Sue Phillips is a small author of small stories that bite back. She is unique in having won the Supreme Terror Scribe award on two separate occasions, first for 'The Dark Mirror' and this year for 'Images of Angels'. She is a Terror Scribe of the most enthusiastic kind, attending and hosting gatherings whenever she can. She has also organised raffles at these gatherings that have netted hundreds of pounds for various charities, for which she thanks all scribes who donated books and artwork as prizes. Sue Phillips has made her mark in the non-fiction market as well, with numerous articles and six books to her credit so far and two more books due to be published by autumn 2003. Her collection of short stories, The Waldorf Street Paradox, is set to be published by Rainfall Books in 2004, and she is currently editing a second collection of Drabble (100 wd) stories and poems.
Chalice's lip curled in annoyance as she surveyed the destruction. The doors had been levered open with a piece of iron, and a spider lay on its back. Ichor oozed from the joints where its legs had been severed and scattered in the debris. Almost all of her possessions lay smashed on the stone floor. There had even been an attempt to force open the lid of her coffin, and, though the magic had held firm, the disruption had been sufficient to waken the Thirst.
'Mortal brats,' she hissed, flinging the legs at a patch of slime on the wall and picking up the tiny limbless body. She swallowed it whole. At least the faint life energy it contained would sustain her for a little while until she had found something better.
Flicking some dust from the folds of her black silken cloak, Chalice ran death pale fingers quickly through her hair, smoothing a tangle or two as she went. Just for a moment, she envied mortals their ability to see their own reflections, then she recalled the desecration of her home and envied them no more.
Cautiously she left the safety of the tomb, keeping to the shadows and dark places. It was not long before she discovered a spider's nest contained in a neat web. The mortal brats had been here too; she could smell them. Chalice wondered why they had taken the trouble to break into her crypt to dismember a spider when there were countless opportunities for destruction available to them here in plain view. Humans! There was no understanding them. Carefully clipping the twig to which it was attached with her finger and thumbnails, she slipped the spider's nest behind her ear, where the tiny globules of arachnid adhesive fixed it securely. A footfall startled her and she slipped silently into the shadows. A human passed by only an arm's length away but did not perceive her. He was adult, but only just. He wore his virility around him like a second skin, his vigour drawing Chalice like a moth to a flame. A murmur escaped her and he paused, peering into the gloom.
'Who's there?' It was the light voice of a young man, confirming her first impression. Chalice sighed. How often she had longed to taste such as this. The Thirst burned ice cold in her now, and, for the first time ever, she gave in to the only desire that could ever destroy her.
'Who's there?' the young man demanded again. 'Show yourself, or take the consequences. I'm not alone, my friends are just behind.' The lie glowed crimson around him and Chalice smiled, choosing a small girlish voice for herself.
'I'm lost,' she called helplessly, still shrouded in shadow, 'and I've twisted my ankle. Please help me.'
The youth made to step out in her direction, then hesitated.
'Show yourself first. I've heard tales of this place. Show yourself and I'll help you.'
'I can't.' The wail sounded genuine, even to Chalice. 'I've hurt my ankle and I can't get up. Please, I'm so frightened.' She paused, then added encouragingly: 'If you'll only give me your arm, I'm sure I could stand.'
He seemed to accept this and stepped forward, reaching out a hand in the direction of her voice. 'Where are you?' He asked, softly. He bent down, his face only inches from her own as he tried to make out her outline. 'What's a young thing like you doing out so late? Your mama will be worried to death.'
'I have no mama.' She allowed him to draw her to her feet, but immediately toppled over, pulling him down with her.
For a split second, he knew. Then the Thirst gave Chalice renewed strength and she was upon him, straddling his belly. He tried to struggle, tried to cry out, but she had him in her thrall and there was an end to his will, only hers held sway. Her desires now his sole reason for existence. Chalice laughed victoriously as she clawed at his clothes, the talons of her nails ripping fabric and flesh indiscriminately, exulting in his pain until they found what they sought. As she drew his manhood into her, her head dropped to his neck, kissing, nuzzling, urging him on. He was lost to all reason as his body responded, his heat warming her chill. Her mouth opened a little more, razor sharp incisors sought out the pulsating blood vessel, scraping lightly at the skin.
Not yet, not yet.
His breath was coming in short gasps.
