Paolo Bicchieri is a Chicano author, journalist, and poet writing for folks on the margins. His work can be found in Sprudge, formercactus, Headway Literary, WordLitZine, Women's Labyrinth Magazine, and various more. He likes his family and Finding Dory.
Judas: America Bound
Chapter 1 – Paolo
“So it goes.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Smog seemed to be everything. It hung over the massive throng of heads like a clotted blood vessel, congesting and contorting an inch or three from the wealthiest traveler’s stove top hats. It seemed to Judas Sycamore that maybe the hot air forever caught in the heads of those bank rolling gents’ heads was finally escaping, maneuvering through their stove top hats, and that it was only a façade that the enormous vessel docked to the English port was the culprit.
Judas peered past the lip of the hand he’d stationed on his brow and saw the first, largest smoke stack on the U.S.S. Valhalla. It was red, but had become a tired pink from the bearing of the sun. It now bore the color of the inside of a cat’s mouth.
Judas shuffled forward, up the ramp that scraped the street’s stubbly surface. Forlorn calls of jilted loves, the stinging smell of flayed fish, and gull shit stockpiling thicker than concrete. Judas hated docks. They were like blight.
The shuffling man noticed how long it had been since he’d last set forth for the states. A forgetful smile irked his face as he reminded himself that’s what they were calling themselves now. Judas respected what people favored to be called; only beasts don’t get to pick their lot.
Judas wiped back his hair, pushing back invalidated brown curls over the crest of his head to join the masses. Judas lit a cigarette and found a seat past a giddy huddle that had formed at the stern of the ship.
Judas wasn’t clear on why folk got so excited to watch brothers, mothers, lovers shrink into tiny, unrecognizable dots. It seemed too introspective a practice to the man.
An unrealistically old man dressed in a bad seaman’s costume came to ask Judas for his ticket. Smoke snaked into Judas’ mustache when he revealed the piece of paper concealed in his pocket. It too was doing a bad job of seeming important, like the archaic man with the faded elbow patches who examined its authenticity. Smiling a tepid smile, and with a welcome aboard I’ll take your bags come with me, Judas was restored his ticket.
“You take to sea travel much?” The old man spoke in an odd, detached way. Judas wasn’t a fan.
“I haven’t sailed in a while, if that’s what you mean.”
The two descended a clanging ream of stairs. Judas heard the balk of a horn. It was loud enough to wake the dead, and brought a hum to Judas’ teeth like electricity. The Valhalla lurched to life.
“Oh that’s fine,” A gummy set of keys appeared in the leathery hand of the attendant, and eventually he produced Judas’ key.
“I like to think so too,” Judas stepped into his quarters. For four days and three nights these four walls and love stained bunk were his. Glamorous.
A dull thud and a screwy springing rung out when the man dropped Judas’ two cases on the bed. The man groaned with relief as the bed had groaned with ache. The room was plain with a steel desk carrying a few pamphlets. “The Columns Hotel – Oil Creek’s finest luxury suite,” “Don’t get held up at Ellis Island! Fill out this form now!”
Judas saw the ocean acting flippant as ever from the edge of his bunk. The old man stopped at the door.
“Tea this evening?”
“That’s fine, right. Dinner’s at six.” The man moved past the open frame and was gone from Judas’ view in an instant. Judas smoked.
If it wasn’t business it was pleasure that had kept Judas in Europe so long. Judas didn’t see much of a difference between the two generally, though he found it easier to decipher when he ate such delicacies as decomposing broccoli florets and cold, thin tomato soup on a business venture. The eight stale crackers tasted like sand, and had the texture of age.
The dining quarters were a floor beneath Judas’ room, room 212, almost exactly. Earlier in the afternoon Judas had heard a metallic clanging, a pause, and a symphony of male yelling and female screaming. It was all yawping.
Judas had worn a blue jacket. He felt thematically appropriate, and wore blue trousers to match. A white button shirt and red suspenders completed his ensemble, though he would have stayed in his room had he known the turnout for dinner, not to mention the dinner itself.
The dining hall had ebbed and flowed in the worst way. Nearly every passenger decided Judas was the one to push, bump, and stampede as they filled their bowls, and also that his table was the best choice of location to hold counsel at over supper. There seemed to be no dames, only mothers and mothers of mothers. People eat like pigs with slop in general, so when presented with legitimate slop Judas couldn’t blame them for crashing into their meals and scuttling away. The dining hall was then reduced to a low lit, rectangular theater for Judas and the remaining travelers to pay witness to the drama that ensued between the dining staff as to who would be the one to truly clean up that soup, because I didn’t drop it Lysa, well I wouldn’t have dropped it if…
Remaining only was the man in his red, white, and blue outfit, a mother with two unimportant children and a bottle of pungent whiskey, the same two old men playing chess that appear at every park, nursing home, and apparently boat dining hall, a gang of young buck teens, and a long, black haired woman.
But she wasn’t a woman. Judas at first was deceived by his lack of attention, but now he saw the wide, thick shoulders, edges of a ragged beard, and the unmistakable stench of a dock worker. Tendrils of the stench wafted to Judas and he was reminded of the gull shit and fish. The gaping mouths of the dead fish loomed all the way from port, and also from the thick shouldered man, stirring his soup.
When he stood to discard the remains of his meal, Judas saw him truly. Savage beard. Taller than a Great Dane on his hind legs. Angrier than a zealot proved false. And a nautical man, perhaps a mariner.
Judas made note.
The next day opened and closed with bells and whistles. Judas felt like he was in boot camp again, and like in boot camp the rigidity and simultaneous feeling of total lack thereof made Judas feel like day and night colluded against him to create infinity.
A bell to ring in breakfast, and whistles to have the denizens of the U.S.S. Valhalla return to their quarters.
Judas sat in his quarters in his shorts. He rifled through the contents of his first suitcase; laying out clothes for tomorrow, procuring his toothbrush, his hair wax. He spent another night resting only when his eyes quit. It helped to pray, not that Judas was a holy man.
A bell to ring in breakfast.
Judas wore a black jacket today, one with three polished buttons that ran from below his chest to his waist. The wind told Judas to perk up his collar as he stepped from his room to the deck. The soles of Judas’ shoes gripped the walk.
A bowl of oats was given to Judas from across a metal counter in the dining hall. Lysa directed him towards a vat of boiling water with a point. Her finger was as sad as anything else about the cook to Judas. It was just the closest sad thing to him, so it stood out. Judas asked for brown sugar to accompany his hot grains, and he was given a dollop.
The traveler sat alone, as he had been able to do since his first encounter with the other passengers. It had felt like trying to drink the soup in a cage underwater, and the redness of the soup had attracted doped sharks.
It worked to simply eat on one of the small benches on the outside wall of the dining hall. There were four, and they faced the vast domain of whales and other heavy creatures. There were four portholes, one by each bench, shaped and stylized like a life preserver ring. Judas was keenly aware of the knowledge that, over his left shoulder, he could look in and see the image of a man who has lost his joy to the sea, the one with the savage beard and the rage of a fanatic scorned.
The group of teens was out on the deck, and they were laughing like they did. The ring leader, Ben was his name (or so Judas understood), was going on about his trip to Albania again. He himself could still not believe how many dishes of macadamia nuts he had eaten with Denise, nor how many he eventually ate off of her breasts. If only there’d been more liquor, he joked, then perhaps he would have eaten them from elsewhere. The other boys always laughed, always patted him on the back. They were young enough for it, the man in the black jacket thought.
