This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
* * *
When Carl next woke his headache was nearly gone, his stomach had settled and the pain in his chest had vanished. His phone still gave off its glow and for some reason he was holding a wooden spike in his hand, a spike covered in blood for half its length. He stared at it stupidly for a few moments then let it drop. All he knew was that he was hungry. Starving. Ravenous. The real thing. Hunger to the point of raving, of madness. He had to feed. Every part of his body told him that.
He was still in the coffin. Still underground, as far as he could tell. Still trapped. The hunger didn’t care. He managed to squeeze and roll over onto his front. Stared at the garlic cloves laying where his head had been resting, then put them out of his mind. Stuck the phone back into his pocket. Pushing out with his arms and legs he braced his back against the lid of the coffin. Took a deep breath. Then, driven by the hunger burning in his stomach, he shoved with all his strength.
Of course most people wouldn’t be able to shift a nailed down coffin lid even without anything else on top. Even the strongest couldn’t do it with more than a couple of feet of soil on top. And Carl wasn’t a weight lifter or strong man.
He pushed and the wood splintered into chunks. Soil poured in around him but he just kept pushing, shoving up until he was standing. Soil poured into his face so he closed his eyes, closed his mouth. Without really knowing how he closed his ears and nostrils too. Punching up his hand cleared the soil. But now he was stuck, trapped by the soil that had poured in, unable to move and unable to breathe. Still the hunger drove him on. He wriggled, twisted, shoved, did everything he could to make some space. It worked but slowly, oh so slowly. After three or four minutes of frantic struggling he realised something important. He wasn’t breathing. Well, he couldn’t, unless he learnt to breath earth. But he didn’t need to breath, he still had all his energy and there was no pressure in his lungs, no desire to gasp down a breath. For a moment he stopped, puzzled. Even with his mind working at a crawl this was something that got his attention.
Only for a few moments though. The driving hunger surged again, sweeping all thought before it. He resumed his struggle to get free. Finally managed to get both elbows to the surface, pressed down with both arms and started to drag himself out. Getting his head and shoulders free took another few minutes, by which time his hunger had turned into a roiling pit of acid in his stomach. Getting free was easy after that, less than a minute later he’d dragged himself clear. He stood, looking around. He wasn’t surprised to see a graveyard, with a church looming nearby. The night was dark, cloudy, with no moon or stars and no lights but he could still see. Could see very clearly in fact. This too seemed important to him, but the hunger drove him on. All he knew was that he must feed soon. He absolutely must.
Leaving the churchyard he recognised the main street of the small village he had been staying in. Without hesitating he set off for the inn where he had a room. Lights still spilled out and he could hear a crowd of people. He knew he could feed within.
As he drew closer to the sounds of the bustling inn the hunger took over, driving all thoughts from his mind. He went straight to the closest door, a small door set on the side of the inn, and opened it. Smashing the door off its hinges and snapping the bolts holding it shut without even noticing.
He found himself standing in a large kitchen. Pots bubbled on stoves and a young woman stood by a fire, turning a huge whole pig on a spit roast. Carl raced towards her. She screamed, backed away against the wall. Carl started to feed, ripping bloody chunks of flesh off with his hands and teeth.
* * *
Less than a minute later a middle aged man crashed into the kitchen from the main room, wielding a wood chopping axe. Carl looked up, blood caking his chin and neck. The man stared at him in horror.
“You monster!” he screamed, striding forwards and swinging the axe. “My daughter! How could you do that to my little girl. How?”
Carl was feeling somewhat better. The hunger had receded a little. But his thoughts were still sluggish. He stared at the man in confusion.
“Your daughter? Your daughter is the pig?” he asked.
The man stopped in his tracks, also confused. Still driven by his hunger Carl reached out and tore another bloody strip of flesh from the part roasted pig. Stuffed it in his mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed.
“What?” said the man again. “No. My daughter. What have you done with my daughter?” He was almost pleading now.
Finally something clicked in Carl’s head.
“Oh. Your daughter. She’s here by the wall. I think she must have passed out. I really am terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to scare her, or you. I am just so hungry I had to eat. Right away.”
Putting actions to his words he tore off another chunk of pork, chewed it briefly and swallowed before grabbing another hunk.
