At sunrise, Mort woke up and walked downstairs. He opened the brass till, counting his money from the previous day. Walking over to the door, he flipped the sign to Open, beginning to clean the display window. As he scrubbed, salty air filtered through the glass.
Then he realized the invisible figure in the window, cleanly cut without any shards of glass on the floor.
“Curious,” he whispered. “Quite curious; how could someone cut a figure into my window without waking me up?” He was stumped until he turned around, noticing the missing vampire.
Mort looked at the vacant display. “How…how could Drake have walked off his pedestal?” Then he noticed a silver chain lying on the floor.
He had almost left his store when he noticed the broken mirrors. Suspecting the worst, he doubted whether anyone would believe him. Mort knew he needed to talk with the sheriff. Driving along a lonely road, he thought about the consequences. “I should’ve kept it out of sight, locked in the Egyptian Sarcophagus.”
If the vampire has come to life, it will only be able to move at night. It’ll need to find a place to rest during the day. If I was a vampire, where would I go to patiently wait out the daylight hours?” The old man was so lost in thought that he nearly hit Mrs. Bailey and her cat crossing the street. She was sweet, somewhat eccentric, and the mother of a hoodlum son. She wasn’t moving and appeared to be petrified. Her tabby was on a leash. “What the devil?” Mort muttered as he got out of his car. He walked over to Mrs. Bailey, giving her a hesitant poke with one of his fingers. She was ice cold. “I can’t leave her in the middle of the street.” He got into the hearse, backed it up, and loaded her body into the trunk, along with her petrified cat.
Mort knew he had to warn the town. He neared the sheriff’s station along Edgecomb Road. Squealing into the gravel driveway, he hopped out with the engine running.
“Sheriff…sheriff!” yelled Mort. He banged on the door, but there wasn’t any answer. “It’s nearly 11 o’clock; the only other place he could be is Martha’s Pancake House,” he thought out loud.
It was only five minutes down the street, but it seemed like an eternity as Mort gripped the steering wheel and gunned the engine. The diner came into view and sure enough, Arthur’s police cruiser was parked in front with half a dozen other vehicles. Mort tried to remain calm as he got out of his car and walked inside.
Mr. Reynolds and Hank the auto mechanic were laughing at one of Arthur’s jokes while Martha refilled their coffee.
“You should put that one in The Washaway Gazette,” laughed Hank.
“Hey Mort, it’s not like you to take breakfast here. I’m glad you joined us,” smiled the sheriff. His expression quickly changed when he realized the old man was serious.
“Arthur, I need to speak to you outside, if you don’t mind.” The squat sheriff set down his coffee. “Excuse me gents. I’m sure Mrs. Bailey’s cat is caught in a tree or some other nonsense.”
There was no easy way to break the news, so Mort motioned for the sheriff to walk back to his hearse.
“I found them in the street this morning, only a couple miles from your office.” He opened the trunk, revealing Mrs. Bailey and her petrified cat.
Immediately, Arthur drew his .357 Magnum, pointing it at Mort. “What’ve you done?” he demanded.
“Look here sheriff, they’re not dead. I think they’ve been petrified.” Mort gazed down the long gun barrel.
Arthur kept one eye on him, shifting his glance to the bodies. Sure enough, there was something odd about their appearance, uncharacteristic of rigor mortis. “Any ideas?” he asked.
“About the bodies or how they were petrified?” asked Mort.
“Maybe we should drive back to my antique store.”
“You didn’t accidently paralyze one of your customers with a rare artifact, did you?” asked Arthur with his eyebrows raised. “I’ll follow you, but don’t try to lose me. My police cruiser has twice the power as your hearse.”
Speeding away, the folks in Martha’s diner couldn’t figure-out what happened. If something out of the ordinary occurred in their small town, rumors got started quickly.
Upon entering Mort’s Curiosities the antique dealer spoke to Arthur, “Do you notice anything unusual?”