Her fingers moved over him, exciting him further until she knew he was at the height of his passion and it was time to slake the Thirst. Her passion matching his own now, she sank her fangs hard into the thundering vein below his jaw, feeling his life flowing into her mouth as his seed flowed into her long dead womb.
'Chalice is filled,' she murmured as she rose from him.
The young man did not move. His strength was now hers and it was time to finish what she had set off to accomplish. It had been many years since she had shape shifted. The energy required was usually far in excess of any benefits the change might bring. Chalice spread the leathery wings and fluttered out into the night. Her senses a hundred times more sensitive now.
The village posed no threat. Small bats flitted across the night sky, catching moths and gnats. One more aroused no interest. The night was balmy and windows were open and unshuttered, making it easier than Chalice could have hoped. The first house she found almost immediately. The child was asleep, his face bright with dreams as she dropped noiselessly onto the pillow. Retaining her bat form, she crept forward until she could feel the warmth of his blood. He did not even stir as her fangs sliced into his vein. This annoyed Chalice. This brat should be in terror of her, not blissful in his ignorance! She took revenge then not only for herself, but for the spider and was gone before his screams had even begun to disturb the child's family. In less than half an hour she had wreaked her vengeance on every one of the interlopers. Now she lay in her grave, still as death, smiling at the thought of the weeping parents, left to care for their deranged limbless offspring.
The debt was now paid.
Father Jerome, the parish priest was kept busy for some time consoling the families and doing what little he could for the children. There was no clue as the perpetrator of this atrocity, except for the presence of newly hatched spiders on the face of one, James Cribbs. His dementia seemed worst of all, although none of the children could gather their shattered wits sufficiently to utter a single comprehensible phrase. Father Jerome was not helped by the fact that his new curate had failed to arrive. He was to have taken up his new position on the very day that the attacks had occurred.
On the seventh day after the atrocities, Father Jerome's housekeeper announced he had a visitor, a widow who lived on the outskirts of the village, known to one and all as Smelly Gurney.
Jerome nodded. 'Ask the good wife to wait a while. Perhaps we could offer her a plate of something?'
The housekeeper did not try to hide her disapproval. 'The old bat's stinking out my kitchen and you want me to encourage her?'
Father Jerome rebuked her gently. 'We are all God's children, Emma, even Mariel Gurney.'
Presently, the old woman was shown into the cramped study, where she sat facing Father Jerome across his small desk. Jerome tried to breathe only shallowly as he waited for her to begin. At length, anxious to be rid of the smell, he said:
'Something is amiss, I think Mrs Gurney. Presumably I can help.'
She opened and closed her mouth several times before she managed to form any words. Finally, seeming to set herself, she began.
'There's been some trouble.'
'There has. Four children mutilated and left insane.' He scrutinised her face. 'Do you know something about it?'
'Tcha!' she spat derisively. 'What would an old woman know about things that happened half a mile away? I'm here about your assistant. The curate.'
'I have no assistant. He did not arrive.'
'Of course he didn't. The lad's at my cottage. Thought he was going to die on me, but he's getting stronger now. Time for you to come and fetch him.'
'He's been ill then?'
'You'll see for yourself when you come.'
'But I must know - does he need a physician? You said he nearly died.'
'So he did, but now he lives and I want him out of my house.'
'Very well,' said Jerome, 'I'll send for him at once.'
'Better come yourself. You wouldn't want others to see him as he is and I can do without all the talk that's bound to follow.'
'My good woman, enough has happened here to keep a dozen gossips busy for years. Your business will assuredly remain your own.'
'I still want you to come alone. Things aren't-'she hesitated, 'simple. I shall expect you before dark. You'll not manage him so well once night's fallen.' The widow took her leave, impressing upon him before she went the importance of confidentiality.
Dusk was beginning to fall before Jerome had time to think of the errant curate and Mariel Gurney was peering out of the window when Father Jerome's pony trap drew up. She flung the door wide and addressed him impatiently.
'I told you to be here afore dark!'
'I cannot live my life just for your convenience, good woman. I came as soon as I was able.'
'Well, you'll wish you'd come sooner.'
'I won't detain you any longer. Where is my curate?'