The old man dropped the axe, rushed past and knelt by his daughter who had slumped down against the wall. Her eyes flickered, took in her father and then the sight of Carl gorging himself on meat and looked ready to faint again. Carl swallowed his latest mouthful, raised both hands placatingly, smiled what would have been a friendly smile if not for the blood around his face.
“Sorry, I wasn’t going to hurt you and I didn’t mean to scare you. I had to eat you see. I couldn’t wait to explain.”
The girl stared at him with wide eyes, face still pale. She glanced at her father, then back to Carl. Pulling herself up to her father’s ear she whispered a word. To Carl it sounded something like camp-fire, but that made no sense. Her father nodded, shook his head. Shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” he told her.
Then the man helped his daughter up, and the two of them edged around Carl and backed out of the kitchen, back into the main bar. Carl realised how quiet it was, everyone in the other room must have been listening. As the pair left the kitchen he heard tense whispered questions and before long the main room was a frenzy of conversation again. He had a feeling most of it concerned him.
He was feeling better now, sated. Looking at the remains of the pig he could see why. He’d stripped it almost to the bone. In a matter of minutes he’d eaten enough pork to feed fifty people or more, but his stomach wasn’t even bloated. He wasn’t surprised. He expected it. The thought that his body had gone into emergency mode flickered through his mind without him really understanding it. Something had happened that required his body to expend huge amounts of energy and then he’d had to break out of the coffin and fight his way clear of the earth. His recent memories were still blurry but his mind was getting back up to speed.
Looking around the kitchen to get his bearings he caught sight of his reflection in a window. Not a nice sight. Hair and face smeared with mud, mouth and neck coated in blood from the part cooked meat he’d eaten, clothes filthy with a big hole ripped through them on the left side of his chest. He walked over to a large sink and started to wash the worst of it off.
The water was cold which helped clear his head but meant it took several minutes before he felt even slightly presentable. Rubbing his face and hair with a towel he headed for the inn’s main room, to apologise again to the owner and his daughter.
As he neared the door he realised something had changed. The room was silent again. He crept closer, opened the door slightly and stared into the room.
He could only see the back half of the room. It looked as he remembered. Dark oak beams, deep red walls, a large fire blazing and dim wall mounted lights as much adding to the gloom as relieving it.
That was all just background though. The inn’s customers and staff were all pressed against the back wall, three and four deep, all staring towards the front of the inn. All looking terrified. Something there had them scared but Carl couldn’t see what, the corner of the bar blocked his view.
Whatever they were looking at threw something down onto the floor. Many of the people flinched back as if struck. Carl stared at the object. A spike of wood, covered in blood at the thin end. It looked somehow familiar, though he wasn’t sure why.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the unseen person in a silken voice. “Surely none of you would be so stupid as to defy my wishes? To interfere with my actions? Would you?”
Silence stretched out. The people Carl could see stared at the unseen speaker as if staring at a deadly snake.
“Well?” the voice snapped out, this time more steel than silk. “Some of you clearly thought you could cross me. Who was it? Or do I have to start making examples of all of you?”
Again the silence stretched until someone pushed forward from the crowd. A priest in dark robes, small, bent with age but with fire in his eyes. Holding a cross before him he stalked forwards.
“I did it.” The old priests voice wavered, but it had steel running through it. “I did it foul spawn of the devil. In the name of the holy, in the name of the light. And now I will cast you down to the pit of hell you came from.”
The old priest disappeared from Carl’s sight for a few seconds. When he reappeared it was above head height as he flew over the crowd of people and crashed into the back wall. Those below tried to catch him, to soften his fall. Carl could have told them not to bother. The old man’s neck had been snapped by whatever blow sent him flying.
Many of the people were crying now, holding each other. All looked cowed. Carl was certain they faced only one person, instinctively he judged where they looked and it was always at the same point. Whoever, or possibly whatever, was standing there had the strength to fling a man across a room and to cow fifty or sixty people at least some of whom had knives and an axe. And was now laughing. A chilling sound.
“That old man can’t have done this alone. My victim was buried, staked, had garlic stuck in his mouth. This was a conspiracy. And you know the price. One member of every family, my choice, will join the other cattle at the castle for our pleasure. Anyone that resists dooms their whole family to that fate.”
More of the people broke down at hearing this, some fell on their knees and started to beg. For some it was simply too much, they passed out where they stood. Whatever was going on was clearly terrible. Talking about people as cattle couldn’t be anything else.