The sheriff looked around. “I think that’s the wrong question for your store Mort.”
“What I mean is do you notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Arthur gave the shop one more glance. “By Jove, I do see something unusual!” He walked over to the window, examining the missing glass.
“Look at the shape,” whispered Mort.
“It looks like the outline of a man. You don’t suppose someone broke in here last night to steal rare artifacts, got spooked, and jumped out the window?
“If they did, wouldn’t there be broken glass?” asked Mort.
“Too true; hey, why didn’t you become a detective? You would’ve made a good one. So, you didn’t clean up any mess?”
“Everything is exactly how I left it.”
The sheriff examined the edges of the missing window. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” He walked over to the door. “No sign of forced entry. It’s almost as if the thief broke out of the store from the inside. You don’t suppose they hid in your antique shop until you closed, then grabbed some valuables, and jumped out the window? Is there anything missing?”
“There’s only one item that’s been taken; it stood over there.” Mort pointed to the vacant space in the corner.
“Was it something valuable?” asked Arthur.
“A one-of-a-kind vampire doll I picked up on my travels in Hungary.”
They walked over to the empty pedestal. An outline remained in the dust where the vampire had stood.
“Hold on,” Mort picked up a broken chain lying on the ground. “This hung from the vampire’s neck.”
“Was there anything attached to it?” asked the sheriff.
“A crucifix with a red stone in the center; a dealer from Hungary told me never to take the chain off. I thought Drake looked more dignified with the cross, so I left it on.”
“Interesting, and the chain, have you ever looked at it closely?”
“I can’t say I have. Each one of the links looks like a letter.”
“I wonder if it’s Hungarian.” suggested Arthur.
“You know what, there’s someone in town who could probably read this language.”
“Who do you think?”
“Father Mendel. I know his catholic mission has taken him to Hungary more than once. This may be a regional dialect. We can take the bodies to the church for safe keeping and ask the priest about the necklace. I doubt there’ll be anymore break-ins while were gone. Just in case, it might be wise to stretch tape across the display window.”
After the job, both of them drove in separate cars to Black Hills Cemetery and Holy Sacrament Catholic Church.
Arthur parked in front of the cathedral, getting out of his police cruiser first. “Mort, I think it would be better for me to discuss what’s happened before you show Father Mendel the chain. The priest is used to dealing with unusual matters, but your story could overwhelm him. We don’t know for certain what happened.”
Mort agreed, bringing the chain with him. He followed Arthur through the thick wooden doors into the foyer. There were folks praying in the sanctuary, but the priest wasn’t in sight.
“We might have better luck trying his office,” suggested Arthur. They walked across the foyer, through the narrow hall until they reached the rectory. The sheriff knocked on the door, left ajar. It opened, but nobody greeted them in the cramped office. Apparently, Father Mendel was a naturalist in his spare time. Exotic bugs and butterflies were mounted in a narrow corridor, leading into a small study and personal library.
Following the bookshelves, they abruptly stopped at a polished wooden ladder leading up into a large observatory
“I say, is there anyone up there?” Mort shouted! His voice echoed into the old bell tower, but no one replied. “I guess there isn’t anyone here,” he sighed. “I don’t feel right looking through the priest’s personal possessions, even though they are quite interesting.”
“Look at this,” suggested Arthur, reading a note stuck to the front door. “We knocked and didn’t realize the priest left correspondence…
Digging in Black Forest Cemetery. Be back at lunch time.
“I wonder who died. We’d better see Father Mendel immediately,” Mort whispered.
Arthur took the note, rushing out the main doors to the graveyard.
Black Forest Cemetery was a burial ground in the woods. A narrow cobblestone path led into the forest until it reached a clearing. Normally, the rusty iron gates were securely locked. Today, they were bent, ripped from their hinges, lying on the ground.
“Who could’ve done this?” pondered Arthur.
“If it indeed was a who,” corrected Mort.