The old woman jerked her head toward the interior and stood aside to let the priest pass. Inside, the cottage was gloomy and there was the same offensive stench that she had brought to his study. Jerome pressed his kerchief to his nose, glad that he had taken the precaution of sprinkling it with a little cologne before leaving his house. In the dim light from a single candle, he could just make out a small table set close to the fireplace. Beside the table was the shadowy form of a young man. He appeared agitated and paced the small room restlessly, unaware of the priest.
'That's how it starts,' muttered the old woman quietly. By the time dark falls, he'll be raving. I couldn't tell you this morning, no telling who was listening. I had enough when I lost my husband.'
'What's wrong with him?'
'He's been got at.'
'I take it you are insinuating that my curate has been attacked in some way. I can't see how that could cause the behaviour you describe.'
Mariel Gurney cleared her throat and spat into the tangle of weeds near her door. 'Don't play the fool, preacher! You've worked hereabouts for nigh on forty years. You remember when it happened before. Five years it lasted and made a widow of me. It's started worse this time, but this may only be the beginning. You could have stopped it then, but you shut your eyes to what was going on. This time the trouble's closer to home. You know you must stop it now.'
Jerome pulled his cloak a little tighter around him. The air was suddenly cold. 'It is a well known fact that your husband left you years ago. Had anything happened to him, a body would have been found, which it was not. I'll take my curate now.' He felt in his pocket and pulled out some coins. 'Here is something for your trouble.'
She took the money, clinking it in her hand. 'You know the truth as well as me.' She glanced up at the sky. 'It's too dark to travel safely. Does anyone else know you're here?'
'Stay until sunrise then, he'll be easier to manage in daylight.'
The thought of staying the night in that stinking room decided Jerome. 'You have been most kind, Mrs Gurney, but I really cannot impose on you any more.'
'Look at him! Do you really think you'll get ten yards? In any case, I don't want to be blamed when they find you bled dry in the middle of the road'
'Will you stop spouting your superstitions, woman? I am leaving now and my curate is coming with me.'
Mariel Gurney glared fiercely at him, then shrugged her thin shoulders. 'Very well, take him, if you must, it's your neck. I want nothing more to do with you!'
Jerome approached the young man. 'David,' he said gently, 'my name is Father Jerome. I have come to take you to your new home.' He stretched out his hand. 'Come now.'
The curate's eyes were wild and he backed away from the priest.
'Grail,' he muttered, 'I filled the unholyest of grails. Oh, God, what have I done?' He fell to the floor, where he sat, head in hands. 'What have I done. Filled the unholy grail. No, no. It wasn't real.'
'David,' Jerome tried again. 'David, come now, it's time to leave here.'
'Yes, leave here. You will help me to find her. Where is she; have you seen her?'
Jerome was perplexed. 'Seen who?'
Mariel Gurney grabbed the young man's hair, pulling his head back roughly. 'Tell us her name, boy. What's her name?'
'Where is she,' raved the curate, 'have you seen her?' Then, a look of realisation came over him. 'Oh, God, God save me! What have I done. No, it was just a dream. I'm dreaming now, aren't I? It didn't really happen?'
'Her name? We can do nothing without her name.'
Shocked, Jerome tried to pull her hand away. 'Let him be! Come, David, we must leave now.'
'Fool,' snapped the old woman, 'you can't escape your duty this time. You know what's out there just as well as I do. Why do you think the place reeks to high heaven with garlic? Think I've enjoyed living in this stench all these years? You're a priest, exorcise the boy and destroy what torments him. Let me live out my old age in peace.'
Jerome shook his head, spreading his hands helplessly. 'How? If I knew, don't you think I would have done something already?'
Mariel Gurney released the curate's hair and his head fell forward. 'Help me bind him.'
'You - you're not going to torture him?'
'Old fool! He'll injure himself, or try to run back to it if we don't tie him. Now, help me.' The curate was duly trussed. He made no objection, a part of him seeming almost to welcome the bindings.
Within minutes, though, he was struggling and crying out. Jerome became increasingly concerned as the struggles became more violent.
'This cannot be right. We must release him.'
'No! Let him be. It's the kindest thing. In the morning, he'll be himself again. He may tell us then.'
'How can you be so sure he knows?'
'I made it my business to learn about vampires after what happened to my Harry. I was too late to save him, but this boy might live. At any rate he'll lead us to it, then you can do what needs to be done.'
