Mrs. Drury pulled back the curtains and peered out into the darkening street once more. No one walked the streets of Denford, not in these troubled times. Ever since the Cottham family had been found brutally murdered in their own home, no one in the area dared step outside their homes after the sun went down. There were strange noises in the dark, and movements in the street at night; everyone thought it was best to stay inside.
Mrs. Drury turned to look at her children and her husband, sitting around the fire. It was a tough enough existence in this poor little town, even without these troubles with murderers. True, the Cottham family had lived a few miles outside of town, out in the middle of the wilderness, but that didn't help her feel any safer in town. Not when she had heard moaning outside her own window the other night.
She turned back to the window once more before going to join her family around the fire. They were expecting a gentleman to arrive any day now. A few days ago her husband had received a letter from a Mr. Edward Dunnaway, promising help. He had said, in his letter, that he would arrive shortly to look into their troubles. He was supposed to be an investigator of some sort, though he didn't appear to work for the police. Thanks to the letter though, she had some hope, and every night she looked out her window, hoping that finally help would arrive.
Still no sign.
She shook her head and moved away from the window, pulling the curtains closed behind her. She went to the fireplace and sat down beside her oldest son, pulling the baby into her lap and rocking her gently.
"He should be here any day now," her husband said quietly. He was a soft-spoken man, but he was smart and determined as well. It was that determination that had gotten him elected as mayor of their town, and the surrounding area. He wasn't a very emotional or affectionate man, but he was dependable, and Mrs. Drury was convinced that was better in a husband, in the end.
His comment was greeted with silence. The youngest children didn't really understand what was going on in town. They understood that they couldn't play outside the way they used to, that they couldn't wander into the surrounding forest, but what did children know of murder? They could feel the fear from their parents though, and it kept them quiet and serious. The older children knew better about murder, and they could also feel the sense of helplessness their parents were experiencing. Their situation didn't seem hopeful.
Everyone jumped as a loud knock shook the door. Mr. Drury frowned and got to his feet, gesturing for his family to stay seated. He picked up a shovel on his way to the door, as the thumping continued. "Who's there?" he called through the door, holding his shovel at the ready, in case it was someone hostile.
"It is I, Edward Dunnaway," a man's voice replied.
Mr. Drury opened the door slowly, keeping his grip on his shovel. He found a gentleman outside his door, holding his hat in one hand, and a horse's bridle in the other.
"I apologize for taking so long to get here; it was farther than I had realized," Mr. Dunnaway explained. Mr. Drury nodded and went outside to help the man tie up his horse.
"Is it not dangerous for the animals as well?" Mr. Dunnaway asked as Mr. Drury tied his horse at the back of the house.
Mr. Drury shook his head. "No animals have been attacked," he told him. "Only human beings."
Mr. Dunnaway frowned. "That is most distressing. Though it is good news for my horse," he added, and his teeth flashed in the dim light.
Mr. Drury grunted. "Come inside; it is not safe at night." Mr. Dunnaway nodded and followed the mayor into his house, taking off his hat as he passed through the doorway.
He bowed to Mrs. Drury, bringing a little blush to her cheeks. She wasn't used to gentlemanly manners after all; she had spent her life with coarse country men. She looked down demurely for a second, but her gaze was drawn back to the new arrival. He didn't look the way she had imagined he would. She had imagined a proper Englishman when she heard of Mr. Dunnaway, but this man looked like an Oriental. She frowned a little upon noticing this; she wasn't sure it boded well.
"I heard of your plight and I knew I should come as soon as possible," Mr. Dunnaway said, after he had exchanged greetings with the family. "Please, tell me everything you can about the murders."
Mrs. Drury got up and took the children off to bed as Mr. Drury sat with their guest and explained their situation. It would be better for them to stay as ignorant as possible.
"It started about a month back, when we found the beggar dead on the highway. We didn't bother too much with it at the time; we gave the man a Christian burial, but no one thought it was murder at the time. There were no marks on the body; our doctor said he must have starved to death, and we left it at that. But then another body showed up on the road, a peddler. Again, we didn't notice any marks, not until the doctor took a look at the body. This time he noticed the small slices, on the wrists and neck. The body was white as a sheet – like he'd been drained of his blood."
Mr. Dunnaway was silent as he listened to Mr. Drury. He nodded his head occasionally, but he made no move to interrupt or ask questions, not until Mr. Drury finished telling the story.
"About a week ago we found out about the Cottham family. They live outside of town, a few miles east. We would never have known, if it weren't for Mary. You should talk to Mary, probably; she'll know the most of anyone. I only really know what I've heard.
