The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Fangs for the Memory – Chapter 7
10.15 am Sunday 2nd November 1997
"If yew stakes aren't going to be as useful as we thought, wandering around in werewolf-infested woods is more trouble than we currently need," says Grace decisively. "We'd be better off stocking up on garlic."
She and Kris descend back to the guesthouse, looking nervously over their shoulders: there are no werewolves immediately in evidence.
Jeffery appears subdued by Krist Snak's grim tale of woe, as does Gino. They both listen patiently as Krist continues to ramble about the dire fate - a lifetime of undeath - that awaits the hapless Brian in Castle Srelt. "Only one person in ten thousand has the gift, or the curse would be a better name - and can become as them. Perhaps it is carried in the family, like some deadly disease. But then they live forever, unless you kill them!"
"How do you do that?" asks Gino curiously.
"A stake through the heart is the surest way, but not even that always works - they do say it needs to be from the front or the back, not from the side."
"A stake of yew wood?"
"That's just superstition! Any kind of wood will do, or anything else most probably. Or you can burn them, they do say, and they fear the sun."
He regards Jeffery and Gino with undisguised puzzlement. "What is it that brings you people to our village? You do not seem like ordinary tourists to me. Those others who are with you haven't shed tears over your stolen friend - they believed the doctor when he said he'd been taken to hospital, didn't they?"
"How did you know that?" asks Jeffrey.
Krist just smiles smugly. "Anyway, if you have come to route out this nest of... creatures... we have here, you are doomed, my friends. I wish I could help you, but you see what just one of them did to me, and I am a strong man." He indicates his battered body.
Stuart and Ferdinand head for the kitchens of the Kolnari Masza. There they both busy themselves grabbing handfuls of garlic, which hangs from the roof beams in great tangled ropes.
Marta looks on curiously. "Do you have a cold, Mr Bingley?"
Ferdinand nods, and essays a mock sneeze to prove it.
"Marta, do you have any empty washing-up liquid bottles?" asks Stuart.
She looks blankly at him, so he indicates the example currently in use, stood on the windowsill above the sink.
"No, we throw them away when they are empty," she says slowly, as though humouring him.
"We'll have to get some from the shop in the village," says Ferdinand.
On the way out, Jeffrey stops to give his condolences to Krist's mother. "I'm so dreadfully sorry about what has happened to your son, Mrs Snak."
"Do not worry," she says in a surprisingly deep voice. "It is mostly his pride that is hurt. He likes to think he is the hero of the village, standing up against... that. Hmph!" She grins contemptuously.
Grace and Kris meet up with Ferdinand and Stuart, who proudly bear half a dozen washing-up liquid bottles which they have emptied of their viscid green cargo and filled with garlic-water.
"We should try holy water in these as well," says Ferdinand eagerly. "Let's get Jeffrey to do his stuff!"
"A mixture of garlic and holy water might be even better," says Grace thoughtfully. "And we could load cartridges with garlic and salt, for Tomas's shotgun, or our own if we can buy one."
The others look at her with some surprise: this is not the sort of expertise one would expect a Reader in Anthropology to have. Only Kris makes no reaction.
Kyle, who has been working upstairs, comes shambling down into the bar, grabs a Pilsner Urquell from the startled Tomas and plonks himself down with the others. "This is unbelievable!" he exclaims, as he is told what happened at the guesthouse last night. "If what you've just told me is true... then there really are vampires!" He sounds dumbfounded. "And I thought it was just a bunch of poncy Goths arsing about!"
He drinks deeply, considering. Then a look of doubt comes over his face. "Don't get me wrong, but are you completely sure... it was pretty dark and weird last night..."
He holds his hands up in acceptance as cries of "YES!!" bombard him from all sides.
"Three vampires broke into the hotel," Jeffrey says to Gino when they get outside, "and another one went to the shops - presumably to beat up Mr Snak. But what about the fifth, the one I saw heading over the bridge into the village? I'm going to investigate."
"I'm going to the surgery," says Gino, "so I'll come with you part of the way.
They strides off over the bridge, Jeffrey inspecting the snow for footprints. There are not too many, fortunately: although the morning service started at ten, not many of the villagers would have had to come this way to reach the church. With his sharp eyes he is soon able to pick out the prints of a pair of evening shoes among the snowshoe marks and bootprints: they look like the sort of thing a well-dressed vampire might wear.