Ben took a seat by Judas on the bench, and by doing so thoroughly surprised Judas, who often considered himself aware of the possible outcomes of scenarios etching through the ice around him. He was quite sure that in this case, Ben was going to tell the one about carving pumpkins in the Alps with Angelica. Pumpkin seeds got everywhere.
“Hey, chap.” Ben smiled. Ben had the sandy look of a fine beach goer, from his tanned skin to his expensive watch. Ben managed to dash in the exuberance and shades of a beach goer, with the fineness that money provided as a foundation.
“’Morning.” Judas replied.
“You’re riding alone, man?” Ben asked, “I see you camping out on your lonesome near each time you come up deck side.”
“I am, and I can’t say I mind.” Judas said.
“I’m sorry, I- Do you want me to go, then? I can bugger off.” Ben asked. He was young enough for it.
“Did I say so?” Judas asked.
“Do you smoke?” Judas offered him a cigarette.
Ben produced a handsome burgundy pipe. It was carved to look like a man’s hand held the bowl in its curved palm.
Ben next struck a match against his leg and, with boyish care, lit his pipe’s cargo.
“Excellent.” Judas said. He wondered what creatures lay below. Surely fish, but were there dolphins?
“What have you got in the states?” Ben asked. He coughed.
“Enterprise, an opportunity. Yourself?”
“Enterprise too. Gold.”
“Yeah, my dad’s got-“ Ben’s friends had noticed his absence during their perpetual jostling and cursing and harkened for him to return. “You want to join my mates and me during dinner tonight? We sit-“
“I’ve seen. I’d be glad to join.”
“Great. See you then.”
A bell to ring in dinner. It was porridge, and Judas was sure that it was the oats from breakfast thickened up a bit with lord knows what. It could have been lard that was churned in, but Judas decided to think it was cream instead. The kitchen had been a cacophony of abusive chirps during the afternoon is all he knew for sure.
Ben’s friends and he were already at their seats near the exit, toasting each other like kings. Judas didn’t want to join them, but he knew what it was to be a man whose word was less than pitch, so he joined.
“Good to see you, man!” Ben’s confidence was swollen with his companions, and hell, maybe he’d been drinking. If booze got him with Denise it could surely woo the man in the striking jackets.
“Hey.” Judas said as he busied himself with porridge.
“What were you on about, Alan?” Ben struck up conversation better than his dad did, by god, and that’s why he’d make a fine head of company someday, wouldn’t he boys?
“Valhalla’s Angel, I was saying!” A black haired boy tumbled his words out like he had cotton stuffed in his cheeks.
“Oh come off it, Alan!” An oafish boy with a close shave of a haircut rolled his eyes and struck his meal with a spoon.
“The angel’s real, Tom, and he ain’t nice either. This boy’s no St. Michael, no siree.” Alan sat back on the bench, and reveled in the eye flickering he had obtained from Judas. Judas complimented his ego and took his bait.
“What do you mean about an angel on board?” Judas asked.
“Oh, it’s not really an angel, folk only say that on account of the ship’s name.” Alan leaned in towards Judas. Judas could smell his youth. It smelt like a pack of baseball cards and upset sex. “Do you know much about wights?”
“Ghouls? Ghosts? Wights?”
“I can’t say that I do.” Judas regretted having only packed nice clothes for this trip. They didn’t belong.
“Well they’re as real as this porridge man, and as scary too!” Alan collected big laughs on that one. “No, no fellows let me tell him.” He was taking Ben’s role as entertainer for the duration of the meal and Ben was relieved.
“There are all SORTS of spooky things from stories that are even scarier than this grub.”
“Alan’d know, his grandpa’s from old country.”
“Shut up, let him talk!”
“Right, I’d know, and I know that plenty of these wights take up a haunt. A keep, a castle, a bog, whatever. You with me, man?” Alan conjured a flask and drank deeply, and it was only a testament to his boyhood when his face puckered and his eyes squinted.
“Yeah.” Judas said.
“Sometimes a wight finds it can set up a haunt somewhere people go all the time. I mean, if you only ate chickens you’d live in a coop right? Well wights get to thinking sometimes, when they’re smart enough, or maybe lucky enough, and they stay in a hotel, or a train, or a-“
“A boat.” Ben was taking back his identity. If he didn’t pipe up, who’d remember him?
“There’s a wight on board?” Judas asked.
“Oh man, not any old spectre or zombie. There’s a bloody vampire in the boiler werks man.” Alan assured him.
“Oh?” Judas asked. He was done with his meal now.
“There’s a vampire on this ship. He’ll eat you up. Well, not up. He’ll just mangle you and eat the best bits.” Alan chewed some porridge, which had congealed by now. “Yeah. I’m damn glad to have these legionnaires with me,” patting the oafish boy on the back, “I can’t imagine sailing on the Valhalla alone, but I guess you can! Rotten luck!” Alan almost spit up his porridge and laughed, as did the boys, and Judas excused himself.
Judas kicked his way down the clanging steps in the darkness of sea. Ben called to him.
“Alan’s full of it, but hey, if you want to know what I think,” Judas didn’t, “I think there’s got to be something malignant on board. You’ve read the print. I’m in room 410; feel free to stop by, really. We’ll just be smoking and stuff.”
“Thanks, Ben.” Judas fished for his key and moved to his bed.
Ben was right. The U.S.S. Valhalla had gotten enough attention for its theft, rape, and murder from its maiden voyage to starkly lower its value as a voyage. Pickpockets, vagrants, and general rabble rousers had serendipitously populated the first trip, and due to the press, the same classes now could afford the tickets to ride. Teens with admonition for their parents too.
Judas had appreciated Ben’s compassion. Unfortunately, Alan too was right.
There was a vampire on board the Valhalla.
Probably in the boiler werks.
But Judas already knew that.
Whistles blew out across the ship, and through 212’s door window Judas saw an employee stroll by with a shiny whistle in his mouth. It was the old man, and he waved an old hand at Judas. Judas waved back, and smiled. Then, once the ship had gone to sleep, he lit a candle and opened his cases.
Like each night, he set out his clothes for the next morning, brushed his teeth, and waxed his hair. However, unlike the first two nights, Judas opened his second case.
Neatly placed in the case, for though he was not holy he was neat, was a vial of holy water with a big cross on the small flagon. Next to it was a fine silver dagger. The hilt was black, a hewn leather that had been held over and over, and gripped well. Below them both was a compound crossbow, small in stature, with six quarrels that had red feathers. Judas had bought the crossbow from a fat man in Cairo who smelt like moss.
Judas took the three items from the first level of the case. Below this level was his Bible Codex, a tome that Judas owed his life to more than most children owe theirs to their mothers. It included a copy of Gideon’s work and some rudimentary incantations, plus Judas’ foot notes.
As he unbuttoned his jacket and took up the clothes he had set out, a thin mesh of chain and a doublet of brown leather, he remembered the additional parcel.
