The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 6
9.15 pm, Saturday 1st November 1997
Jeffrey, Kyle and Gino stare down after the disappearing Mercedes.
"Let's follow them and see where they're going!" Jeffrey whispers, jumping onto one of the scooters.
"My suggestion would be that certainly Kyle and I should try and get into the castle," adds Gino. "Jeffrey, you should come too, or follow the vampires, as you prefer."
Jeffrey is none too impressed with this and says sternly "Remember, we came up here just to observe. So let's have no sneaky breaking into the castle while the inhabitants are out!"
It seems, though, that he is in a minority of one in this opinion.
"Well my dear Reverend," says Kyle, "I wouldn't advise ye going off on yer own after the vampires. Don't ye watch horror movies? The one that goes off on their own always winds up dead, or worse still – UNDEAD!"
"Has anyone got a GSM phone?" he continues. "We could warn Ferdinand and the others to watch out!"
Neither Gino nor Jeffrey possess such a thing. Gino, while searching his pockets, reveals his silver knife: Jeffrey tuts, concerned that Gino is evidently expecting violence. "Look where carrying knives got young Kidu!" he warns.
"It's no coincidence that it's a full moon tonight," Kyle says. "If they are anyway supernaturally inclined, this is as good a night as any to go out on the town. The others will be safe enough if they stay at the guesthouse, I'm sure a hotel full of people is protection enough against anything bad happening."
"Well, I'm going after them, and I'll tell the others," says Jeffrey. It is clear to him that he will not be able to talk Kyle and Gino out of their morally dubious plan. "Anyway, remember to be on your guard against werewolves. The landlady, Marta, seems to think the mountains are their home."
With that he putters off down the road to Pfaawelt, along which the lights of the Mercedes can already be seen swinging out across the valley as it makes the second turn.
Kyle turns to Gino. "Well, they left the courtyard gates wide open – what are ye waiting for?"
Ferdinand meanwhile is hunched over his computer. The guesthouse phones are still not working, but he has hooked the modem up to his cellular phone. The connection speeds demand extreme patience, and he dreads to think of what it must be doing to his bill. Still, with any luck SITU will cover it as legitimate expenses.
The net is home to a huge amount of vampire lore, most of it largely worthless in Ferdinand's estimation. He finds, for example, that dreaming about vampires is supposed to signify a poor harvest. But, apparently, dreaming about a poor harvest indicates vampires. And to dream about potatoes is the surest sign of death imaginable, according to one Web site [http://www.kartoffelsgeschichte.org.de].
This site also contains the only mention of Pfaawelt he can find - a veiled reference to the troubles the region underwent during the grim potato depression years of the mid-seventeenth century.
He turns to a site that describes European soil types, and searches through the key for one that would fit the sample found at the castle. Strangely, although the database claims to be exhaustive for Central and Eastern Europe, no such soil can be found within it.
Kris, Grace and Stuart have gathered in the hotel bar.
"I agree that getting some of Brian's blood sent back for analysis might be useful," says Kris, "but how would we do it? We could perhaps get a syringe from first aid supplies, but he is unlikely to let anyone but the doctor at him with it!"
There is a short silence.
"Tomorrow morning we should attempt to gain access to the castle, with camera at the ready, so we can try to take a blood sample from the Baron, too – ideally with a syringe, but a needle and improvised slide might have to do," says Stuart.
"If we succeed, then we'll have to try to leave Transylvania by whatever means we can," he adds hastily.
"But the only road out is still blocked," points out Kris.
"It seems to me there are two main possibilities," Stuart continues, spreading his hands out on the table and counting on his fingers. "Either vampires really do exist, or the whole thing is a money-making scam on the part of the Baron: and Paul Crab and Brian Lewis have both been hired to try to convince us that there really are vampires in Transylvania and give us a really fun vampire-hunting holiday."
Kris looks doubtful. "Whichever, I think that we should observe Brian carefully as often as possible, especially once he's on his feet again."