An enormous rock wall surrounded the perimeter of the old graveyard. A monument of stone stood close to the gates commemorating the men who lost their lives at sea.
An overgrown path led them among the weathered headstones covered in moss until they reached a sloping hill near the heart of the graveyard. Father Mendel was covered with dirt and sweat, looking like he’d been digging all morning. Charlie was there, helping him shovel rich soil into several unearthed graves.
“How many people died last night?” asked Mort.
The priest smiled at the newcomers. “No one died, but several graves were robbed. I just don’t understand it. I can’t remember anything of value buried in these plots. The ancient tombs were left untouched, but every burial within the last fifty years was exhumed. My predecessor did the ceremonies for most of the people unearthed last night. I can’t figure-out why someone would do it.”
“It could’ve been kids playing a joke,” suggested Arthur.
“Some joke; you know, I don’t understand how a group of kids could bend and rip the hinges off iron gates.”
“Maybe they used a vehicle, pulling the gates apart with a chain like in Westerns.” suggested Charlie.
“Thing is, it would’ve needed to be an extremely thick chain. I didn’t see or hear any vehicles last night. It’s at least a hundred yard into the cemetery from the parking lot. I don’t think a team of football players could’ve hoisted a chain big enough nor long enough to pull the hinges off.”
“Why would a group of kids rip the gates apart in the first place?” They could just as easily have used a ladder,” suggested Mort.
“Have you snuck into a graveyard before?” laughed the priest. “Oh, I forgot; there must be something you fellows came to talk to me about?”
In light of recent events, both of them completely forgot their reason for visiting Father Mendel.
“This isn’t the only strange occurrence that’s happened around here in the last twenty-four hours. My antique shop was broken into last night and only one thing was taken.”
“And what was that…what did they steal?” asked Father Mendel.
“They took a stuffed vampire I keep in the dim corner of my curiosity shop. We were hoping you could read the chain they left behind. I bought Drake from a traveling bazaar in Hungary several years ago. When I purchased him, he wore a crucifix around his neck. Drake looked so dignified I couldn’t bear to take it off. Plus, I was told by the auctioneer I should never remove the cross for fear of terrible things happening. At first, I thought the owner was trying to scare me with his superstition, but his words were spoken with true conviction; I didn’t really know what to believe. Since I’ve owned Mort’s Curiosities, Drake was never bought by a customer. Some showed interest in him, but never considered purchasing the vampire. I don’t know why someone decided to steal Drake last night.”
The priest was lost in thought after listening to the antique dealer. “Was there anything else missing or vandalized?”
“All of the mirrors in my store were broken and a figure was cut out of the display window.”
“What do you mean by ‘cut out of your display window?’” asked Father Mendel.
“It’s almost like someone walked through the glass without breaking it, leaving their silhouette behind. The edges around the six foot figure appear to be melted.”
“Is there something else you’re not telling me,” asked the priest, surveying the antique dealer with penetrating eyes.
Mort continued, “After the break in, I went to see the sheriff. On my way, I noticed Mrs. Bailey walking her cat across the street. I slowed down because she was in the middle of the road. When I got out of the car and touched her skin, she was ice cold. I put her and the tabby cat into my hearse and drove to Martha’s Diner where I found the sheriff.”
“I see,” mumbled Father Mendel. Let me have a closer look at the vampire’s chain.”
“If you notice, each link is a letter of the alphabet. Do you know what language it is?” asked Mort curiously.
“Why of course; this is Latin. Every priest had to learn it in conjunction with their doctoral studies. Let me see if I can roughly translate it. I’ll put the chain back together so we can read the inscription as intended. It’s difficult to know where to start because the letters are strung together without any spaces and we don’t know where the sentence begins. Roughly translated it says…
“Ok, maybe if we space out the words and start the sentence in a new spot,” suggested Mort.