Though Judas had not dealt with a vampire in recent time, he had remembered what was basic: a small pouch of garlic, three cloves, a ragged bit of elm he had fashioned into a stake, and a compact mirror. Judas had found that seeing a vacant mirror looking back at them could oft times cause a vampire to wax nostalgic on its humanity. This provided a great chance to kill the creature that had once been like Judas. Judas felt sad for vampires, always.
Judas buttoned his jacket, all three polished buttons, over his meager defense that he wore. He wore denim pants, and laced up boots that were brown. Work clothes, and he loaded his crossbow, then set the instrument on the bed. In his back pocket he crammed his stake, and through a loop on his pants his knife. The front left packet religiously got his religious water, and he stuffed the garlic in the opposite pocket.
From his second suit case Judas brought out a small satchel, and into it he put the compact mirror, his book with pages singed by demon fire, and his wooden compound bow, that had six quarrels with red feathers to accentuate it. In the satchel there was already a candle and a book of matches, and Judas was thankful.
With greasy, wax hands Judas mussed his hair, moved the chair from its propped place under the door knob back to the desk. Bashfully, he remembered to anoint his blade with the holy water, and to leave his bag unzipped, but only a small bit.
Judas was nervous, so he said a prayer. He had never done this type of thing on a boat before.
Everything seemed like smog. A candle gave Judas no dexterity, so he trundled in the dark.
The clanging steps were as raucous as ever, but Judas was able to clear them quickly, and with all the tact of that same church mouse.
The U.S.S. Valhalla had a main deck, where Judas had eaten his meals, and then four passenger levels descending to the belly of the beast, the bowels of the shuddering hulk. Though Judas wasn’t sure how a sea faring vampire would compare to its terrestrial cousin, the castle and the cave dweller, he thought it seemed that the boiler werks indeed were the darkest, dampest locale for a wight who no doubt viewed this pinnacle of human engineering as its domain and its personal killing fields.
The stumbler in the dark intended to remind the creature that this was man’s domain.
Judas grabbed on to the railing as the ship swung with the waves, or perhaps it was a whale caressing the side of the ship. Judas smiled.
The clanging steps led to the ship’s lowest stowage hold, and though it was dark, the water rolling about his ankles was a murky gray in the black, and that reassured Judas. He fondled his way along the wall until he struck gold, maybe Ben’s gold, in the form of a latch. He allowed himself in.
Judas sat himself against the door and felt cold iron. The hall before him, or so he assumed it was, was black obsidian, and as sharp. Judas lit his candle, and saw that it was not a hall but a stair case at his feet. Standing, and with an assuring twitch of his mustache, Judas plummeted, step by step.
Descent took a hundred years. As he dropped below sea level, Judas got colder and colder, so that he felt like it was not a ship he was walking through but an ice box.
The steps continued, and every now and again would level off and provide either a bit of alien machinery with gauges and dials, or another door. Judas chose the stairs again and again.
Judas came to a floor where there was a large menagerie of boiling technologies. Gaskets cheered, and orange flows met his candle’s to make a less sinister light. Still, the machines felt like titans, and Judas a peasant.
Once, a draft attacked him on the stairs, and his candle’s flame died. Judas controlled his breathing, but hurriedly sought out his book of matches. A laugh, high and clear, and mad, caught him like a little devil on the shoulder. The laugh rolled until his fingers eventually made out the matches. The match struck, and the candle took it, and he ventured on. Madness is no stranger to Judas Sycamore.
The stairs finally ended, and abruptly. Judas found himself at odds with a final door; no machinery, and hardly space to stand. Judas thought it’d be nice if a dolphin was right outside the aluminum wall; blissfully unaware of what Judas was confident lay beyond the ultimate door.
Judas opened the door. It was like lifting a rock to see the spiders that had burrowed themselves in sticky web homes, like watching the less potent vermin flee at the light.
Rats eeked and trotted past Judas’ feet, and he heard a few cause splashes somewhere he could not see them. His candle was like the sun. It painted the room an eerie gray-green from its source of evanescence, and he saw the cavern for what it was.
He won’t eat you up. He’ll just mangle you and eat the best bits.
Bones and thick, dark blood. Scattered intermittently amongst them was bits of cloth, hair, and knick knacks. In a particularly large, and close, pool of blood, Judas saw a spinning top with a blue handle.
On the walls red chalk characters stood proudly. They looked like twilight lightning in the din. Judas didn’t recognize them, and he was glad in a way.
His joy was minute, though. The walls were surprisingly tall, and the characters swarmed all about them into the unseen blackness. There was one small set of stairs that led to the floor of the room. It smelt like a heavy fungus, but more human.
The savage beard hung from the chin of the man who hung from the ceiling. He was not a man, though. His eyes were open, and his eyes were yellow. Judas could hardly make out its form, but his patriot’s scorn was tangible from even the door.
A loud BRANG as the creature that stood taller than a Great Dane on its hind legs fell to the floor and subsequent but quieter BRANGs as the vampire strode towards the easiest prey yet.
“I thought I’d spend the entirety of the trip eating only soup and gruel. You’re thoughtful.” Its voice was inviting, and made Judas want its love. The vampire stood at the foot of the steps now. He did not have on his brown jacket anymore; his skin was bare and contained a pallor that was worsened by his undeath.
“It’s not as though you needed to eat any of Lysa’s cuisine.” Judas said.
“Appearances. And laughs.”
“Mortality is hilarious.” The wight leapt. Judas dropped, and his candle with him. The candle rolled gingerly towards the door, and managed to preserve its light. The vampire struck metal where Judas had been a moment before. The vampire’s blow shuddered the metal. Judas brought his dagger across the creature’s thigh.
The mortal man fell forward in a half roll and out of its reach, off of the entrance steps and to the ruinous ground. Judas’ jeans became stained by viscous fluid; they were work clothes. Judas felt like a desperate fish lolling through the depths as a bull shark gnashed its teeth behind.
Before he’d had a chance to stand, the vampire was on him and had gripped his throat. In the removed light Judas was able to see the wight’s jaw unhinge, escalating like a reptile. Fangs looked like ivory to Judas.
Garlic cloves smooshed into the vampire’s face, courtesy of Judas, just as he had begun to accept his fate as a servant of the dark. The vampires flesh rended before its surprising power.
It clutched its visage and screamed as Judas set his mirror down, carefully, and reached for his crossbow.
The beast swung both of its massive arms in a blind fit at Judas and knocked him aside like paper. The strength a vampire can possess is not nearly as comical as its weakness to produce.
Hacking, Judas stood and readied himself for his opponent’s strike. Yet it was absent.
Judas took a timid step, and then had his toe lopped off. Judas had his turn to howl. The recently scarred Vampire smiled feverishly.
In his left hand the vampire wielded a faintly glowing, thin, curved blade. It danced with runes and a smooth sea green, and in his right hand sat a bulbous chain that had a short stature compared to the anchor it toted. The anchor was rusted, and Judas thought the discoloration may have come from a source less wholesome than oxidation.
Judas felt blood well in the foot of his boot, he grit his teeth.
In the dim glow Judas’ dagger gleamed, and the vampire recoiled at its holy aura. Judas struck out at him; the vampire danced back, and, with a renewed courage, swung his anchor by its clackity chain at Judas’ legs.
Judas hopped over it, bringing his feet to his knees, like a deadly game of jump rope. Panting, dripping, and grunting were the only noises that sounded in the submerged chamber.
