The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 5
The Kolnari Masza, 3 pm, Saturday 1st November 1997
"Is the weather often as bad as this, Mr Crab?" Jeffrey asks. "It must be a quite problem for you, having your tours disrupted in such a way - irate holidays and the like! But don't worry - we're not about to complain! We know the snow isn't your fault, and as you say, Pfaawelt is a lovely place. I can't imagine anywhere nicer to get snowed in."
Paul sighs. "You're absolutely right, Jeffrey, Man may propose but the Lord disposes, eh? No, the weather isn't usually this bad at this time of year, but Tomas reckons it's nothing too extraordinary. I suppose it's all this global warming you hear so much about these days – makes the weather colder, for some reason!" He laughs cheerily.
"I hear Brian's come round at last," puts in Kyle. "This calls for another doctor's visit, don't you think?"
"Yes indeed," nods Paul. "We've already sent for Doctor Odorf – with any luck he'll be along in a couple of hours. There's a blessing, anyway, poor Mr Lewis straightening out, eh?"
Jeffrey is looking thoughtful. "With this harsh weather, Paul, I can't help but be concerned about any local people who might be trapped in out-lying places – the old and infirm, for example. Do you know if this is likely to be a problem?"
"Actually, I don't rightly know. Everyone lives pretty much in the village, I think, although I can't say for sure, but certainly the old folks'll be struggling, I should think." He looks at Jeffrey with respect.
"Maybe we able-bodied types could help with food parcels, track-clearing and the like?"
"A fine idea! I'll have a word with Tomas and see what we can get organized for this afternoon, eh? Would any of you others like to help out?" He looks around the group of investigators, most of whom are studiously examining their toes.
The party convene over a cup of coffee (or beer, in Kyle's case) to discuss the next move.
Jeffrey congratulates Grace on going back into the coffin room to collect the soil sample. "I suppose it's all down to SITU now – unless any of us know a helpful laboratory that might be willing to analyse it for us when we get home?"
Grace has fished the soil sample out of her bag and is examining it carefully. It is a fine, dark soil, like a Russian chernozem. It has a faintly organic smell about it. There are no signs of organic matter in its composition, though, or at least any such must be microscopic in size. She shrugs and puts it away again. "I suggest we get our photos developed: did you say that could be done at the smithy, Gino?"
"I'll be visiting Krist Snak this afternoon, so I'll take the films along," says Gino.
Stuart fishes in his pockets and comes out with a handful of films, which he hands over.
"I wonder whether we've got away with that little escapade up at the Castle?" says Jeffrey. "You all looked in a bit of a state when you burst into the great hall, I can tell you. I haven't seen so many cobwebs since my Bishop made a donation to our Church Roof Fund. Only joking," he adds, with a glance skywards. "And how long will it be before they find the painting that got damaged? Maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea to go back to the Castle openly..."
Kyle taps a well chewed pen on the table, an uncomfortable look in his eyes. "There was that fork in the passage still be investigated. Perhaps that's the way to the other tower?"
"Let's return there tonight and check," says Gino, stretching his long legs out under the table.
"Mind you, do yer honestly want t' creep back in there now them blood suckers are on the alert?" says Kyle doubtfully. "They'll have noticed the busted up painting by now, and the Baron couldn't have missed the dust and cobwebs we took with us." He finishes his beer and starts another.
Jeffery asks "Any ideas how we might get a blood sample from the Count – without resorting to assault?" he is met with shrugs.
Kyle gestures grandiosely. "By now they'll have some elaborate traps and tricks set up to impale any hapless intruder. Imagine, years from now they'll find your decayed body swinging on some stakes. There'll be words scrawled on the wall that you wrote there in your own blood saying 'Beware Vampires!'." His description is becoming increasingly animated. "Then the intruder will laugh before joining you on the stake moments later – isn't that an excellent scene at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark? – did I tell you that Harrison Ford is my favourite actor?"