"Mary is one of the Cottham children; she's the oldest girl. We were going on with life as usual – no one felt threatened yet – when Mary ran into town, screaming at the top of her lungs. I thought she were being chased, but she weren't. She was holding a little girl in her hands – the youngest Cottham girl, Alice I think – and we soon realized she was dead. Mary collapsed in the middle of the street, and she wouldn't talk, so I went up to their farm with a few men, to see what had happened. The whole family was dead, six children and their mother, just like the beggar and the peddler. Drained dry. All except Mary. We gave them a burial too, because what else could we do? Ever since then we've kept inside as much as possible. We don't go out after sunset; you can hear noises out there in the night. It ain't natural."
Mr. Dunnaway sat still for a while, waiting for Mr. Drury to go on. When it became apparent Mr. Drury had nothing more to add, his guest spoke up. "Where might I find this Mary girl?" he asked.
Mr. Drury shook his head. "She went back to the farm, after we buried her family. I tried to stop her, but she wouldn't listen, and she still wouldn't talk, but you might be able to get her to talk. You might try to get her to come back into town; it can't be safe out there."
"Have you been out to check on her at all?" Mr. Dunnaway asked then. Mr. Drury shook his head. "So she might not even be alive anymore?"
Mr. Drury shook his head. "I suppose so, but I don't think so. She's the only one who lived after all."
Mr. Dunnaway nodded and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Mrs. Drury returned from putting the children to bed and offered her guest dinner, which he gratefully accepted. He hadn't eaten much on the road, eager as he had been to reach his destination. He had a feeling he would need his strength.
After dinner Mr. Drury gave Mr. Dunnaway a bed for the night and left his guest to settle down. Mr. Dunnaway undressed slowly and carefully, thinking to himself. A shiver of anticipation ran down his spine as he went over the facts once more. He couldn't be certain just yet, but he felt he had finally found what he was searching for. He folded his clothing and left it on a chair and got into bed.
Tomorrow, he would go see this Mary, the girl who survived.
He woke early the next morning, as the sun started to peek through his window. When he left his room he saw that Mrs. Drury was in the kitchen, getting breakfast ready. She smiled a tight-lipped smile at him when she saw he was awake and told him to sit down as she got breakfast for him.
"Normally we'd all be up much earlier," she explained as she put out bread and butter for him. "Ever since these attacks though, no one will go outside until the sun is up."
Mr. Edward Dunnaway nodded. "That is probably wise," he agreed. He finished his breakfast quickly and left, after asking for directions to the Cottham farm.
He smiled to himself as he traveled down the small dirt road that led to the farm. He felt that as he traveled down these roads he was leaving the civilized world behind him; as though the Industrial Revolution had never happened out here.
Last night, as he was riding towards Denford, a white dog had crossed the road in front of him. His horse spooked, but he managed to get her under control, and it was then he had noticed the dog had stopped in the road and was watching him. He had stared at the dog for a minute, and the dog had stared back at him, but when the dog ran away, he had been uncertain if it had ever really been there at all. Perhaps it had been an illusion; the fancy of an overtired mind, or maybe it had been a ghost. There was still magic in these forests it seemed.
The Cottham farmhouse was a tiny building, dirty and run down. It hadn't been so long ago since the family had been killed; he didn't see how it could be in such disrepair already. He found it hard to imagine so many people living in such a small, dilapidated house.
He jumped down off his horse and tied her to a tree nearby and then walked up to the door and knocked loudly. He waited for several moments before knocking again, louder this time.
"What? What do you want?" a woman's voice called, and moments later the door was yanked open by a young woman whose appearance matched the house.
Edward was a little shocked by her appearance; she was wearing little more than a nightshift, and a filthy one for that matter. Her feet were bare and covered in mud, as was the rest of her. He had thought, at first, that her hair was tied back, but he realized in a moment that it was cut short, muddy and sticking out at odd angles. Her face was quite remarkable, though not beautiful. She had a rather long nose, and a mouth too wide and expressive to be quite proper. Her eyes were an unusual shade of green, almost yellow, made even more noticeable by the large dark rings under her eyes.
"Ah, I didn't hear you knocking at first; you just woke me up," she explained, and she smiled, revealing large teeth to match her oversized mouth. "Who are you?" she asked, looking him up and down in a manner that Edward felt was almost predatory.
"My name is Edward Dunnaway," he said, taking off his hat and bowing a little. It never hurt to be polite, even if he was speaking to someone who was not. "I am here investigating the recent murders. Are you Mary Cottham?"
The girl's eyes narrowed and she stared at him for a long moment before nodding. "Yes, that's right. I'm Mary Cottham." She stepped aside then, and gestured for him to enter the house. "Come in. Have a seat."
Edward stepped into the house and saw that it was only one room. There was a fireplace at one end, and a bed set up at the other. In the middle there was a small table, and in the corner he could see mats rolled up and tidily stacked against the wall, as though waiting for their occupants to return.