"And I would like to check periodically whether he has remembered anything else or had further 'dreams'," says Grace.
"I have a plan," says Stuart. "Let's try to make obtain as much anti-vampire kit as possible, stakes – whittle our own, garlic – from the kitchen, and pine sap. Crosses can be drawn onto various items. I'll prepare anti-vampire kit along with the rest of you, but in front of the other tourists, and the villagers, I'm going to start acting as if I've decided that vampires couldn't possibly exist. I'll pour scorn on the whole notion of supernatural creatures. That should be an interesting experiment! Although, actually, I'm not too keen on testing anti-vampire methods. If they are vampires then you end up taking a severe risk with your life, if they aren't then you end up looking like a complete idiot."
All three prick up their ears as Doctor Odorf comes out of Brian's room, down the corridor. "Now try and get some more sleep, my dear Mr Lewis - I know you feel like you've been sleeping for days, but that was not good, healthy sleep, was it? I've left the window open so that you can get good fresh air. I'll come by again in the morning."
As he leaves, Kris develops a look of suspicion. She calls Tomas over from the kitchen, and asks him for a frank opinion of the doctor.
Tomas turns a cloth in his hands rather worriedly, obviously torn between stitching up a fellow-villager and disappointing a guest. "A very fine man, yes indeed. He has the well-being of all of you at his heart, for certain."
"And he saved that young man at the wedding's life?"
"Oh, well, you know - perhaps he says more than the truth sometimes, but who does not wish to make themselves sound better than they are - eh? Kidu was not so badly wounded."
"What treatment has he been giving Mr Lewis?"
"Err, I do not think he has actually prescribed anything at all. It has been a watching game, do you see?"
Tomas wanders off unhappily, and Kris turns to the others. "I'm taking what Janice said about that doctor seriously."
"I agree," says Grace, "and I'd also prefer not to leave him alone with anyone, especially Brian."
"Well, we should probably try to share rooms at night, and keep an eye on Brian," says Stuart. "And keep an anti-vampire watch. Assuming the castle inhabitants are vampires they might want to pay us a visit. We might want to sleep late to ensure we are fit for daylight raids."
The party exchange glances and, as if with one mind, rise to go to Brian's room.
Jeffrey coaxes the scooter down the curves of the mountain road, glad of his biking leathers in the chill breeze. He is able to stick to the tracks of the car ahead, where the snow is already crushed; and the light of the moon is adequate to see by, so there is no danger of his headlight appearing in their mirrors.
The car reaches the valley bottom and crawls down the road into Pfaawelt, past the graveyard, past the church, and turns into the driveway of the Kolnari Masza.
Giving up on soil and turning back to dreams, Ferdinand types the key parameters of Brian Lewis's dream into the UC Berkeley Dream Interpretation Machine. He is surprised to find it correlated very closely with a 'type' dream - the tall, dark man, the pain in the heart, the snaky, dark organ flying towards the caller. The interpretation given is that the dreamer is a sensitive, psychic type, maybe magically gifted without knowing it, who is undergoing a 'calling' - if the dream is to be fulfilled and the dreamer to reach his or her full potential, he or she should respond enthusiastically to an offer of mystic apprenticeship.
At the foot of the page, Ferdinand is invited to fill his details in on a special form for those who have had this dream, so that he can be personally invited to take part in further studies. He cautiously opts not to do so, for now at least.
The muted burr of the computer's fan is broken by a soft, heavy crunching noise outside the guesthouse - the sound of car tyres on snow.
Gino turns to Kyle. "I think we should get down closer to the castle and sneak around it – looking for any guards, and also any cunning ways in: suspicious gratings that lead anywhere, little outbuildings containing hidden passages, that sort of thing."
"If we get caught," Kyle says, "we can always say we were looking for a missing ear-ring or something similarly valuable dropped at the party."
They carefully circle the curtain wall of the castle, finding a couple of gratings but nothing that could conveniently admit a person.