The vampire pulled on his chain to gather back the macabre tool, and Judas slashed his arm to the bone. The vampire swung with his seamen’s blade, Judas caught it with his pygmy blade. It became a contest of pushing then; the vampire down and for food, and the thrill of game, and the man in black up and for his life, and in a place of his heart the same. The vampire wailed at Judas, and from a few inches from his face he felt no breath, only the smell of carcass and of barnacles.
Judas stepped back, bringing the once-man with him. He was allowing the vampire to think he was getting an edge, slowly, when he looped his foot to the mirror a few inches away and scooted it between the vampire and himself.
The vampire glanced at it, and only managed to tear open Judas’ jacket, through his doublet and shirt, down to the chain with diseased claws before hissing and floundering back.
“Coward,” the vampire spat, dragging his chain.
“Vain,” Judas replied. He fingered the stake in his back pocket. It felt stoic. Judas lamented that he didn’t feel the same.
From the distant gloom the anchor flew into Judas’ gut. He was lifted from the sepulcher floor and sailed a few feet onto his back. The breath left him like a disembarking passenger.
Like hound to fox the wight followed in the air, landing on top of Judas. A balled fist shot down at Judas like a train, yet Judas was nimble enough to twitch his neck in time. The vampire punctured the floor, with steel up to its forearm.
Water seeped through the hole like pus, in small globs at first, and when the enraged and gradually more frustrated vampire wrenched his hand back, like a geyser.
Judas’ satchel had been deposited near the foot of the stairs. This was regrettable; the vampire would look handsome with red plumes, Judas thought.
At the present, Judas was pinned.
The vampire was preparing to behead him with a sword, raised above his head like a knight.
With a meager amount of skill and an enormous load of luck, Judas was able to bring his silver dagger to meet the vampire’s sword. Judas’ bicep bulged. The vampire was strong. Vampires are weak to divinity, however, and due to the blades righteous properties the man still had his chance.
Judas ground his blade against the ancient runes of the vampire’s until it was notched in the vampire’s clawed hand. Grunting, Judas pried both blades from their dance, catapulting them across the room, opposite the door.
The anchor had broken two of Judas’ ribs, and bruised his lungs.
The back of Judas’ head was wet. Judas knew this for sure when the vampire brought Judas’ head up by his invalidated locks and smashed his head back into the floor. There was a splash. Now it was wet with both water and blood.
In an act of unnecessary malice, the vampire pushed Judas’ face into the water, as a child might do to bully another in drinking from a spring. Judas sputtered and gagged, and also exposed the length of his neck. The vampire stared in ecstasy like Judas had just removed the silver dome that had concealed the apple toting pig.
In lust the vampire’s ivory fangs elongated. He grinned, and his arms and shoulders flexed as they held the brazen pig in place.
Judas’ hands were pinned near his sides, and he was able to blindly secure his flask of holy water. A priest in London had kissed the flask five times.
Water covered Judas’ body in full. The man looked like an Atlantean himself, or a merman, except he was drowning. Salty brine had already tickled the inside of his purple lungs.
The savage man had grown fond of drowned flesh. It was rarer, and sweeter, for it.
Uncorking the vial and floating it in the water towards his face, Judas took an intentional gulp as it neared his mouth.
With certainly his last force of life, Judas broke the wight’s grip in a mighty and spastic movement, and craned his neck and head out of the water, almost head butting his assailant. Judas spit full force in the vampire’s garlic seared face. The holy water produced a nicer taste than the salt water had, but mostly Judas enjoyed the chance to fill his lungs with air.
Both the vampire and Judas had been fairly sure that he was not going to have the chance to breathe again, so imagine the vampire’s surprise when his face lit ablaze.
The dirty beard around his chin and mouth caught fire too, and, howling like a mad man, who he had once been, the vampire rolled backwards and away from Judas, plunging his head into the three feet of ocean that now invaded Valhalla.
Judas’ head was like a rugby match, only it was fifty man teams with nailed cleats, and the ball was his brain.
The weary combatant couldn’t allow that fatigue to impede him. Judas slogged through the pool towards the door. He kneeled on submerged flesh to dip his hand into his bag. It was already unzipped.
With the grace and speed of a herd of turtles Judas removed the compound bow and steadied his hands. Panic tightened his throat when he noticed his opponent rise from the sea it had created, flinging its thick hair over its head; its face was a charred steak. Yellow eyes recently de-lidded.
The quarrel found its mark. The vampire looked like a robin had taken home in his chest.
The bearded creature did not seem to notice.
Plodding forward, pushing water around its waist, the vampire only grunted when the second bolt sprouted from his chest. Or was he chuckling?
The vampire was not but fifteen feet from Judas when the man loaded his coup de ’grace. Judas puked up salt and holy water on his polished buttons from his kneeling position.
The stake from Judas’ back pocket made the most effective quarrel yet, and though it did not tell its location by plumage, Judas knew it had been a heart seeker.
The zealot had finally stopped moving. The length of his enormous body almost filled the entirety of the space between the two when he collapsed forwards. Judas was a David, the vampire a dead Goliath.
Judas hobbled, half-swam, to the resting place of the dagger and sword. The dagger he took easily, but he found the sword that had been a one handed implement for the wight to be a claymore for him. Judas struggled to bring it with him, and decided to not try and find the anchor.
The room felt insignificant now, essentially comical. Now it was a wet cadaver lab, or a side show attraction. Judas prayed.
Not that he was a holy man.
Judas ignored the bell to ring in breakfast the next morning. Many passengers did.
The Valhalla was alive with the buzz of rumor and chatter; death produced such an effect.
Judas had rung a fire alarm on his journey back, and tipped off a responding crewman as to the puncture in the hull. Had much more time gone by, the Valhalla would have met as watery a demise as the tenant of the boiler werks had.
Judas worked until pre-dawn to wrap, patch, and doctor himself, with the chair propped against the door again. It was his big toe, or what remained of it, which bothered him most. It looked like a stewed carrot now.
He also laid himself up with gauze and adhesive, after packing his cases up with the same neatness they deserved. Judas also jotted in his codex about evil creatures that early morning:
Wights who roam the sea have an inclination to drown their victims; this saved my life.
It was morning now, and he smoked with the door open.
His bruised lungs did not thank him for it. His head and ribs’ bandages made him feel like a mummy.
Where he had once disappeared from Judas’ view, the aged key bearer now reappeared in Judas’ door frame.
“Hello.” Judas replied.
“May I?” the old man came in, re-examined Judas’ ticket. It was the fourth day, and they’d be in New York in a few hours. “You hear about that loon who had some sort of terrorism going about below?”
“Yes, there are dangers below, aren’t there?”
“Seems like it.” The old man said.
“Some folk are saying he was a wight. A vampire.”
The old man was taken aback. His neck waddle convulsed. “Is that so?” He sat down on the bed by Judas, “I had heard that there were bits of body floating in the lagoon down there, yes.”
“What do you think?” Judas asked.
“I think it’s possible any ways. They say anything is, right?”
“Sure.” Judas paused and finished his cigarette, “I hear vampires run in covens, though.”
The old man throttled Judas’ throat, his claws sinking into easy flesh, and he’d have gotten his bite into the coiled veins thereabouts if Judas didn’t plunge a spear of elm into his chest.
The vicious grip slackened.