Jeffrey has taken out the piece of cake he was given by the Baron, and is absently nibbling on it as he sips his coffee. It is a rather fine vanilla sponge, with strawberry jam and green icing. He looks up to see Gino observing him extremely carefully, but the American seems satisfied that he has seen nothing unusual.
"Stuart, may I ask," says Jeffrey, "what is that rather fine knobbly ring you're wearing?"
Stuart shrugs, passing it over. "It's just a silver ring I bought in Southampton – thought it might come in handy." It is a heavily-carved ugeat, Horus's eyelashes sticking out painfully. Someone could do themselves a nasty injury with that, thinks Jeffrey as he hands it back.
"Someone should send a sample of Brian's blood back to SITU for analysis," observes Gino. He makes no suggestion as to how such a thing might be obtained.
Jeffrey becomes alert at the mention of Brian's name, his eyes flashing. "Mr Lewis's dream might mean he is in danger! We should try to keep an eye on him, especially at night. I wonder if I might be allowed to sit up with him tonight..."
There is a general sense of movement around the table as Jeffrey gazes into space, but he composes himself swiftly. "I'd like to lead you all in prayer for Mr Lewis, and also for poor Kidu, struck down on what should have been the happiest day of his sister's life!"
"I'll be off, then," says Kris somewhat fiercely. She rises and heads upstairs. Jeffrey is not at all disconcerted, and he sketches a quick cross after her retreating back. As the party bow their heads, Stuart with rather a show of humouring Jeffrey, Grace with an academic detachment as though observing some quaint folk ritual, he reminds them of various inspired dreams mentioned in the Bible. "And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.'"
After twenty minutes or so Jeffrey releases his flock, having called for God's mercy on the lives of Brian and Kidu. As they relievedly disperse he takes Kyle by the elbow. "No, Kyle, I think you're mistaken over this Mungo business: you're thinking of Mungo the dog, in 'Mary, Mungo and Midge'. Midge was a mouse and Mary was a little girl with purple hair, if I remember correctly – or was that 'Crystaltipps and Alistair'? Alistair was a dog, too. The purple monster with a high-pitched voice on 'The Muppets' was Gonzo, though he was quite diminutive – I wouldn't describe him as 'great' or 'big'. Though The Great Gonzo was an epithet of his, I believe."
"St Mungo," he adds, "helped convert the pagans of Scandinavia and was boiled alive in reindeer blood for his troubles. It's a cruel world, isn't it?"
Kyle looks abashed.
Kris passes through the lobby, looking for English-language guidebooks to the area – there are none present – and heads upstairs to seek out Marta, whom she finds making up beds. After returning the clothes she borrowed last night she says "Marta, I was hoping to talk to you a little about the local myths and legends."
Danyi shakes out a pillowcase vigorously. "Best not to talk of such nonsense, Miss Macdowell."
"Is it all nonsense? The Baron was telling me about the history of his family and the castle, it sounded fascinating."
At the mention of the Baron's name Kris fancies Marta looks around her slightly nervously. "The Srelts are a great and noble family, who have done much good for this village – we all owe them our livelihoods."
"I should think that, if the Baron is keen to encourage tourism, that must be good for your business – was it his idea to let tour parties into Pfaawelt?"
"Yes, of course – and he helped us with money to start the Kolnari Masza. We could not and would not have done it without his permission and help. There are still some foolish people in the village who disapprove of this tourism, but it brings us all wealth, in truth."
"So the Baron wants to help your links with the outside world?" asks Kris. "I suppose some of the villagers must oppose that – wanting to cling to their old ways and beliefs? Like this werewolf business..."
Marta snorts. "What nonsense! You must think us great fools here in Transylvania, to think a young man like Slek Prant is a werewolf. The truth is just that this fool Kidu Szolt did not think the Prants good enough for his sister. So he brings up this foolish story to prevent the wedding. Well, he has paid for his ill will. Blood shed in the Lord's house!" She smacks her lips with ghoulish relish.