"Looks like it's the wall, then," says Gino. He and Kyle unpack their climbing gear and prepare to ascend the north tower, heading for a window Gino spotted earlier.
"You'll have to lead," says Gino to Kyle, who swallows apprehensively, looking up at the sheer stone wall. Fortunately the gaps between blocks are large enough to insert pitons.
After about half an hour both are at the chosen window, secured with ropes to the wall and to each other. Gino has taken to the task well - Kyle is impressed that a lawyer, in such a sedentary occupation, should be so nimble. He is even more impressed when Gino produces a small jemmy and in the matter of a moment has expertly pried the window open.
They both climb through, into a large bedroom. "One of us should keep a look out of the window," says Gino. "And as we move on, one should always remain by a window. We don't want to get a nasty surprise."
"It'll be just like a Friday night," says Kyle, with some bravado.
Looking around, it is clear that this bedroom is in use. By the toiletries and clothes around, it belongs to a middle-aged man - probably the Baron himself, by the sizes. Gino is disappointed to see that, if so, the Baron appears to sleep in an ordinary four-poster bed, rather than some less conventional arrangement.
He estimates that they are more or less above the room with the painting, into which the secret passage debouches.
Jeffrey hops off his scooter as the five figures get out of the car ahead of him. One heads over the bridge, into the main part of the village: another goes back towards the shops. The remaining three move towards one of the windows on the ground floor, which he notices is standing partly open.
Jeffrey scuttles around a heap of swept-up snow, and makes for the front door of the guesthouse.
In Brian's room, the three SITU operatives glance nervously at each other as they hear the car roll up outside and its doors open and close. Stuart brandishes a six-inch stake he has prepared, and Grace fingers her assegai. Kris absently touches a bulb of garlic she secured from the kitchen. All have pine sap on their hands.
As the window creaks open, Kris throws the light switch open, to reveal a blood-curdling sight. Framed in the window, half through it, is one of the men who was dressed as a vampire at the costume ball. He still is, and the party have the distinct impression that it is not actually a costume. Outside the window are two more. The yew-wood window frame seems to be having no deterrent effect whatsoever.
Grace boldly strikes out at the vampire[for so we shall henceforth refer to him]'s chest, but he casually bats aside her blow and springs into the room with what seems like superhuman nimbleness. There is a swirl of cape, and as Stuart advances on him bearing his own stake he receives a terrific blow to the side of the head and is sent reeling across the room.
There is a clatter of footsteps in the corridor as the terrified Ferdinand arrives. He flings open the door, crying "I heard something... eek!" as a second cape-clad, befanged figure springs into the window aperture.
Jeffrey has made it into the lobby and looks frantically around for the guesthouse staff. Eventually he finds Danyi in the bar. "Come quickly, I think there's a break-in going on!"
She says nothing but huddles under a table, pushing herself backwards against the wall, her eyes wide with terror and a crucifix clutched in her hands.
Jeffrey dashes back to the stairs to try and rouse Tomas and Marta.
Gino and Kyle search the suite of rooms and establish, from the evidence of photographs, that it is indeed the Baron's: if the vampires do indeed sleep in caskets, perhaps he is not one. They then cautiously descend to the library with the secret panel behind the painting, which is still hanging on the wall but has been carefully tacked back together. In the room at the end, the five earth-lined caskets are still visible.
"What say we take the alternative fork in the secret passage and see what we can find?" whispers Kyle. He is sweating somewhat and licks his lips nervously as Gino lifts the painting down from the wall to reveal the passageway beyond. One after the other, they climb through into the chilly darkness.
The third vampire carries a silver-topped cane, and as Stuart thrusts his stake forward again she strikes out carefully and smashes the light bulb. All is confusion as SITU operatives bumble around the darkened room shouting and bumping into things. There is a scream of fright from Brian in the bed, followed by a thud and a grunt. Kris lashes out blindly with her garlic and catches someone across the face - there is a sharp sizzling noise and a hiss of pain.