“Sic semper tyrannis, eh?” The old vampire wheezed.
Judas peeped his head out 212’s door. Not a soul in sight. He crowded the old man’s body over the railing. It fell like a star, and splashed like a dolphin.
The mummy named Judas went inside for another cigarette.
Chapter 2 - Pedro
The day after the Valhalla arrived at the Southside Seaport in lower Manhattan, Judas rolled the wight's ancient, ornate blade in a soft piece of suede leather, stuffed it into his satchel and walked out into a November day as grey and full of air borne soot as the inside of a boiler room. His ribs hurt less now as he moved along the cluttered sidewalk. It was the laying down, the striving for sleep, that hurt. Dodging both equine and human waste, Judas kept a brisk pace as he angled across and up towards his day's destination, the American Museum of Natural History.
Not yet three blocks on his way, a group of grimy, ill clad young men barred his path. there were five of them. Irish immigrants they were. Toughs. Members of Hell's Kitchen's most notorious lot: The Gopher Gang. Four of the youth seemed undernourished, stricken. One did not.
"Is it me imagination, or have ye been scarce?"
Spoken by a pinched face boy, maybe nineteen, gritty blonde hair under a news boy cap, eyes too closely set in his head.
"Have ye now?" the boy fingering the polished, worn shillelagh in his left hand. "'Ceptin' for the fact that Mr. Curran ain't been feelin' certain that's the true word."
Judas said nothing, looking the boy straight in the eyes.
"No, sir. Ya see," with a grin like a raw wound opening in his pimpled, freckled face. "Mr. Currans feelin' the need for a wee bit of a parley."
Immediately behind the rat faced lad stood a giant of an Irishman, nothing less than six and three quarters feet in height. The red haired hulk's shoulders would not in any probability, mused Judas, fit through a doorway without turning sideways.
"What does Mr. Curran desire to converse upon?"
"That isn't a bit a news that I'll be able t'illuminate ya upon, Mr. Sycamore," smiling back at the younger, newsboy cap wearing youth on his right, the young man before him continued. "Seems, however, tis a matter of some privacy and some weight.”
"I've some errands that need attending to, uh, what should I be calling you?"
"Me name's Blinker, Mr. Sycamore, but please d'not be so foolish as t'mistake me ‘n me lads for urchins, as we carry a tad more gumption than that."
Two of the youth standing on Judas' left looked to be dark haired brothers; they also most certainly were prostitutes, a fact broadcast by the choice of their dress, their provocative haircuts, and by the eye liner and shadow that they wore. Like the other three, however, the look in the boys' eyes spoke loudly and quickly of desperation, of hunger, and of predation.
"Your errands'll 'ave t' be awaitin' then, won't they?"
Judas sought a resolution that both allowed him to go on his way and that did not get the entire lot of the Gophers set against him. The vision of a frenzied nest of fire ants kicked once or twice passed fleetingly across the backs of his eyes.
"Happy to make a time to meet Mr. Curran," Judas began to step to his right, attempting to move outside of what had become a half-circle of raggedy humans arrayed before him, decided now to set his own terms but to not say no. "Shall we say seven then? Tonight? At his club?"
Blinker's shillelagh appeared before him like the bar of a turn style, barring his further movement forward.
"It'll be now, Mr. Sycamore."
The boys encircled him.
"But ye did get the destination correct, then, ain' it?"
In one quick motion Judas grabbed the polished stick and removed it from the hand that had been holding it. Self-satisfied with his deftness and panache, Judas began to smile broadly,
"I hate to-"
"Lannon!" Blinker screamed, his authority trammeled upon in his own view most egregiously. As Judas heard the word that interrupted him spoken, as his mind began to mingle with the puzzle of the two syllables, with the look of wild eyed anger on Blinker's face, with the fading comfortability of his decision to deny the boys their goal, something happened. As though a cannon had been fired and a length of three eighths inch chain had been sent hurtling around him, the giant, flame-haired being shot past and around his leader and grabbed both of Judas' wrists, turning the one so as to cause him to drop the walnut club to the ground.
In the short instant during which these events transpired, time slowed. Judas saw everything now with a preternatural awareness that he had always believed gave him a strong advantage in any combat event. During his time fighting for Old Glory in Haiti, he became a student of every aspect of battle. The seventeen months, including the six spent as a captive of the rebels, taught him how to slow time, how to harness the body's incredible fight or flight response, how to disable or dispatch an opponent. Judas saw the snarl erupt on Blinker's face. He experienced the call for the big man. Felt the confused movements of the lesser three. What occurred next, however, startled him entirely.
The red headed behemoth's movement to him, the accurate encompassing of Judas' wrists in his baseball catcher's mitt sized hands, it all happened in a blur. Despite the slowing of time that reduced every other facet of the visible spectrum in that moment on West 42nd Street to a standstill for Judas, the man was a blur. And he was oak tree, granite strong.
The proper technique for extricating one's hands from a double front wrist grab is to quickly and with power rotate your lower arms towards your waist and then up and out, thus releasing through the weakest point of the lock, the meeting place of the aggressor's thumb and fingers. With not a conscious thought, Judas's body executed the maneuver. For the first time in his experience the move did not work. Two factors, reasoned, Judas, contributed to the failure. The almost seven-foot-tall giant's hands were so large that his fingers and his thumb did not meet around the smaller man's wrists, they looped instead the better part of one and a half times around the limb. The second factor was the other worldly strength of the passive faced man who stood now close to him, his chin beginning where Judas' pate ended.
"Don't be daft, Mr. Sycamore.”
Accepting the shillelagh handed him by an unsmiling brother, Blinker's feral, improperly toothed smile returned.
"Make a good decision, then, ‘n come along with us. Bloody hell, man, the day's far too young to cock it up already."
For the first time in far too long, Judas was ready to fight, highly curious, and bemused all at the same time. And although he had more than several options at hand to rid himself of the man that Blinker had called Lannon, he acquiesced at this point, knowing that to live in Hell's Kitchen meant that if One Lung Curran desired to talk with a man, that man needed sooner or later to do his bidding, and sooner translated rather directly into a higher quality of life in the short term and a quite probably longer life expectancy as well.
"Right you are then, Mr. Blinker. The hell if you didn't just reach right inside me and change my position on the matter."
Lannon released his hold and the blood began to recirculate in Judas' tingling fingers. The lads assembled themselves somewhat around Judas as they walked, a pack of mangy curs arrayed loosely around their mark.
"There continues t' be talk, and not only in the Kitchen, but up n' down the avenues both sides a’ the Park, that you be some manner a hunter a spectres, ghouls, ‘n any other phantasmal creature."
One Lung speaks not only in a hearty, rolling brogue, but his words carry a nasty impediment caused by the damage to his respiratory system some years back before his trip through Ellis Island. Wearing a stove pipe hat and an open tuxedo jacket with tails, he is the only person in the room standing.
"I'll not deny my fondness for extinguishing the dark and the foul."
"I've a good mate works shoveling coal 'n a steamer just came in from the Green Isles," walking close to Judas now, reveling in both his command of the room and of his theater. "Ye wouldn't care t' venture a gamble on which ship 't might be now would ye?"
Wearing a striped black and white shirt beneath his coat, One Lung came off looking a bit like he came up off of a page of Lewis Carrol's works.
