By Mike Hickman
Janson rode through the black. His steed, freshly acquired from a sleepy costermonger who’d had the bad fortune of staying the night in the same inn, seemed appreciative of the need for stealth. Either that or it was as ‘shagged out’ as Grotowski had said it was when the pair of them had first spied it. No poetry in him, that man. Janson’s squire, as ever, would have preferred to move in the morning; waiting no doubt until some nobleman with a finer beast checked in. Janson, however, could not wait, and Grotowski slept on, dreaming perhaps of the day when this mission was over, which, Janson had told him, and would tell him again, was the wrong dream. The mission would never be over. There were as many creatures for Janson to attend to as there were villages and, where the villagers were too afraid to embrace what needed to be done, they needed someone like him to take charge of the situation for them. They needed the quiver that was slung over his shoulder. They needed the stakes within.
Most especially as they had no idea how to use them.
The woods were known locally as the Black Park. Grotowski had joked that such places were always called something pointedly dank and ominous. But Janson had to leave before dawn. He needed to arrive at the Karnstein house bare moments after the creatures returned to their tombs. It was, he’d told his friend, all a matter of timing.
‘Harker waited until it was nearly dark. He went down there, into the crypt, all tooled up, and it was already twilight. Who does that, Grot? Come on. It’s like he wanted to be bitten.’
‘No, no, no. This is a Hammer movie we’re talking here. It was broad daylight. And night fell in, like, three minutes when he got down there. You can’t blame the poor bastard for that. I’d blame the director myself. Or the editor.’
The horse nickered as it picked up the scent. Its breathing, more anxious now than shagged out, might, in itself, attract attention, Janson thought, and he needed to perform these last moves carefully. Not as Harker had done. Not with the fear of sunset descending as he lifted the stake.
Good movie, though.
‘I worry, Mrs Janson. If you ask me, your son’s showing signs of obsession. Not that he should be watching these things at all. They should be well past his bedtime.’
Running water. Useful for trapping these creatures. As long as the screenwriter paid attention to his folklore. Leaving the horse tied up by a handily positioned trough that, thinking about it, he was sure he had also seen in Curse of the Werewolf, Janson made over the footbridge that he remembered from Plague of the Zombies and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The quiver with its load of freshly sharpened stakes clattered at his side and he stopped, adjusted the strap and tried not to think of school satchels and bullies and exercise books upended onto the tarmac.
‘I’m pleased that he’s writing now, Mrs Janson, don’t get me wrong. He’s got a good turn of phrase. I’d just rather he wasn’t quite so enamoured with the blood and guts. I worry where this might be heading for him.’
Janson wrenched at the bolts on the heavy door. It gave on the second push, letting out the dank, peaty, vaguely petrichor and iron-tinged smell of the undead. Grotowski would complain, reach for that ridiculous handkerchief of his and make a show of his disgust. He was better left dreaming.
She complained, did Mrs Mills, to his mum, and to anyone else she thought might have influence over him. She especially complained when she caught him talking about the movies to his friends – tempting them to tune in to the late night horror on the BBC – but she still marked him highly for his use of language, as if she didn’t know where it came from. Or didn’t care as long as he didn’t tell her.
Which, of course, he did.
The stone lid scraped against the base of the tomb and Janson could wonder about the strength necessary to have put it in place. Janson could wonder, too, at the no time at all it had taken for the creature within, its scarlet-tinged lips still wet, to acquiesce to its slumber. But it was best not to question such things. He could leave it to Grotowski to find the continuity errors. His friend would laugh at the bats on strings, dismissing it all as cheap and cheerful nonsense and yet enjoying it all the same. What he couldn’t understand was people taking it too seriously – and that included those who’d make it a judgement on your character, liking such stuff. That said more about them, he’d say to Janson. They needed to get out more. And Grotowski was very happy for them to do so, especially if it meant that his friend might cease having to prove his point.
Just ahead of the sunrise, exactly as he had planned, Janson brought up the stake in his right hand. If the villagers wouldn’t deal with these creatures themselves – if they were too frightened, too cowed, to stake them even though it was their effect on him that they worried about most – then he would have to do it.
If Mrs Mills or his mum or the rest wanted these things out of his head, then he would have to do it.
If Grotowski thought it too comical to take them seriously, then he would have to do it.
Eyes flittered open beneath him.
Carmine coloured lips twitched into something approximating a smile.
Janson held the stake firm.
In one deft move, he reversed its direction.
‘Go on, then, you beautiful bastard,’ he said, ‘stake me again.’
Mike Hickman (@MikeHic13940507) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.