He follows the prints carefully, finding that they turn left when he reaches the post office.
"Looks like we might be going the same way," says Gino.
They pass the dark building that the locals use as a tavern. The trail continues along the road, occasional passers-by glancing curiously at Jeffrey as he traipses along, head bent. They eventually turn into the drive of a large house right at the end of the road, by the river. Looking up at it, Jeffrey realizes it is the doctor's surgery.
There is no corresponding line of footprints leaving the surgery.
"Ye're probably wondering what we found in the castle last night," says Kyle expansively, leaning back precariously in his chair. He fishes in his pockets and pulls out a number of zip-lock bags. "I found these samples in a laboratory. Not yer weird Frankenstein and bubbling green stuff mind ye, a proper mineralogy lab. As far as I know, these are samples of some metal ore - and not a common metal, leastways not one I'm familiar with. It's being crushed, extracted and filtered" - he points to successive samples - "and then at the end we have two products: this colourless crystalline powder, which must be a salt of the metal, and this black dust, which is also a compound of the metal, and it might be crystalline or it might not; I cannae tell without a microscope. And looking at yer woman Grace's samples from the caskets, that black soil seems to be mighty rich in this black dust, or something very like it. What d'ye reckon the Baron wants with that?"
There is silence as the other investigators digest this news. Kyle seems pleased with himself. He opens up another bottle. "If ye hadn't told me about all that supernatural powers stuff, I'd be up there at the castle giving 'em a good kicking. Then again, if we don't do anything, that Brian'll be back to rip yer head off."
In a valiant attempt at humour, he adds "I don't suppose anyone remembered to saw Brian's feet off before he left?"
Gino enters the surgery, looking curiously around him. The waiting room is dusty and ill-kept, with only a few tattered magazines and a faded print of Budapest for company. He bangs on the desk bell.
There is a clattering noise elsewhere in the house, and after a minute or so Doctor Odorf appears, in a white coat, rubbing his hands together. He appears nervous as he leads Gino through into a reasonably well appointed surgery.
"Doctor, are you planning to come and see my friend Brian Lewis soon?"
"Er, no, sir, no - did you not hear? Mr Lewis was shipped out last night, taken to Klausenburg to the hospital."
Gino impassively studies the doctor's face: fear and guilt are written all over it.
"I suppose you're also doctor to the folks up at the castle, huh?"
Odorf brightens. "Yes, yes, that's my privilege - to treat the Baron and his friends! An honour and a treat. Of course, the Baron has very good health."
Gino sits down, relaxing the atmosphere slightly. "I came to see you over a health problem of my own, doctor. I've been rather careless - I have a very severe allergy to certain types of nut oil, and I am not always sure what I am eating. Back in the US I usually carry around a minipack of syringes, needles and i:10000 adrenaline, or epinephrine as we call it, and I have left this at home."
"Oh, that will be no trouble," says Odorf cheerily. "I can help you, sir. I have adrenaline here."
He takes down Gino's details and then starts ferreting around in a succession of cupboards, eventually producing a pack of two syringes and six needles. He then draws off an amount of a clear liquid into a vial. "That will be 200 lei, thank you."
Gino thanks him, pays, and heads back towards the Kolnari Masza.
Jeffrey comes in, clapping his hands together to warn them, his cheeks glowing red. He brings over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake from the bar for Kris, who thanks him in a slightly surprised manner. "I've been thinking about those voices Kyle heard calling from beneath the ground," he announces. "It's possible that the Baron is holding other people prisoner down there - maybe that's why locals like Tomas turn a blind eye to his servant's activities?"
"I think we should raid the castle this afternoon," says Stuart firmly, "for that and four other reasons - to rescue Brian, to find any experimental notes, to check the Baron's mobile phone - it might have a last number recall facility - and to have a look at his library."
"D'ye think they hate daylight, then?" asks Kyle. "That Baron didn't seem to mind. Stuart, do yer think yer new girlfriend would know if they go out in the day? If they've only been at Brian overnight we could rescue him while they're tucked up in their boxes."