"Somehow I'm thinking you must be referencing the Valhalla, sir."
One Lung straightened, pointed his finger at the ceiling as though he's just scored a point.
"So 'tis. T' Valhalla. None ot'er,” leaning back into the sitting object of his vaudevillian act. "The ship ye just disembarked!"
"’N me mate says, he does, 'at he was a hearin' some mighty, hell a raisin' clatter down in the bilge on t' final night of t' journey. He says, he does, 'at 'twas too much a fightin' as he were willin' t' venture into. Yet wit' his eyes upon the companionway comin' up outta 'at hell, he says a man fittin' yer particulars walks, or rather hobbles he says, back up to t' higher decks."
He stood now, walked the edge of the circle of seated figures, perhaps eleven in all, continued his opening arguments.
"N when me lad goes below what d'ye t'ink he saw, 'en, Mr. Sycamore?"
"My belief, sir, is th-"
"Ye'll be a hurtin' all four a me feelin's if'n ye don't start a callin' me by me right proper moniker, Mr. Sycamore."
"As you wish, One Lung. I believe that I know precisely what was in that hole. It was a vampire. Its exact origins are a bit opaquer."
"Listen t'him boys! Hah! 'opaquer,' says he! And here I was a t'inkin' ye were a soldier 'n not some wankin' baccalaureate!"
Judas says nothing.
"So tell me plain now, ye bleedin' Yankee fancy fellow, no nothin’ opaque in yer words," he moved close. "Are ye in full fact a hunter of vampires, witches, or other such beings?"
"I am that, One Lung."
"I've a mad suspicion, I do, 't mayhap this dark hobby started with ye durin' the months ye spent in 'at dirty li'l business down in the jungles a that infested Caribbean land. Tell truth now, lad."
"Truth indeed is what you speak."
"Well, well, if old Uncle McKinley ain' a lookin' out f'r all a his good lads, ain' it?"
Judas finds no need to fill the pause.
"N so perhaps I did no real hostin' 'ere t'day, but am wantin' t' t'ank ye fer steppin' on over t'day. Let me 'ave the lad fetch ye some proper tea."
"That would be most accommodating. Thank you."
One Lung motions to a grim looking, red night shirt wearing man of thirty and a green, overstuffed armchair is brought to rest not thirty inches in front of Judas Sycamore's knees. Blinker, the whore brothers, the golem named Lannon, and the other men sat in silent obeisance and curiosity.
"Now 'at we gots t' nonsense, t' pissing 'n t' corners outs t' way, Mr. Sycamore, if'n ye don' mind me a referrin' t' ye as?"
"As I'm to call you by you're, uh, Christian name, it does appear a small discomfort." Two cups of tea and a table for supporting them manifest.
"Well, 'this a matter a' me bein' a bit a' a gambler, bootlegger, n knicker n' ye bein' a man as successfully ends vampires n' such sundry, nasty demons."
How bout racketeer, pimp, and thief, thought Judas. And near impossible to understand.
"I'm a man as c'n guarantee yer continued 'n on goin' proper treatment 'n the Kitchen, while ye seem capable 'a helpin' me wit' a matter 't suits yer vocational skills, ain' it then? Truth be told, 'tis on t' very same subject 'at I've asked ye t' join me t'day. See, me brother's wife, she's 'avin' difficulties wit' somet'in' been pullin' pranks about. Somethin's been causin' a terrific mischief in t' immediate neighborhood, says she.”
The tea was good, a black tea with a hint of lavender. The crumpet served alongside had rum soaked raisins inside that popped with grand bursts of sugary moisture as he ate.
"Me brother's looked int' it," sipping, "says 'e t'inks 'tis leprechauns, Mr. Sycamore. Now le'me be full front w' ye. I place no weight on t' words spoken a' leprechauns. I means, I means 'tis only as 'es me brother, but I did satisfy 'im as t' how I'd find t' proper authority-'n 'ats t' word I used, Mr. Sycamore, 'authority,' t' look in 'a t' matter.
"Yes, well, leprechauns, One Lung? Your brother, is he a drinker or user of opium? Laudanum?"
"Me brother's a bit a t' sot, he is. But ye know people, Mr. Sycamore. Ye know how they go on! ‘N why not leprechauns? Yeah?! Wha' with vampires n witches n demons n all, yeah?!" He finished his cup, stood. "Why not then?"
A laugh begins amongst the seated, nervous at the first, then raucous as the savage men that they are.
"Why not indeed."
"Just so ye're a plannin' on investigatin' it-'ats me only concern. If ye plan still on a livin' right here in the Kitchen, I reckon ye're a wantin' t' lend a bit of a hand in t' matter, yeah?"
"I'll be needing a name and an address, that's all."
Hitting the park at 61st Street, his knee length, black cape keeping the nippy breeze at bay, he turned north. Fifteen minutes later he entered a familiar granite edifice, took the marble stairs a pair at a time to the second floor. Knocking briskly, Judas walked right into the office of the museum's Associate Director of Antiquities, Dr. J. Edgar Pringle.
The room was cluttered with boxes, stacks of books, specimen jars on shelves, wooden crates. Dust. The air smelled of dust, formaldehyde, and a certain sour odor that always made Judas imagine rotting vegetation in some wet, equatorial forest.
"Ah, so you're back then are you? When did you return? And how the hell was your trip?" The older man stood from his chair, leaned across his desk, and vigorously shook his visitor's hand.
"Yes I am," smiling broadly. "Just yesterday. As for the hell on my trip, well, it was a watery one."
The two men talked over glasses of scotch for the better part of an hour, Judas spared no detail about his encounter with the vampire in the deep belly of the steamer.
"It hung from the ceiling though?"
Judas nodded back at the mostly bald man.
"And its habit was to mix with the passengers or did it ride inside its box?"
"'Twas the former, Edgar. And, yes, I think I know where you're going."
"Mixed with the passengers, didn't it? Not all stuck in its lair." The curator's face filled with a glow as he progressed with his line of reasoning. "It's not the old line you're dealing with, my good friend. No sir." His countenance tightened a bit now, his eyes coming together, his jaw setting. "These monsters are his children. They are the newest plague, the modern blight. These are the progeny of Micchia."
"It makes sense."
"Oh tell me that you brought me something, anything, from this one. Did you?" Eyes open wide, mouth hanging in a stifled gasp like a fish sucking air. A child hoping for a gift.
Grinning, the warmth of the brandy and the intimate encounter over shared and secret matters having filled him.
"I think that you're going to fancy this one, Edgar. Oh I think you'll like it well enough indeed." He stood, reached into the worn, U.S. Army issued satchel and pulled out the irregular, brown bundle, laying it on the coffee table between their two chairs. The older man leaned forward, his ivory colored eyebrows raising and twitching in mirthful anticipation. Judas unrolled the soft suede to reveal its ancient content.
"Ohhhh...oh my," looking up into Judas' green, shining eyes, then back down at the patina covered, curved, silver blade.
"My goodness, Judas," He looked up to the younger man's face. "May I?"
"By all means, old friend. By all means."
"It's superlative in every aspect," lifting the blade in its scabbard with a cautious reverence. Like a man touching but trying not to wake a sleeping woman, Pringle unsheathes the ten inch, curved blade. " Jude," a look of constrained fear issuing forth, "it's a Scythian weapon. Did you know it was a Scythian?"