'I don't know what to do!' Jerome exploded, exasperated. 'Don't you understand; I don't know!'
The old woman did not seem to be listening. 'We need the name. Nothing can be made permanent without that.'
'What makes you so sure this poor fellow knows it?'
'Vampires are governed by strict rules. If they take, they must give. This one took his lifeblood and his virtue. Came close to taking his life. For that, it must have given him the key to its own destruction. That is the knowledge of its name. We just have to get it out of him.'
'What about the children; would she have told them?'
'From what I hear, there'll be no sense from them for some time. We must act now, before any more innocents suffer.'
'He keeps talking about an unholy grail. Might that have some bearing-?'
The old woman's face lit up. 'Of course. Not such an old fool, then. They often take names of objects used in rituals. Grail, isn't that something to do with the church?'
'It means cup. The Holy Grail was the vessel our Lord drank from at the last supper.'
'Then, there you have it. The creature's name must be Grail. It must be. Do you have your bible?'
'Then perhaps it can be settled tonight. Let him loose and he'll be drawn back to the creature. We'll follow him at a safe distance and wait for morning. When the sun rises, we can drive a wooden stake through its heart. All you'll have to do is a straightforward exorcism, calling upon it by name. Simple!'
The Thirst was still upon Chalice, and she was close to the cottage when the young man came out, closely followed by the evil smelling old woman and the priest. She watched the youth, wondering whether he would sense her nearness. To begin with, he moved haphazardly, but then, his senses seemed to become attuned and he was striding hurriedly in her direction. Uncertain of the power of the other two, Chalice changed form and took off, heading back towards the safety of her crypt. He followed, calling after her and her desire for him began to grow. Her destiny was now tied to his. She could smell the old man's fear now, see it glowing yellow. He posed no threat. The woman, though. She was dangerous. Vengeance created its own debts. Chalice took her own form once again and hid in the shadow of a hedgerow. Unerringly, the youth turned to her, his face alight with desire. She took his hand and pulled him hurriedly to her crypt, sealing his lips with the touch of a finger. It was less than an hour to dawn when Chalice regained the safety of her own soil, where once again, she tasted the sweetness of him, slightly tarnished now. She slept, then.
There was pain, awful, searing pain. Chalice screamed and fought off the attack. The priest was clutching a crucifix and repeating a word over and over again. The woman was forcing a wooden stake into Chalice's body. In fury, she ripped the wood out and flung the woman across the room. The priest held his crucifix in front of him, terrified. Chalice took that, too and threw it on the floor. She hated daylight, it hurt every fibre of her body, but she had to deal with these intruders. The woman was slowly getting to her feet. Chalice flicked the stake and it embedded itself in her belly, knocking her back against the fetid wall. Then she turned to the priest. He had sunk to his knees, begging for mercy. Well, mercy was not his by right. She dragged him towards her, baring her fangs.
She turned in surprise. The one whose sweetness she had so recently enjoyed dragged himself unsteadily to his feet. His eyes were dull, but the insanity was gone from them and she feared the power she had given him over her.
Chalice released the priest, throwing him down with such force that his skull split on the cold stone floor. But the old man did not die. His curate knelt down beside him and lifted his head slightly, before sweeping his fingers into the gaping crack and pulling out globs of blood and brain tissue, which he pushed hungrily into his mouth. Chalice left him to his first feed as one of the undead and turned her attention to the other one. The woman was still alive, but death was creeping quickly toward her. Chalice pulled out the stake and greedily guzzled the blood that gushed into the wound. As the old woman's eyes glazed over, chalice put her lips close to her ear.
'Garlic is unpleasant, I grant you, but had I wanted anything of you in the past, do you really think a few bulbs would have stopped me? And as for your holy friend; what defence are crosses and prayers against one who sleeps within the grounds of a church? She stood up, picking a blood clot from between her fangs and smoothing it onto the wall, a bright scarlet smear on decaying brown slime. Shapeless shadows squirmed forward to devour it, then melted back into the ooze which was already beginning to digest the remains of the old woman and was surging towards the body of the priest.
Chalice turned to her lover. 'Come, my sweet, let us sleep now, until the cool of night, then you shall choose your new name.'
(C) Sue Phillips 2002
© Paul Kane 2003-2018. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.