"So you believe that there are no werewolves really?"
"Oh, no!" Marta looks aghast at the suggestion. "Of course there are werewolves – everyone knows that! Didn't they steal away Slek's uncle Jurgend Prant when he was just a baby? No, there are werewolves sure enough, but to think that they live among us in the village – that is foolishness. They live up in the mountains, of course."
Kyle borrows Ferdinand's phone again to ring Robinson Hogg Coal. This time the signal is a lot better, but the receptionist just puts him through to a voicemail box. He realizes that Mr Spencer is unlikely to be at work on a Saturday, if he is a typical coal industry executive: he is probably off playing golf at this moment. He leaves a brief message and closes the phone.
Jeffrey sees Tomas hard at work in the kitchen making up food parcels for this afternoon's expedition. Taking Mike Richards, who has just come downstairs looking rather pale, by the arm, he suggests that he might like to help out with the project, given the disappointment of the tour's postponement.
Mike agrees cheerfully enough, and they both set to packing. Jeffrey draws Mike out in conversation somewhat, and finds him to be a veritable fount of knowledge about vampires and their doings. "Delivering these parcels'll be a good excuse to get up into the woods – I'm going to collect some pine sap! They do say that if you rub it into your palms, it's a sure-fire protection against the undead!"
Jeffrey whistles, raising his eyebrows appreciatively, as though this is news to him. "Tell me, how's your charming wife? Has she been up and about today?"
"Janice? Oh, she's fine, I expect. Probably off doing some shopping!" He laughs heartily at this sally. "She's a dear thing, but – you know – women! – she doesn't quite have the ability to concentrate on vampirology. Always got something else to bother her pretty head with! I tell her it could be worse, I could be a fisherman or something instead, and then she'd have to gut the fish for me!"
Tomas is studiously ignoring this conversation, his eyes lowered.
"Where d'ye think they'll take Kidu?" says Kyle. "Paul reckoned we couldn't get Brian out of here, so what chance has the poor lad got with only that old doctor to save him?"
This has been worrying Grace too, and she tracks down Marta to ask if there is news of Kidu's state. It seems that he is going to live, after a heroic battle on Dr Odorf's part to save his lung. The doctor has just arrived to tend to Brian, and told Marta this himself.
"Why should people link certain families with werewolves?" muses Grace.
"Well, with the Prants, it's just that little Jurgend was taken by them, so they say – left outside his door in a cradle. So they say that if he were to come back, he'd try and convert his own family first, so he could have them with him in the forest. I say that's all very well, but I think a werewolf would be lost to all ties of blood – don't you? He would just seize whoever was nearest. He's probably forgotten who his family even were – he was only a baby, after all."
"Are there any other families linked with werewolves?"
"Not here in Pfaawelt. Over at Croln they have many, many werewolves, though, it is said."
As Marta bustles off Jeffrey reappears. After learning the news of Kidu he expresses his concern about the young man and the rest of his family. What could have driven them to such behaviour? Maybe Mr and Mrs Szolt (from the party) would be receptive to a friendly visit?
Grace packages up the soil sample and addresses it to SITU. Tomas has a tray for outgoing post on the reception desk, but presumably it will not be collected until the road is clear, by which time the party themselves should be leaving anyway.
Gino draws on a pair of snowshoes and trudges into the village. The snowfall has stopped, amazingly enough, and the air is very cold and still. The centre of the road has been cleared wide enough to allow a car to pass, and the shopkeepers have cleared their pavements, but snow still lies thickly over most of Pfaawelt.
He knocks on the door of the smithy, noticing that there is a horseshoe above it, and bends his head to enter. Krist Snak's legs are visible underneath a battered Trabant: he pulls himself out on a small trolley.
Gino hands over the films to be developed, and he chats with Krist about cars while the smith washes his hands and fills up the chemical tanks of the portable photo lab. Gino has been puzzling over how best to draw Krist out, and glances around the smithy to see whether there are any strange talismanic-looking items about: perhaps smiths here have the same reputation for power as he has heard they do in England.