Judas turned his head a bit to one side, surprised at the words, concentrating. "I did not." He shook his head slightly as if clearing a bad dream. "I thought him a vampire fledgling. I put him at no more than a foot soldier. I'd have said he was a black Irishman before he changed."
Pringle sat down, mouth agape. "I need a bit of time to check my suspicions, but see here on the pommel. The spiral? It is the labyrinth, the vortex."
"I must tell you, old friend, that I am a bit lost here."
"This design denotes the house of The Sumaire, the Ubaid Slaughter Kings of Scythia. My God, this is steel, man. Forged at some point most likely in the early part of the Iron Age. Steel. Do you see?" His face takes on the expression of a child. "Did it glow? When the creature wielded it, did it glow?"
"Then the creature that you slew was no mere foot soldier. It had the blood of an ancient coven in its veins." Taking his eyes off of the deadly relic, raising them slowly to look the younger man full in the face, the older man in his drab, worn brown suit, looked a shade paler, like a man considering dire news. A man, perhaps, who had just been given two months to live.
"Judas," the older man rose now unsteadily from his chair, holding the blade and its scabbard out in front of himself like an acolyte presenting an offering to some dark, pagan god. "Judas, the wight, as you've called him, was not of Micchia's coven.”
"Whoa, Edgar. Slow down, my friend. Really? You mean Sumaire? Speak plainly now."
"Yes, yes, you see," he set the relics back on the coffee table. "Not Micchia’s spawn, this one. Rather, 'twas a much older, much, much older, much stronger, much prouder vampire that carried this blade. He did work in the same coven as Micchia though.”
The taller man nodded.
"They were also called the Sumaire because they were the dark mages who were the true power behind the throne of ancient Sumer, the Sumerian civilization. It was there we believe they began their black rites, the decapitations, the impalings, the consuming of the blood. When the Dracoi shifted their allegiances and backed the group who worshipped them, who gave them their troth, the Kingdom of Scythia was created. And while more than one familial line formed the heart of the vampire cabal, some have always more powerful. And a few brought their plague to America alongside the plague of colonization.”
"Well while the beast on the Valhalla was a fierce one, I shan't say that he seemed to be any more or any less powerful than the other I've taken down."
"Ah, but you said you fought him in a boat and that you were both knee deep in water, did you not?"
"So it was, Edgar."
"These creatures more than simply value the earth from their homeland, whether 'tis the mountains of eastern Romania or the heather covered hills of the Scottish Moors, or even the streets of Rome, they thrive when it is near. That same creature, the one who wielded this unholy weapon, were you to fight another like him in any place other than water, oh, oh Judas, I shan't think it would work out well for you."
"Perhaps I need to rethink my tactical approach. Use the magics they embrace.”
"As curator I assure you that I would suggest you sell this to me,” Edgar went on, forgetting all that. “But Mr. Jessup would not permit me to issue you anything close to a fair price. Any acquisition of more than five hundred dollars, as you probably already know, needs to be approved by the old ladies on the board. The old biddies have no understanding of the nature of the dark magics steeped and contained in an evil weapon of this sort."
"What then," Judas begins to re-wrap the relic in the brown suede. "Kossogi? McManus?"
"You could try them both, but I'll wager the best price will come from Kossogi, and truth be told, he'll likely be able to give you an even better history of the piece and of the more immediate members of the beast's family. Odds are you’ll be seeing some soon."
"I'm beginning to understand," he wrapped his cape around his self, swung his satchel over his left shoulder. "Then the fat man it is. Be well, Edgar, and thank you."
Chapter 3 - Paolo
Kossogi did indeed pay best, which was only half-way alarming to Judas. The fat man seemed to know something about the market, and perhaps money in general, that gleamed in the last moment of the deal, but at that point it was always too late to go back. Sort of like having one hand resting on a drunkard’s shoulder and the other raised by your head in a fist, waiting, and also too late to go back.
The streets in New York were darker than Judas ever preferred, and the Gopher Gang was not helping his confidence with the shadowy walk ways. Vampires, Micchia’s brood and his eventual lord, trolls, shape changers, but it was feeble humans that were the real issue.
Leprechauns. Judas had never encountered the little green hoarders of lore, and in his profession, though he was incredulous, he couldn’t write anything off. Judas Sycamore also wasn’t much the type to write things off.
Runed blades are a convenience to keep around, yet wealth is more so, and this Kossogi can provide. The fat trader had examined the fine Scythian tool, admired its build, and made Judas actually wane remorse that he couldn’t have another duel in the belly of a ship for his life. At this price he would fight any member of the inner sanctum of Micchia’s clan.
Dirt frolicked in the air when Judas beat the ledger he brought out of his suit case as he sat on a bench. Judas preferred the bright side of the road, as corny as he knew it must sound.
When Judas opened the tome to a page about three quarters of the way back there was a diagram with arrows and circled names drawn madly across two pages. The San Tan Boys arrowed to the Gopher Gang with little knives going through the arrow, and there was another arrow pointing to Micchia. Lannon and One Lung took their own circles near the Gopher Gang, and Judas decided to write in “Mariner?” near the Micchia entry, and with a recently scribbled out arrow to a circled name “Micchia.” It felt like mapping out a list of deadly diseases.
The day was early, Judas had stayed at one of Kossogi’s hostel’s the night before, and the day was cold. The unforgiving New York cold. Judas perked up his coat’s collar and twirled his mustache in his hand before lighting a cigarette. The man flicked his eyes to his suitcase, which had had its contents shifted about between his stop at the hub that was the Natural Museum of History and Kossogi’s ornate office. Jessup was good to Judas, and one of his better motivators to keep up the constant predation.
Judas flipped the page in his book and examined the list he had prepared right after buying a ticket for the Valhalla. “Yani Mooney - Enterprise, Jane T., Micchia’s coven?”. The cold writer wrote down below the other three entries, which were listed like a ladder: “Leprechauns.”
The old man on the ship had been one of Micchia’s coven, Judas knew that now. From the moment stepping on that titan of industry and seeing that thirsty gaze Judas knew the man had been unnatural, undead. Only later, after the conversation with the curator of the museum, did Judas realize the difference in strength, tact, and plain motive between the two wights.
Savage bearded mariner vampire had been content to not eat that voyage, and to visit the deck, and to sleep. Had Judas not come to disturb the beast’s resting, had it even the mind to kill any passengers? It was incredibly powerful, and obviously had a love of the sea or it wouldn’t have poisoned itself so.
Was the vampire on a ship when it had been turned? Maybe it too saw the beauty in dolphins, whales, and their incredible power over the majority of the planet that humans are proud enough to say is theirs. If there is a god, wouldn’t it look like a fish? And they would have been made in his image, not us minority beings banished to a meager third of the world?
It didn’t matter anymore. The vampire that had been so aloof, remote, and deft was so different than the elder now that Mr. Sycamore had time to reflect. The old man had been eager to make his acquaintance, cozy up to a perfect stranger, and be as pathetic as it was decrepit. Judas had nearly lost his life in battle with the bearded one, yet had to bait the one who stayed above with the passengers into his dormitory. The attack speed of the costumed one had been slow and ruined, whereas the weapon choice of the one below had been a blade, runed. Yes, the elder was surely one of Micchia’s, and the mariner had been much different than the elder.