Jeffrey turns to Kyle, saying a little huffily "While I don't condone your methods, you seem to have learned something useful last night. You know, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the Baron isn't a vampire - but if he isn't a vampire, what is he? What language was he speaking on the telephone? And what on earth is that laboratory for? Do we have any boffins in the party who might know what he might be doing with all that equipment? Maybe Klein und Klein of Heidelberg will be able to help..."
"We can ask SITU about that, or search on the Web," says Grace.
Jeffrey is enthused by this suggestion. "That's fascinating stuff you discovered about the meaning of Mr Lewis's dream, Ferdinand," he says admiringly. "You must show me how to surf the information superhighway some time," he adds, with a cringe-making attempt at sounding like he knows what he's talking about. "I'd love to know more about this Interweb place of yours."
"Can you tell me anything about the language you overheard?" Grace asks Kyle.
He describes his recollection of it to her, and she is perplexed. "It certainly sounds like no European language. But then it seems to have little in common with anything else either. I'll have to hear it myself, I think."
"We could tape him next time," suggests Kyle.
Jeffrey is still thinking. "Perhaps one of us with some technical knowledge should call Klein und Klein and try to get some information about the strange generator. Maybe he or she could pretend to be the Baron's assistant, and ask for advice? Pretend the generator's broken, or something. Strange that the Baron's machine is only the second one ever made - how many more are there, I wonder, and who bought the first?"
"We oughtta make sure SITU know what's happened!" says Kyle suddenly.
"Yes," says Grace. She has made a neat list in coloured pen of the salient points established so far: Brian's abduction and possible impending vampire-hood, the efficacy of garlic, the ineffectiveness of yew and the vampires' speed and strength (and possible perception-altering powers).
"And they seem to see better in the dark than us," says Jeffrey. He thinks. "Didn't Mr Lewis mention that his father was a stage magician? Maybe his dream isn't quite as sinister as Krist Snak believes. Perhaps it means that he should give up his job and follow in his father's footsteps? Ferdinand, can you find anything in the Interweb about Mr Lewis Senior? Or The Magic Circle - we might be able to find out why they hated him. You never know, it might be significant."
"I'll have a look," says Ferdinand dubiously.
"I'm going to ask SITU if they can arrange a snowplough to clear a path to us," says Stuart, standing up.
The others look at him.
"If you don't ask, you don't get!" he says optimistically.
It seems that, even if you do ask, you still don't get: SITU are unable to provide a snowplough. They agree to start work on researching the various items of information provided, though, and congratulate the party on their findings so far.
Jeffrey is also in congratulatory mood, thanking Tomas, Paul, Mike, Ferdinand and Stuart for all their hard work delivering parcels. He seems genuinely delighted at the response to his request. He announces that he intends to make another trip out today, just to check up on the old folk - "though don't feel obliged to come with me! You've all done your bit!"
Stuart, Paul and Mike are all keen to help, though, so off they set into the snow once more.
Grace too wanders into the village, calling at the post office. She is met with a rather hostile reception from the man behind the counter, who mimes incomprehension of her English. When she tries a few phrases in Hungarian, he feigns not to understand those either.
Frowning, she trudges on to the costume shop, whose owner was so helpful earlier. Here she gets a much warmer greeting. "Is there anywhere local where we could buy mineralogical supplies, or any mineralogists in the village?"
The proprietress grins. "Why, yes, my uncle used to work as a mining engineer. He could help you - Dusan Prankot, he lives in the brown house next to the church."
The food party is enlivened by Jeffrey, who treats the old folks of Pfaawelt to an impromptu concert of Grand Ole Opry favourites. He is also keen to sit and soak up their tales of local history and legend, having a great respect for age and knowing that they can tell the young a thing or two (not that he's so young these days, of course). Paul being roped in to translate. Mike also listens eagerly, although Stuart spends most of these periods prowling around outside, looking for a suitable hiding-place should the guesthouse be raided again.
Although all the houses have yew anti-vampire spikes, no-one is able (under Jeffrey's gentle questioning) to call to mind an incident in which these were demonstrably effective - 'friends of friends' are invoked, whose lives the spikes have saved on countless occasions. A few people react to his description of Brian's dream, mostly in the same terms as Krist Snak initially did - horror, disturbance and the wish to speak of such things no longer. One old man says that this means Brian will become a vampire himself.