He sat down gingerly on a rickety looking chair at the table; it was the sturdiest looking of the bunch still. Mary offered him tea and he accepted without thinking. When he saw the rusty old kettle she put water in to boil he regretted doing so, but it was too late to take it back.
"I'm sorry I ain't got anything to go with it," Mary said. "I haven't… well…" she stopped, lost for words.
"It must have been very hard for you," Edward said diplomatically.
"Yes, that's it. It has been hard," Mary said. She rubbed her thumb on her eyetooth absently for a moment, and then shook her head and turned to stare at him, as though she was just noticing him. "You're here to investigate you said?"
"What have you got then?" she asked.
"On the murders, what information have you got?" she asked again. She seemed annoyed with him, as though disappointed in his intelligence.
"Well, I only just arrived," he said. "I was hoping you could tell me more."
Mary was silent. She turned to the kettle and took it off the fire, pouring it into a dark pot full of dubious looking leaves. Edward wondered if it was really even tea that she was serving him.
She turned to him with a cup full of tea, but as she walked towards him she stumbled, and nearly dropped the cup full of hot tea all over him. Luckily, he had good reflexes, and he reached out and caught the cup before any of it spilled.
"Are you alright?" he asked as he set the cup down on the table. He surreptitiously wiped a speck of dirt from the cracked lip of the cup as she nodded her head.
Edward watched her for another moment, and he decided to tell her what he thought of the situation. She didn't seem like she would tell him much of anything on her own. "To be honest," he told her, "I don't believe it was men who killed your family."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I believe it might have been a supernatural occurrence," he explained. "I believe that whatever killed your family, it was not human."
"Vampires killed my family," Mary said flatly. Edward stared at her for a moment, and she asked, "Do you believe me when I say that?"
Edward nodded. "Yes actually, I do believe you."
Mary bared her teeth – she didn't really smile; it was too predatory for that – and she nodded to him. "Good. You can help me then. I found their nest yesterday. I had to return home when night fell though; I didn't have a chance to do anything then."
"Will you show me the way there?" Edward asked. He was a little amazed at this girl tracking down a den of vampires, if what she claimed was true, but he wouldn't let his amazement stand in the way of possibly finding his quarry.
Mary nodded, and she poured herself a cup of tea. "Of course; you can come with me."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Edward said. As he spoke, he unconsciously brought the teacup to his lips, but he noticed what he was doing in time to put it back on the table before it touched his lips. "It won't be safe. It will be much too dangerous for a lady."
"I guess it's a good thing I'm not a lady then," she said, gesturing about her, at her squalid surroundings and appearance.
Edward nodded. He went to his bag and took out a map and asked her to point out the lair's location on his map. Once she had done so he told her she could go back to bed, and rest for a little while before they went out to the vampire nest. She made him promise not to leave her behind, and he did so, with every intention of leaving her behind while she slept.
He waited until he was certain she was asleep and then he got on his horse and headed towards the location Mary had shown him on his map. It wasn't very far after all; he would be there long before sundown.
He was about halfway there when she caught up with him. He didn't know how she had caught up with him on foot, but he supposed he was quite slow on his horse, going through the dense forest, guided by his map.
She was out of breath when she reached him, so all she could do for a moment was glare at him, but she soon spoke, "I thought as much. My mother told us; never trust a gentleman. He will always try to do the noble thing."
Edward smiled. "What a strange thing to say," he said. He got down off his horse and offered to let Mary ride on it. She eyed the horse for a moment and took a step towards it, at which the horse neighed and shook its head, and she backed away again.
"No, I don't know how to ride a horse," she told him. She shook her head. "And there you go; trying to do the noble thing."
Edward apologized and walked alongside his horse the rest of the way. Mary tried to convince him to ride, but he refused. He had been raised with better manners than to let a lady walk while he rode, no matter her class.
Mary was silent most of the way, and Edward let her lead the way. Soon they reached a small clearing in the forest. Mary led him to a pile of felled trees and showed him where the den had been cleared out underneath.
"It used to be a noble family's tomb, long ago," she explained in a whisper.
Edward nodded and went to climb down into the crypt, but she held him back. "Wait a moment, are you planning to just barge in there?" she asked skeptically. "You didn't even bring any stakes with you did you?" She looked him over from head to toe, and he didn't feel that he did too well under that gaze.
"I have my pistol, and my saber," Edward replied, briefly touching each of his weapons as he spoke.
Mary shook her head at him. "That won't work; you need wooden stakes to kill a vampire," she told him.
"Ah, so it is true then?" he asked. "Fascinating."
Mary shrugged. "Well anyway, I have a second one, so you can take it. Right in the heart," she instructed him, indicating the location on her own chest.
Edward could have told her he knew where the heart was located in the body, that he had taken medical courses and he likely knew anatomy much better than she, but he had no reason to pick a fight with her. He just nodded and took the wooden stake she pulled from a cleverly hidden pocket in her skirt and then he led the way down into the crypt.
