tucked away inside their homes. The huge automobile parts factory along with every other manufacturing business in town was shut down until daybreak. The theaters, bars, restaurants . . . every form of public entertainment was closed. Even the gas and electric company was effected, running mostly on computer with only a skeleton crew standing by in case of emergency. The only two institutions in the entire town that remained fully operational were the Town Hall, which contained the headquarters for the police along with the paramedic and fire teams, and the town's only hospital, County General.
Finally allowed to sit up in her bed, Marcia stared out the hospital window, a strange feeling surging through her being. As the policewoman watched the sun go down from her room on the first floor, she felt somehow imprisoned by the confines of the room. More than anything else, Marcia wanted to be out there in the streets with her fellow officers searching the night for Vampra. Marcia longed for the feeling of the cool night air whipping through her hair and...
"Good evening, Ms. Lewis!" the nurse said as she entered Marcia's room with a dinner cart, interrupting the policewoman's thoughts. "Are we feeling hungry this evening! The doctor said you can have normal meals, so I took the liberty of ordering something nice for you!"
Marcia turned from the window to inspect the cart and was instantly disgusted. There was one tray on top containing her evening meal: one Salisbury steak no larger than a large cookie, a tablespoon sized portion of creamed corn and an equal amount of mashed potatoes. There was a small carton of two percent milk next to the plate with a paper straw taped to its side. For desert, it looked as though Marcia would have nothing better than cherry . . . maybe strawberry . . . jello. The policewoman sighed and longed for something a little more substantial for dinner, perhaps a T-bone cooked rare with a baked potato on the side. Even liver sounded better than processed Salisbury steak which probably contained more soybean than beef.
"You may as well take it away and give it to someone who's desperate enough to eat that garbage," Marcia said. "I'm not hungry tonight." And that part was true. Marcia wasn't hungry, at least not for hospital food. Officer Lewis glared at the nurse, daring her to say some nonsense about having to keep up one's strength.
"As you wish, ma'am," the nurse replied. "But I'll leave it next to your bed in case you change your mind." With that, the nurse smiled and left Marcia's private room, a frown forming on her face after her back was turned.
"As you wish, ma'am!" mocked Marcia after the nurse had left. Twisting in her bed to stare out the window once again, the policewoman continued her vein of sarcasm even as her stomach started to growl with hunger. " 'As you wish' indeed! That old biddy doesn't give a damn if I eat, or starve! She'd just like to go home like everyone else in the city. But no, she's stuck here inside the hospital until dawn. And just because I'm associated with Gail, she's taking her frustrations out on me!" Marcia noticed two state troopers walking on the other side of the street, both dressed in full riot gear and armed to the teeth. She sighed. "I wish to hell I was outta here!" she mumbled to herself.
Just then, Marcia was startled by the appearance of Vampra at her window. The evil vampire had waited until the troopers were down the street and out of earshot before making her presence known. Vampra just stood there, staring at Marcia as though the vampress was letting her eyes do all the communicating for her. In shock, Marcia simply stared back in wonder, soaking in all the meaning behind those eyes. Those eyes . . .
As suddenly as she had appeared, Vampra vanished into the night. But she left behind an important message for Marcia.
The message was only one word, but to the policewoman it meant everything in the world. The vampress had called her, "Sister!"
"We have her!" Sergeant Samuel Baker shouted into the radio. "She's trapped inside the old Baker's Warehouse! Give me some orders!"
"Keep her there, but do not attempt to capture her!" came the reply from Captain Long. "Repeat! Do not attempt to capture her alone! Wait until Abe, or Darlene gets there! Do you copy?"
"Roger! Keep her penned up! Baker out!"