Grace slaps her torch on to reveal that two of the vampires have the unconscious Brian around the shoulders and ankles and are lifting him from the bed. The third, near Kris, is clutching his face where a nasty red weal is developing.
Ferdinand has both hands full of stakes and charges the female vampire ,holding Brian's feet, who drops them and performs a swift veronica - the hapless Ferdinand is left entangled in the cape, and falls over the end of the bed. The vampire strikes out with her cane again and smashes the main pane of the window, and the one holding Brian at once leaps up into it.
The third vampire releases his face, Kris and Stuart now both jabbing garlic at him, and swiftly kicks Stuart in the kneecap. Stuart grits his teeth and staggers slightly, but keeps on coming forward. Grace tried to grab Brian back from the window, but the female vampire clips her smartly behind the ear with the end of her cane, and Grace slumps to the floor on top of Ferdinand.
Jeffrey bangs on Tomas and Marta's door. There is a confused muttering from within, and he bangs again, crying "In God's name, help!"
Tomas comes to the door in his night-shirt, rubbing his eyes. "Reverend! What's wrong?"
"They're breaking in downstairs!"
A light gleams in Tomas's eye as he hears the sound of smashing glass. With what Jeffrey assumes to be an oath, he whips out from under the bed a large shotgun, breaks it open and stuffs in two cartridges. He nods to the startled Jeffrey and walks swiftly towards the stairs.
As Kyle descends the passage, following Gino's back, he can almost fancy he hears soft voices calling, at the edge of perception, calling him from deep down in the ground. He shakes his head to clear it, gritting his teeth.
"Here we are," whispers Gino. "The fork. If I'm right, this way should lead to the south tower."
They press on along another branch of passageway. Both freeze momentarily as light leaks in through a chink in the wall - peering through, Gino sees Baron Srelt, in a smoking-jacket, talking into a mobile phone. The language is not one he understands, but it is not Hungarian: it does not sound European at all.
As Gino and Kyle continue, the air gets markedly colder. It seems this tower is not heated. After an ascent of about two storeys, there is a trapdoor in the floor: the passageway continues beyond.
Gino listens at the trapdoor, hears nothing, and carefully jemmies it open. First he, then Kyle, drop through, landing on a wooden floor just nine or ten feet below.
Kyle puts on his torch to see that they are in what he at once recognizes as a mineralogical analysis lab.
Gino at once moves to the window, which commands a view of the approach, while Kyle busies himself taking samples. The equipment is absolutely state-of-the-art - there is kit for crushing, grinding and filtering ores, centrifuges, distillation rigs and a wide variety of chromatography and crystallography, as well as what he realizes to his disbelief is a scanning electron microscope. Most of the lab is covered with dustsheets, but some of the equipment hums. Curiously, there does not appear to be mains power here: instead, there is a small generator in the corner of the room. What fuels it is a puzzle: it is not like anything Kyle has seen before. The plate indicates that it was made by Klein und Klein GmbH of Heidelberg, and it is serial number 0002.
Kris advances on the third, now capeless vampire, brandishing her garlic, and he steps warily back as his cronies hoist Brian out through the window. She desperately thrusts forward, and he catches the blow in his left hand, which at once starts steaming and hissing where it touches the garlic. Although the pain he is in must be great - he screws up his face and bares his fangs - he uses his superior strength to bend Kris's wrist backwards until she is forced to her knees. He then kicks her in the stomach and lets her drop.
As Tomas and Jeffrey burst open the door, silhouetted in the light from the corridor, Tomas yelling something in Hungarian, the vampire leaps straight through the window. The boom of Tomas's shotgun mingles with the screech of tyres from outside as the car burns rubber, spinning on the snow. Tomas steps into the room and fires again, as the Mercedes gains traction and roars out of the car park, all three vampires and Brian aboard it.