It wasn't a big tomb; it was just a small room underground. It would have been full of coffins, but there was a space in the middle cleared out, to make room for the creatures now sleeping there. Edward walked over to them and leaned over one to take a closer look. He pulled a pair of spectacles from his chest pocket and put them on as he leaned right in to a man's sleeping face.
He noticed right away that the man wasn't breathing. That was the first sign that he wasn't human. Edward started a little when the vampire suddenly moved, stretching and opening his mouth in a yawn – giving Edward a good view of his pointed teeth. Contrary to images he had seen in texts before, all of the vampire's teeth were sharp and pointed, not only the eyeteeth.
He started when Mary suddenly struck out, stabbing a stake right into the chest of one of the sleeping creatures. The vampire did not awaken before its destruction; its body simply shriveled and grew desiccated as the stake pierced it's heart. It looked like one of those preserved mummies from Egypt.
Edward was about to ask that Mary give him more time to study the vampires before she destroy them, but he saw the look in her eyes, and he kept his mouth shut. He had to remind himself that this girl had had her entire family killed by these creatures; she was not likely to show mercy. He decided he had to study the vampires as quickly as possible then, before they were all destroyed.
He leaned down and ran his fingertip across the vampire's eyelash, curious to see if there would be any reaction. The vampire did not react at all, voluntarily or no. He was making mental notes to himself; the hair colour appeared to be normal in all specimens. In most ways they appeared human.
He frowned when he noticed the vampire's cheek twitch. He wondered what could have prompted such a movement in the unconscious vampire. Did vampires dream as humans did?
"Look out!" Mary yelled suddenly, and Edward spun around to face her, at the same moment she threw her stake towards him. He ducked to the side, but the stake was not intended for him. It flew through the air in a neat arc before burying itself in the chest of the vampire he had just been studying as it leapt to its feet.
The vampire stared at the stake in its chest for a moment, and then it looked up at Mary, and it smiled. Mary cursed as she realized she had missed the heart. Edward however, did not lose any time in sinking the stake he still held into the other side of the vampire's chest, effectively destroying him.
Mary muttered to herself as she walked to the vampire and pulled her stake from its chest. "Bloody toffs," Edward heard her say, more than once.
"That was some neat throwing," Edward said, pretending not to hear her insults. "You saved my life; thank you."
Mary turned to stare at him for a moment, and then she sighed. "Well, I guess I should be grateful you actually killed that one, in the end. What were you doing, poking and prodding it?"
"I was studying it," Edward said, but Mary had already turned away. She was looking through the bodies. Edward turned back to study the body of the vampire he had been studying before. It looked as though it had lost all the liquid in it, as though it had been lying out in the sun for too long.
"He's not here…" Mary muttered. She stood with her hands on her hips and shook her head. "I don't understand. I was so sure…"
"Who's not here?" Edward asked, turning to her.
She spun around quickly, as though he had startled her. He didn't see how; he had been standing there all along after all. "Oh, that's… the one who killed my family – who killed my little sister Alice – he's not here."
"There is still another one out there?" Edward asked. When Mary nodded he looked about him. There were four bodies in the crypt; who knew how many more might be out in the rest of the world? "I should find him," he said, mostly to himself. He had found more success here than he could have imagined; he had gone so long with nothing until now, but still, there was much more to find.
"Take me with you," Mary said.
Edward stared at her for a moment, but he shook his head, and he started to climb back out of the crypt. "No. Impossible. It's much too dangerous."
Mary followed him. "You're the one who's in danger!" she protested. "I saved your life back there – how can you say it's too dangerous for me?"
Edward considered this, pausing for a moment at the entrance of the crypt. She had saved his life, it was true. And she had shown admirable courage and determination, and skill with throwing. She had also been the one to find the vampire nest; perhaps she could be a useful companion.
He shook his head again. "No, I cannot take you away from your home," he said.
Mary laughed, a short bark of a laugh. "My home? I have no home anymore!" she yelled bitterly. "Take me with you," she repeated. "At least until we find the man who killed Alice. I won't get in your way, but until I find him, I will not be able to rest. It would be better if we at least went together."
Edward stopped by his horse. He turned and looked at the girl again. He supposed it couldn't hurt to take her with him, for a little while at least. If it was no good, then he could bring her back to London, and get her a job as a maid. He could help her at least. It was what his parents would wish for him to do.
"Very well," he assented. "You may come with me. But it is tiring, and it may be dangerous. Mostly though, I assure you, it is boring work I do. If you are willing to put up with that, then I will take you to find the one who killed your little sister."
Mary nodded, and she did not smile. "Good," she said. The killing light in her eyes boded ill for the one she was hunting.