Sergeant Baker couldn't believe his luck. He had been driving by and just happened to notice a young boy ignoring the curfew, walking along the sidewalk in front of the warehouse. When he stopped to usher the kid inside his patrol car, Baker had caught the briefest of movements from the corner of his eye. Someone had been standing in the recessed entrance to the warehouse. To Baker's hindsight, that person was just waiting for the boy to come within reach. Having a good idea who it was, Sergeant Baker put the boy in the squad car and proceeded to investigate, his weapon drawn. Sure enough, when Baker reached the entrance, he found the door had been forced open. Someone, probably Vampra, was inside the warehouse, still most likely having hopes of grabbing the young child after the larger mortal left.
To be sure that it was actually Vampra trapped inside the warehouse, Sergeant Baker had first called in reinforcements. After they arrived, he then set patrolmen and state troopers at every window and exit. Once he knew whoever was inside the warehouse was in there to stay, he then ordered his men to hold some makeshift crucifixes up to the windows. The result was instantaneous. Vampra began screaming her head off. Baker smiled, knowing his quarry was trapped. That's when he made the call to Captain Long.
"Are you sure it's her?" the captain asked after arriving on the scene.
"You betcha, sir. It's her all right. But how long are we gonna wait for Darlene, or Abe to show? She's trapped, sir, going nowhere. We can either go in there with crucifixes, or just hold her in there until sunup if you want to. Right now, it looks like we hold all the cards."
"YOUR WAIT IS OVER," stated Abe, his resonating voice coming straight from the grave. Standing next to him was Vampra's cousin, the ethical vampire, Darlene.
"We have a plan," Darlene stated. "But first, we have to make absolutely sure that Gail is still in there."
"Ma'am . . . she's in there!" Baker repeated rather hotly.
"You don't know that, Sergeant. Just because you have all the exits and windows blocked doesn't mean she can't tear down one of these sheet metal walls and escape that way." To demonstrate, Darlene used her unearthly strength to bend up a small section of the outer warehouse wall. It was made of corrugated steel, but to a vampire it may as well been made of tissue paper. Bending the wall back into place, Darlene continued with, "See what I mean? Now just humor me and make sure she's still in there, please."
Gulping, Sam Baker escorted Darlene to his squad car to sit beside the little boy and asked her to bend down. He then placed a raincoat over the beautiful vampress so she would be protected from the "crucifix maneuver." Once he knew Darlene was safe, he ordered his men to repeat the process of placing the crucifixes next to the windows. Another scream from Vampra, louder this time.
Knowing her cousin was indeed trapped, Darlene rushed out of the car and bolted for the warehouse. "Now, Abe!" she cried out as she ran inside.
Above the warehouse, Abe turned his body into a small makeshift sun, and in doing so, ensured Vampra could not leave the building. If she did, the rays of pseudo sunlight would kill her.
The actual capture of the feral vampire would now be up to Darlene.
Even as Abe had his bony hands full at the warehouse, he was also in the process of dealing with Matt and Jerry on the other side of town. The two hoodlums were in the process of running for their very lives through the cemetery not too far from Abe's tomb.
"I think we lost him!" Matt said in a raspy voice, out of breath as he jumped over yet another tombstone.
"Yeah, right! Just keep running, Matt! I'll tell you when to stop!"
But looking ahead, Jerry saw that they were running directly towards the ghoul, who was now in a ghostly form and floating a few feet off the ground twenty yards in front of them.
"Back! Back the other way!" he ordered Matt. But it was no good. That direction was blocked by Abe also. Quickly turning, both boys saw that the first Abe was still back there, waiting for them. "How many of them are there?!"
Doing a short survey around them, Matt and Jerry counted at least ten Abes. They had the two gang members completely surrounded and were slowly closing the circle.
"Now what, Mr. All-And-Mighty-Leader? What do we do now, turn into bats and fly away like Vampra?"
Jerry, even as he knew he was about to die, had had enough of Matt's attitude. With little thought of escape, which he now knew to be impossible anyway, he brutally backhanded Matt across the face, laughing as his one time friend fell to the ground. "You never did want to come, you bastard! Now look at you . . . laying there on the ground! What are you gonna do next, beg for the ghoul's mercy?"