“Oh, I can read it,” offered Charlie. “You read the second part first. It should say…
The one who breaks this chain will take my place.
“Ominous inscription, I wonder what it means?” asked the sheriff.
“If my reasoning is correct, it can only mean one thing,” replied Father Mendel. “There is a vampire loose in Washaway Bay.”
“You can’t honestly believe that?” asked Arthur.
“In my line of work, I’ve encountered stranger phenomena from the dark forces in our world. Please follow me to my office where we can consult my books on the supernatural.”
Charlie stuck his shovel in the nearest pile of earth and followed the gentlemen to the rectory.
It didn’t take Father Mendel long to thumb through his dusty volumes on the shelves and find the book he was looking for. It was stuck between Monsters and their Metamorphosis and The Dwarf’s Dilemma. Father Mendel read the title to his companions, Undead Fiends, written and published by a survivor.
He thumbed through the chapters on zombies, ghosts, and banshees until he reached the chapter dedicated to the tale of the vampire. “It says here that the only solace from the undead is hallowed ground where one’s ancestors have been buried. Washaway Bay is a relatively modern town, built on the ruins of Norse Men who used it as a shipping port. If my theory is correct, only a vampire could’ve bent and torn those iron gates from their hinges. The creature only unearthed the graves belonging to the citizenry of our town. The vampire’s motive is becoming clearer. By stealing skeletons from every tomb, there will be no safe place to stand in Washaway Bay.”
Mort thought Father Mendel’s assertions were probably accurate.
Does the book give any more clues to confirm we’re dealing with a vampire?” asked Arthur.
“It says vampires don’t reflect. Our friend is probably self-conscious, so he smashed the mirrors in your store last night.”
“Shouldn’t someone ask how we can kill this creature?” recommended Charlie.
“The boy has a point. Father Mendel, what does your book say about slaying a vampire?” asked Mort.
“It’s easier said than done. First, a vampire is already dead so killing it is out of the question. Vampires have a host of supernatural powers. They can vanish in a cloud of smoke, jump vast distances, climb faster than a cat, and paralyze with their eyes. Finally, if someone is bitten by a vampire, their soul will expire, turning their body into an empty husk. If my calculations are correct, we haven’t asked the right question. Can you guess what it is?”
They turned, looking at each other, rattled with anticipation. “Don’t keep us guessing!” demanded Arthur.
“The question we should’ve been asking is who stole the Crucifix?”
“Well, who did steal the crucifix?” asked Arthur, turning to Mort.
The antique dealer tried to think about his short list of customers from the previous day. “Well, I remember Martha Mulberry came in looking for a present. She chose a rabbit you can pull out of a hat. It squeaks, providing lots of laughs.”
“And was there anyone else?” asked Father Mendel impatiently.
“Mr. Reynolds delivered the newspaper and Hank worked on my Cadillac, but neither of them came inside. Of course, I remember you, sheriff. Oh, and I almost forgot; Mathew Bailey and his gang of cronies looked at some items late in the afternoon. They didn’t buy anything though.”
“I think you’ve struck it!” shouted Arthur enthusiastically. “There’ve been a series of break-in these last few weeks. I’ve suspected Mathew’s gang for awhile, but I didn’t know for sure until now. Father, is there anything else we should know about the vampire before trying to find the boys who stole the crucifix?”
There’s one important detail I’d like to leave you with. Vampires stay out of the light because they burn in the sun. We’ll be protected as long as we’re in direct sunlight. In the shadows, we won’t be so lucky. The forest isn’t safe during daylight hours. Charlie, promise me you won’t go fishing until we kill the creature?”
Fishing was Charlie’s favorite hobby. He reluctantly agreed. “Ok, we’d better kill this thing before I have to go back to school.”
“Father, is there somewhere we can store Mrs. Bailey and her cat while we look for Mathew?” Arthur asked.
“Behind the curtain of the baptismal would be ok until we discover how to treat her petrifaction.”