Paul raises his eyebrows slightly at this turn in the conversation, and Mike is extremely excited. "How brilliant! Our friend Brian becoming a vampire! Mind you, if he does, we'll have to stake him at the crossroads, eh? Is there a crossroads in Pfaawelt? I can't remember if I've seen one or not."
"I think that's in rather bad taste, Mr Richards," says Paul sharply. "I'm surprised at you, Reverend Fanlight, encouraging such talk - dreams indeed! And poor Mr Lewis in his hospital bed!"
They return to the guesthouse, and Stuart at least is pleased: he has found a number of woodsheds and the like where the party could probably hole up if they needed to, although it would be rather cold. Pretty much every house has a shed of some sort, and none of them are kept locked.
Gino is back by now and, after lunch, meets up with Kyle and Stuart, the castle-raiding party. It is noticeable that he is not his usual cool self. "I am dismayed and unhappy at the castle mob's treatment of Krist Snak," he confides. "He sort of counts as a good guy - and this is sort of an eye for an eye - or in this case maybe an eye tooth for an eye."
Kyle grins. "Well, if ye're up for it so am I, we'll have to watch the Baron though, he's not worried about light or garlic. He'll just have to settle for a smack in the face like everyone else!"
Stuart says nothing, but his hand unconsciously moves to pat a pocket.
Ferdinand has found no mention of Mr Lewis Senior on the net, although he does find The Magic Circle's Web site. It is none too impressive and consists mostly of plugs for forthcoming events, and rules of membership. It seems a very strict and rule-bound organization: he is not surprised that such a large number of magicians have gone renegade in protest. The main reason for getting thrown out is the disclosure of the secrets behind tricks, your own or someone else's.
Klein und Klein GmbH also have a small Web presence. They are manufacturers of small-scale generating gear and other machinery - as the pages are in German and Ferdinand is no engineer, he fears some of the technicalities are probably escaping him. Basically it looks like they are a small Heidelberg firm making mostly custom gear. They were founded in the middle of the last century by the brothers Klein, then making fixed steam engines.
Jeffrey remarks to Marta, the landlady, "I hear that some of the people in the village disapprove of tourism. That's very sad. Who might they be? I'm sure if they could see the good work that some of my friends have been doing, they would change their minds. Tourism doesn't have to destroy local ways of life, you know, and it can do a lot of good by opening people's eyes to the cultures of others. I know that I, for one," he adds, "will take a little piece of Pfaawelt back to Stepney with me."
He has previously retrieved the soil sample from the post tray on the reception desk, for fear of it going missing.
Marta is touched by this thought, and nods sadly. "There will always be some who stand against progress, Reverend Fanlight. They don't see how it makes all of us better off."
Jeffrey bids her good afternoon and heads off into the village once more. He reaches the hose of Hungis and Velmilla Szolt, a large detached dwelling with a shiny new Volvo parked outside, and knocks on the door.
It is answered by a uniformed maid, who shows him through into a tastefully-appointed parlour. Velmilla Szolt is there. She springs to her feet delightedly and offers him coffee.
Stuart, Kyle and Gino climb up the road to the castle, and stand at the vantage Kyle and Gino used last night. "Well, there it is," says Gino. "What's the plan? I still think we'd be better off waiting for night to try this. And as well as the things you said, Stuart, I'm going to try and get a blood sample, or if that's not possible cut a finger off one of the vampires." He indicates his syringes and knife.
The gates are open, and there are occasional servants moving around the courtyard. The outside walls are devoid of activity, though, and Kyle reckons it would be easy to climb up to windows on any of the three towers unobserved. If there are people moving around the castle, though, it might be better to stick to the secret areas.
"Well, I don't suppose we're going to get the chance to do all those things, especially as they're probably in different parts of the castle," says Stuart. "Where should we go in, and what should our priorities be?"
All three of them carry several cloves of garlic, as well as garlic-water plastic bottles.
2.30 pm, Sunday 2nd November 1997
Gino, Kyle and Stuart outside the castle
Jeffrey at the Szolt house
Ferdinand, Grace and Kris at the Kolnari Masza
Stuart: After the food parcel delivery you head for the smithy, as the most likely place, and buy a .22 pistol plus ammunition from Krist Snak. It is surprisingly expensive.