He sees a finely-wrought silver dagger hanging in a display of replica weaponry near the door, and takes it up interestedly. "Did you make this yourself?"
"Yes! Nice piece, eh?"
"Do you have anything like this weighted for throwing?" Gino mimes the act.
Krist's eyes light up and he opens a drawer. "Here – see?" There are half-a-dozen silver-bladed throwing knives. As Gino hefts one, the smith eyes him appraisingly. "Make a good souvenir to take back to America, eh?"
"And it could be useful, too – with this talk of werewolves?" Gino's tone is non-committal. The knives' handles are of a dense wood he recognizes as yew, with a deep cross carved into either side.
Krist glances around. His voice changes suddenly, losing most of its comic intonation, and he draws Gino close. "That is what I keep them for – that, and the... other problems we have here. You were at the wedding? What a business! We may yet lose Kidu. And over what? The real werewolves are still out there." He crosses himself, and Gino, fascinated, reflexively does likewise. "The priest here, he is a weak man. He will be of no use in the struggle against the works of the Devil. He takes the money and – how do you say? – buggers off."
"So do you think the Prants are not werewolves?"
"I would know if they were." Krist flips one of the knives up, end over end, and delicately catches it between thumb and forefinger. "In any case, werewolves are a small problem here. The other..." he shudders.
Gino, frowning, changes tack. "You may have heard that one of our party fell ill – Mr Lewis – on coming into the village. Does that happen often? Is anybody else ill in this way?"
Krist's eye bulge and he clutches at Gino's arm. His voice is little more than a whisper. "I have heard of such things, but never seen. Does he complain of his heart? This means he is under the sway of evil!"
The machine pings as the films become ready. Krist examines each print professionally for flaws, laughing at the depictions of people he knows or of Stuart's thumb. He passes them onto Gino, who sees nothing unusual or unexpected.
Suddenly Krist makes a choking noise, and his hand shakes. Peering over his shoulder Gino sees that he is looking at the picture of the five open caskets, with a blurred Grace partly occluding one of them. "This was... in the castle?"
Krist hastily shoves the rest of the prints into Gino's hands. "Take the knife, take two of them – you'll need them. Keep your window shut, and tell your friends too – for what good it will do. You are a dead man, my friend."
Grace goes to find Brian, to learn that he has been moved into a ground-floor room on Doctor Odorf's instructions. She sits by the bed and asks how he is.
"Much better, thank you – I still feel very faint and weak, but the doctor says that'll get better."
"Do you remember what happened before you passed out?"
"Yes..." he frowns. "I felt this strange sort of burning pain in my chest, here." He gestures to the region of his heart. "And then it all went fuzzy and dark."
"Do you recall anything else about your dream?"
"Just what I've told you, really. The man was very compelling – I felt like he was my father, or something, calling me home. He didn't look much like my father, though." He laughs. "My father was Frank Lewis, the magician – I expect you've heard of him."
Grace has not.
"Oh, he was quite famous in the Sixties. He had a good Vanish that no-one ever cracked! The Magic Circle hated him."
Gino returns to the guesthouse in a state of extreme nervousness. He goes to his room and seals the windows shut with nails. He arranges the wardrobe so that it will fall over noisily if the door is opened. And he slips one of the throwing knives under his pillow.
Kris finds Janice Richards sat alone in the bar, nursing a cappuccino. She asks if she can join her, and Janice nods listlessly. Her face is pale and pinched-looking.
"So, how are things with you?"
Janice sighs and rolls up her eyes. "Just brilliant, of course. Stuck in this god-forsaken wilderness, I'm feeling terrible – with the baby – and no-one to talk to but a bunch of vampire nutters. No offence," she adds hastily.
"Yes, they are a weird bunch, aren't they?" agrees Kris, cheerfully slandering her colleagues.
"Kris – you don't mind if I call you Kris? – are you married?"