Carl knew what he had to do. His duty was clear. He had to leave. Go out the back door, get far away. Not get involved. Not draw attention to himself. Not interfere. Leave the people in the inn to their fate. Letting out a deep breath he turned and walked away.
After several steps he turned again, eyes blazing. To hell with the rules, to hell with the trouble it would cause. He charged the door to the main room, sending it crashing open, swung around the end of the bar and dropped into a crouch back to the inn’s customers, facing what had them so scared.
It was a man. Tall, pale looking. Dressed in fine clothes. And with a comical look of shock on his face. Taking advantage of the shock Carl drew himself up and took several steps closer, stopping less than a foot from the other man. Staring into the pale face Carl felt a shock of recognition. Memories flashed through his mind.
Leaving the inn for an evening walk, despite the owners attempts to talk him out of it. Sensing something as he walked the quiet streets of the village. Turning to find this man charging up behind at superhuman speed, leaping forward and sinking teeth into his neck. Feeling something burning through his veins, corrupting his body, assaulting his mind. Dark strength flowing with it. Trying to fight it off, collapsing into darkness with this man’s mocking face staring down.
“Ah. You recognise me. That’s good.” The man had recovered from his shock, seemed pleased to see Carl. “We haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Felix.”
Carl stared at him, put his hand to his neck. There were no wounds, no scars.
“You won’t find anything,” Felix said. “You might already have noticed that your wounds heal nearly instantly. You must know you have strength far beyond that of normal men, I saw the remains of your grave. And the hunger. I’m sure you have already felt the hunger. In fact…”
Felix reached out with a hand, wiping something from Carl’s cheek. Holding up his finger with traces of blood that Carl had missed.
“… you’ve already fed. Good.”
He licked his finger, pulled a disgusted expression. Stared at Carl.
“What…” he spluttered. “What is this? This isn’t human blood! How could you stomach this filth?”
Carl just smiled back. More memories were flowing back in. Being bitten had loosed a vicious biological agent into his blood. Any normal human would have been overwhelmed in seconds, probably comatose for hours while the transformation ravaged them then turned into… well into whatever Felix was.
Carl wasn’t any normal human. Far from it. His body had detected the assault the moment it started, his formidable immune system went into action immediately. Even for him the bio agent was a challenge though. His body had to shut down, throwing everything it had into the battle, burning energy reserves that would normally last for months in a matter of minutes.
Even after gaining the upper hand the fight continued. The bio agent kept mutating, trying ways to beat his defences. In the end it had failed, the final concentrations were pulled down by Carl’s immune system. By then his bodies energy reserves had become extremely depleted, the after effects of the battle in his body left him with what felt like the worlds worst hangover. And of course he’d been buried in a wooden coffin six feet underground with a stake in his heart and garlic stuffed in his mouth.
Felix’s mask was starting to slip. He was rattled. In place of the calm, almost bored, aristocratic look he’d worn before was a twisted, evil expression. He stuck a hand out, pointing over Carl’s shoulder.
“Go. Pick one of those sheep behind you and feed. I order you.”
Again Carl stayed silent. Smiling slightly he gently shook his head.
“You dare challenge me?” Felix spat the words. “Now? When you are weak from the change and haven’t even fed? Then die!”
Felix fist punched out at Carl’s chest, faster than a striking snake. To a normal human the movement would have been a blur.
To Carl it moved in slow motion. Before it had covered a tenth of the distance to him he’d already reviewed numerous responses, from stepping out the way to blocking to attacking in return. He chose to grab his opponents hand as it closed, turning to deflect it past his body and squeezing hard. He felt bones crack.
Felix didn’t scream as Carl had expected. He just laughed, held up his hand so Carl could see it heal, see the bones pop back into place.
“You can’t beat me!” Felix hissed. “You know nothing of the powers you could have. Now you never will.”
Felix punched again, much faster this time, and his fist smashed into Carl’s chest right over his heart. Bones crunched and Felix grinned at Carl before a puzzled expression passed over his face. Looking down he didn’t see the smashed ribs he’d expected, instead the bones in his hand had broken again with the impact. They healed again, but slightly slower this time Carl noticed.