Matt didn't have time to reply. A giant hand was coming straight up out of the ground, and before Jerry could run, it wrapped itself around the young gang leader, holding him . . . for Abe's brand of justice.
"Aaugh! Let me go, you decrepit piece of . . . Aaugh!" The pressure from the giant hand increased and instantly cut off any further comment from Jerry. The pain was incredible as it began to crush the life out of the gang leader.
"AN EYE FOR AN EYE!" Abe announced as the pressure from the hand increased even more. "YOU STOLE MY BONES, NOW I STEAL YOURS!"
Then, right before Jerry's horrified eyes, his own skeleton seemed to jump out of his body. The bones fell crumpled to the ground three feet in front of him, jerking a few times as if in animated reflex before becoming motionless for all time.
The giant hand disappeared in a swirl of cosmic light and energy, letting Jerry's boneless body ooze to the ground. With no bone structure to support his weight, the hoodlum's body highly resembled a large plastic bag filled with fluid . . . jello in a sandwich bag. Abe left him that way and turned his attention to Matt, who bravely stood to accept whatever punishment the ghoul had in mind.
"I'm ready," Matt said, closing his eyes.
"WHAT ARE YOU READY FOR?"
"W-wha... ? Why for the same punishment, of course. I knew there would be risks, but I went along with all this anyway. So what are you waiting for? Punish me."
It was the following evening and the members of the assault team, along with Charles Peterson and a few others, were all inside Abe's tomb recapping the situation. Vampra was once again under lock and key. Her capture had been relatively easy. Knowing escape was impossible and death was likely if she tried to flee outside, she had willingly given herself up to her cousin Darlene inside the warehouse.
"Captain, we're still finding bones all over the town," Sergeant Baker said as he poured some coffee from a thermos. "This latest set is just like all the others . . . half bovine, half human. This makes the seventh set we've found. I'd say not many, if any at all, of the gang members escaped Abe's wrath."
"Yeah . . . Abe's wrath," Marcia Lewis whispered. Now that she was finally out of the hospital, she was ignoring orders to stay home to recuperate and had insisted on coming to the meeting. To the naked eye, the only evidence of her recent misfortune was a small bandage on her head. "How's that one creep doing in the hospital? How are they keeping him alive with no bones left inside his body?"
It was Charles Peterson who answered. He had been at the hospital just a few hours before the meeting to gather information about the gangster for his newspaper. "They've got him completely submerged in some type of fluid with a plastic mold around his head to make sure his brain retains the correct form and to keep his eyeballs in place. He'll remain like that for the rest of his life, which is expected to be no longer than six months before his internal organs begin to shut down. He's going to suffer a long and excruciating death. That much is for certain."
Everyone was quiet for a few moments while they contemplated what it would be like for the hoodlum. No one in the cave besides Abe could imagine the horror he would go through before death finally relieved him of his misery.
Thinking of the gang's leader brought everyone around to give some consideration to the newest member of the assault team, Matt Perez . . . ex-gang member. Abe, being true to form, surprised everyone with his most recent "brand of justice." As punishment for his part in stealing Abe's skeleton, Matt will be forced to remain in Moore's Lake for the rest of his natural life and be a part of Captain Long's assault team. Roscoe asked the ghoul his reasoning for doing this, but Abe . . . being Abe . . . simply said, "HE WILL BE NEEDED." Everyone assumed Abe assigned the young hoodlum to the team because of his compassion for Marcia after she was injured, or maybe on account of his experience as a thief, or . . . there were a million possibilities that no one could reason out except the ghoul himself. But whatever the reason, and like it or not, Matt Perez was now a member of the assault team.
Next Story: Evil Within!
Is Marcia really all right? Did Vampra do something to the policewoman that we all missed? Find out by clicking on the link for Evil Within!
Return to Abe's Main Page
E-Mail me at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com