"No," says Kris quietly.
"Well, take my advice, and don't do it. What is it about men that they've always got to have some stupid hobby that takes up their whole lives? You'd think that with the baby coming he'd make some effort to spend time with me – it's the last chance we'll have to be alone together for the next twenty years! But no, he just wants to go on a vampire holiday. Vampire holiday! Whoever heard of such a stupid thing? I'm amazed that they can make a living out of it. How many idiots can there be with nothing better to spend five hundred quid on? And here, Transylvania, in the middle of winter, that's really bright, isn't it? What genius came up with that idea? At least on the coach we were getting a change of scenery every now and then. What if something goes wrong with me and the baby? I don't trust that doctor, he gives me the creeps. But Mike, really, he just says 'try and get into the spirit' – that's easy for him to say, it's not him who's carrying this" she gestures at her belly "around all day, going to the loo every five minutes... he's just off enjoying himself! And this was supposed to be a holiday to bring us closer together!" She laughs bitterly. "I tell you, if it wasn't for the baby, I swear I'd tell him to get stuffed, him and his garlic crucifixes."
Tomas has finished preparing the food parcels , and he, Jeffrey and Paul, together with Mike, Ferdinand and Stuart, set off with a small sled across the fields behind the Kolnari Masza, as dusk settles on the valley. Paul is in good spirits, as is Jeffrey, and even the usually worried-looking Tomas cracks a smile at the thought of the good they are about to do.
They tour a succession of small cottages on the margins of the village, dropping off food and wood to the elderly and sick folk who live there. Jeffrey is in his element, dispensing blessings and cheer alike as though he were in his own parish. The general response is good, even those old villagers who might perhaps be expected to be hostile to tourists warming to this display of humanity.
The investigators note that all of these cottages have doors and windows made of yew wood, and that most have a spike mounted on the chimney – popularly supposed to prevent the landing of vampire bats, explains Tomas slightly embarassedly.
Eventually, the group returns to the guesthouse. The last rays of the sun catch the towers of the castle, high on the valley wall: it looks as though a small flight of bats is circling it, although surely such would not be visible at this distance.
As darkness falls, Gino and Kyle head down to the smithy and collect two motor-scooters. Jeffrey has decided to come along as well, to everyone's surprise and despite his , and he has with him a large pot of pine sap which he insists on smearing on everyone's hands, as Danyi suggested. Hopefully they will not have to resort to her advice about cutting off the feet of a bitten friend... He sits behind Gino as the scooters sputter up the road to the castle.
The snow has compacted during the day, but the going is still treacherous. "I suggest we observe whether there seems to be more activity at the castle by day or by night," calls Gino over his shoulder. "Just generally watch from a concealed nearby spot overnight, and if nothing happens then watch for the next day as well."
Kyle was prepared to climb the castle walls but not venture into the tunnels, so does not criticize this cautious policy.
They draw up the scooters under the cover of trees a little way from the castle, overlooking the courtyard. Gino notes that there are lights on in the north tower. From this vantage he can also see that the hitherto unexplored south tower has a flat roof, marked out as a helipad.
The three watchers are rather cold and bored by the time they see some action. Five figures, all dressed in black, issue from the eastern tower into the courtyard, where two servants fling open the doors of a garage. One of the five goes in, there is the sound of an engine starting, and from the garage emerges a huge black Mercedes-Benz limousine, with three sets of doors – like a modern version of the style favoured by Hitler.
The other four people get into the car, the gates of the courtyard are flung wide, and the mighty car purrs forward over the snow, which crunches under its chained wheels. The full moon gleams from its shiny black roof as it starts to move down the road toward the village.
9.15 pm, Saturday 1st November 1997
Gino, Jeffrey and Kyle: outside Castle Cnoiff
Ferdinand, Grace, Kris and Stuart: at the Kolnari Masza
Grace: you keep back some of the soil sample in a small zip-lock bag, thinking it might come in handy. You also gather some extra pine sap.