Felix howled in rage, grabbed Carl by the head and shoulder and plunged his teeth into Carl’s neck. The bio agent was different this time – even more virulent and with a single purpose. To destroy. Felix stepped back grinning, licking blood from his long incisors. Watching for Carl to collapse.
Carl tilted his head to one side as if in thought. He could feel the venomous agent burning, trying to destroy whatever it touched as it rapidly spread around his body. It didn’t stand a chance. The first time round Felix had surprised him, caught him with his defences down. Now he was in full combat mode and his body had already beaten off a similar agent earlier that night. Within seconds his body had destroyed all traces of the infection.
“We can do this the hard way or… actually, no. That’s your only choice,” Carl said, grinning at Felix again.
This was too much for Felix. With a roar he launched himself bodily at Carl, kicking, hitting, biting, scratching. Completely out of control.
By contrast Carl moved like a dancer, flowing between defence and offence. Easily containing his opponents berserk attacks Carl kept striking out. Breaking arms, legs, ribs, wrists. Whatever presented itself. Each time it took longer for the wounds to heal. Felix’s berserk attacks turned into desperate attempts to escape. None worked.
Within a couple of minutes Felix lay on the floor, bloodied and broken but still alive. Wounds slowly healing. Carl stepped away, picked the wooden stake off the floor and with one smooth movement plunged it into Felix’s chest. Felix’s body convulsed then finally lay still.
Carl turned to the people still cowering against the wall. They almost looked more scared of him than they had of Felix. Carl spotted the inn’s owner and called him over. The man seemed less scared of Carl than the others, which wasn’t saying a lot. Carl gestured to the staked body on the floor.
“Is he dead? Will that have finished him?” he asked.
“No.” The man shook his head. “For a while, a few hours, yes. But his body will be pushing the stake out. Then he will recover. It can be held in place by a coffin lid or we can keep pushing it back in but the other vampires would know. They would come here and kill us all for doing such a thing. They may already, just for what you have done.”
Carl stared down at the corpse by his feet. Decided the name certainly seemed appropriate. He looked at the inn’s owner again.
“I didn’t catch your name…” Carl left the question hanging.
“Mikel. And my daughter is Sophia.”
“Well Mikel, just how many other Vampires are there?”
“We do not know. At least thirty, maybe many more. All at the castle. They have taken many of our sons, our daughters over the years. Some have tried to fight but none could stand against them. Even you cannot stand against them all.”
“We’ll see. So, a stake through the heart doesn’t kill them.”
Carl pondered the stories he’d heard of the mythical creatures.
“How about sunlight?” he asked.
“Yes. Once we saw a newly turned Vampire fail to seek shelter, saw it caught in the first rays of dawn. It… well it seemed to catch fire, to burn from the inside out. Within seconds it was dead. But the castle’s windows are all bricked up. The cellars are deep. You will never get them to fight you near the daylight.”
“Wait here,” said Carl with a smile. Leaving the main room he ran up the stairs to his room and grabbed his trunk. It popped open after scanning his DNA and he pulled out a slim pistol. Closing his trunk he quickly headed back down to the main room.
Some of the inn’s customers had left, the others sat at tables or milled around uncertainly. Mikel still stood near Felix’s body, wringing his hands. The soft conversations all stopped again as Carl entered the room.
He walked over to stand by the corpse on the floor, gently moved Mikel back. Taking his pistol out he activated it, tuned it to ultra-violet wavelengths and fired at the body. The versatile laser weapon emitted a strong blast of ultra-violet, the overspill into the visible spectrum causing everyone except Carl to turn away. His eyes automatically compensated, toning the searing beam down to merely bright.
Within seconds the body of Felix seemed to catch fire. As Mikel had described the body burnt. In fact Carl felt imploded would be a better description. Seconds later there was only ash.
Carl was already in trouble. If word of this ever got out he’d be neck deep without a paddle. Using advanced technology in sight of the natives on a class three world. Killing a native, however diseased, on the same world. He needed to get back to his ship now, lay low for the few days before they broke orbit and hope none of his crew mates got to hear of his antics. And he really, really mustn’t interfere any more.
Looking up, into the faces of those around him, he saw fear warring with hope. Many were in tears, the agony of any glimmer of hope almost too much to cope with. Carl made his decision. He turned to Mikel.
“Which way to the castle? I’ve got some Vampires to kill!”