Everyone's ears are still ringing from the shotgun blasts, but all is quiet now except for ragged breathing.
Tomas curses. "Bloody thieves! Break into my guesthouse, would they? Those Molnar kids, I'll be bound - I'll give them more than a piece of my mind when I catch them! Just because they knew the doctor has taken Mr Lewis to hospital, they thought this room would be empty! It's lucky for me you good people were passing by, or they'd have been at the cashbox in no time!"
The investigators look at him in a puzzled mixture of disbelief and horror.
Kyle finishes packing his samples away, and tries the two doors out of the lab. One leads to living quarters, he quickly sees, the other to stairs up and down. He is about to head up when Gino raises his hand sharply. "I can see the car coming back - time to leave!"
Passing through the window, they carefully descend the wall of the south tower, and are huddled at the foot of the curtain wall when the Mercedes pulls up in the courtyard. From it emerge three dark-clad figures, two carrying between them a long sagging bundle. They pass on into the castle.
Kyle and Gino, their job done, return to the second scooter and slowly head back down into the village.
The next morning the SITU operatives are rather silent. Detailed questioning of Tomas reveals that he saw nothing more than a dark shape silhouetted in the window, and that he did not hear the sound of the car. Jeffery takes him outside and shows him the tyre marks, but he attaches little significance to them. Furthermore, he insists that Doctor Odorf took Brian away with him for treatment that evening, hoping to get through the pass and drive him to Klausenburg: at least, that is what the doctor had told him.
Kris asks whether the police will be called in. "What police?" asks Tomas. There are none nearer than Klausenburg. He will deal with the matter himself by visiting the Molnar family - noted local miscreants and reprobates - later this morning, when he has fitted a replacement window.
The other tourists and Paul are happy to accept Tomas's story. There is much sympathy for Grace, Kris and Stuart, injured while trying to fight off the villainous robbers. "Looks like we've got another day here, anyway, so that'll give you time to recover a bit," says Paul.
Stuart manages to contact SITU again, and finds out a little more of Brian's history. It seems that his father was a noted stage magician, as he said. He has no history of any health problems at all, and there is nothing unusual or noteworthy in any of his doings, other than a long-standing interest in the orthodox occult. Stuart also asks about Baron Srelt's finances: as far as SITU know, it is purely inherited money, but they promise to investigate further.
Jeffrey suggests another round of food parcels today, as he plans to question the old folk of the village about the local lore and legends. Stuart agrees to accompany him.
Kris and Grace head out to cut some stakes of yew wood, although after the events of last night there is some doubt as to their efficacy.
Gino heads straight over to see Krist Snak at the smithy, and Jeffrey comes with him. When they arrive, Gino is shocked to see that the place appears to have been thoroughly trashed, the photographic equipment smashed, two cars that were there battered with a hammer, and all the windows broken. Krist himself is in bed, bandaged up, with a broken arm: a formidable lady who must be his mother admits Gino and Jeffrey to see him.
Krist looks scared as they enter. "This is because I spoke to you," he says accusingly.
"One of... them... came for me last night, and did this to me, as punishment."
"What did you mean when you said Gino would be a dead man for knowing about the coffins in the castle?" asks Jeffrey, who is admiring the die-cast models of motorcycles Krist has on his mantelpiece.
"They do not like those who try to probe their secrets. People like me, who they know hate them, they usually leave us alone if we don't cause trouble. But a picture like that... they will try and kill you if they know you have been in the castle and seen what you have seen."
"What about our friend Brian, what's likely to happen to him?" asks Gino, with a certain amount of sang-froid in the light of this depressing intelligence.
"He will become one of them, if they have their way - I believe that is what his dream means. Not everyone can become one, that is why there are as few as there are - or they would rule all of humanity!"
10.15 am Sunday 2nd November 1997
Gino and Jeffrey: at the smithy
Kris and Grace: in the woods above the guesthouse
Stuart, Kyle and Ferdinand: at the guesthouse.