Judas wished he had a scarf, one that wrapped around his neck, as he set out to find Yani Mooney.
As Irish immigrants had so warmly welcomed Judas into his neighborhood, Chinese managed to leave him alone, and it was better this way because Judas had had enough jostling from fiery headed giants and their gang lords for one visit to the land of the free.
Yani Mooney also met Judas alone, which was refreshing. Trust always is. The two men met in a bar on the edge of Chinatown, a hot spot called simply “The Dragon.” Judas chuckled, knowing that the patrons of the bar had never seen nor probably ever would a true dragon, whether it was the more common, garden variety that lived in, appropriately, mostly eastern Asia or the larger and far more ferocious kind that enjoyed the territories of Canada.
The Dragon conjoined the common world of Manhattan and an immigrant’s haven. It had a splitting feel to it as well; the outside could have once belonged to a laundry building, but had been done up with ornate golden and silver drakes and wyrms, all with hungry mouths leaning down to remind people that the building was no longer a laundry service. Indoors the building was lit well, had many a smiling serving girl from places many Americans would never see, or hear of for that matter, and smelt pleasantly like kimchi.
Judas enjoyed drinking at the Dragon.
A rich brown ale was given to Judas, and a stronger one to Mr. Mooney. Yani was short with cropped hair, and wore a button shirt and denim pants. His attire portrayed him as a dork, a misplaced knucklehead, and this was the precise desired effect. Mr. Yani Mooney was one of New York’s, originally Hong Kong’s only, fighter of foul forces; a connection to the world covered by shadow. Judas preferred the bright side of the road.
“Yani Mooney. It is good to see you.” Judas smiled thinly over the brim of his cup.
“Mr. Sycamore. I am sure your travel was as safe as it could be.” Yani was older than Judas, but the soldier could see the man’s tight muscles under his egg white shirt. Crow’s feet clawed from his glasses covered eyes.
“As it could be. How are the states these days?”
“Dramatic. Dynamic. Dichotic. Demonic,” Yani said with a wink. “There is a great surge of incubi in Washington and Delaware. Try as I may, the Brotherhood of Iluminatus Rhent continues to infest the burgeoning American political scheme, which needs no outside help in its effort to contort and crucify.”
“Europe had its turn at the Brotherhood’s helm. Remember Russia.”
“They’re looking good now though.” Mooney nodded as he swigged.
“Yeah.” Sycamore replied. “What is there for me to do, Mooney? I’m looking for an exercise of my talents.”
“And a pay day,” Yani winked.
“I am a man, aren’t I? I thought that was implied,” Judas fumbled out pipe tobacco.
“There are a few chores that I have no interest in. I have my hands full of incubus and succubus, and where demons aren’t concerned there is an enormous issue with shape changers in the industries that are sprouting up like the plants they harvest.”
Judas smoked and watched his conversation partner.
“Alright here’s a few. Fun to talk to you as always, Judas,” Yani stood abruptly as he pushed three slips of paper towards Judas.
“I’m kidding around, Yani, come on now,” Judas grabbed the man’s arm and sat him down, though he knew that if the man had wanted to leave he could have easily.
The first sheet read about a Mexican river spirit that had killed two boys and had no potential leads on the border of the Mexican empire, Texas, and Wyoming.
The second sheet spoke only of an enormous creature in the woods of Pennsylvania.
Judas only smiled when he read the third. Serendipity was good to him, when it was good to him.
“Thank you, Yani. Is there anything you need of me? These meetings feel so one sided,” Judas asked as he stood and bought his ally another drink.
“No, Judas. Seeing you and knowing that I am not alone is good for me. You’ve done me more of a service than I have for you,” Yani decided to stay, and watched Judas like a mother sending her son down the dirt road to war.
The famous New York fall was well under way in its parks. Rot never looked so fine on the American east coast, Judas thought. Shades of brown never so delicate, and wind so shockingly benign, even comforting. The streets churned with felled leaves and moist scarves whipping around blushed ears and tight shoulders. A woman sneezed ahead of the admirer on the street, and Judas thought it was premature of her.
New York, New York had a ring to it that Judas thought did not suit the place well. Manhattan. Bronx. Even Queens, as ironic a name as it was, gave the curter, sharper sentiment that the cities’ residents typically displayed. Judas found it true that spare a greasy vendor, large and mustachioed, whom he believed only wanted to know his business so that Judas would help his, that New York really was an unfriendly place.
Judas didn’t consider himself particularly friendly either, but when a passing by Blinker-esque fellow tried to lift his wallet from his back pocket, the cynical smoker employed his combat skills to retrieve his recently improved funds. Really it was to embarrass the uppity prick.
In the temporal hollow, Judas looked over his right shoulder and down at the thief. Couldn’t be much older than the whorish boys of One Lung’s gang, and as tired looking as a corpse. Pity.
The boy had meant to lift the billfold and keep running straight, but Judas lifted his suitcase and heaved it with his left arm in front of his body and into the boy’s path. Directly into his stomach and diaphragm, actually. Upon impact, the dirty haired pickpocket’s eyes bulged like an eel’s.
In his stunned daze Judas was able to move truly at his own leisure. With the luggage still engaged in a bear hug with the boy, Judas cocked his elbow above the boy’s spine and drove it down, not enough to break it, and enough to feel like a baseball bat any ways. From this pincer like place, Judas allowed the boy to fall, and in the chilly din, Judas stooped over to reclaim his item and kept walking, still wishing for a damned scarf.
Years and years must have gone by from the time it took Judas to cross town. There was a moment of reprieve on the Brooklyn Bridge, as there is for everyone. The wood he strode on as he traveled across towards Brooklyn was soggy from moisture, and puffed like a feathered pillow from it. Bridges are the physical representation of a collision, and a change, and Judas thought about these aspects as he reflected on one facet of his fractured life.
Haiti rained much more than Judas thought tropical places would. In his life now he understands that tropical places are known for their rain as much as their sun, but what he did not understand was there was anything except stereotypes, and sadly this was something he continued to learn in much more unsatisfying alleys of life than island climate patterns.
Sun shone a lot; it just also kept rain as a passenger. Humidity was their progeny, and it had made Judas’ thick hair frizz up. Youth gave him the confidence to not mind.
The exercises in the humidity made the frizziness and the sweat that came from the heat much worse. Man makers, jumping jacks, pull ups gripping trees with bark that felt like an electric wire, sure, but it was the practicing in the swamp that made Judas able to dethrone a king of the night.
Lighting had never been abundant in the shack in the swamp. Neither the shack or the swamp had a better name, so they remained the shack and the swamp in his mind. Nadine never cared much for light any ways, and that’s what made her as sexual as she was, Judas thought. Her skin was dark like elm polished to perfection, and her mind was too.
Nadine was older, and her head ran proud with tight, laced dreadlocks. Each one had numerous colored beads, painted with roots and fruits from the plants that surrounded her simple home. Her lips were drawn by fruits and roots, too, different colors each time Judas visited. It wasn’t a part of his military training to see her, but he knew for his military training to be complete, he needed to see her. Nadine’s lips were full, and so were her hips. She was short, and this made her age go away to Judas. He was lucky she would have him at all.
The building was one room, and there was a cot and a chair and a table. The frizzy haired youth spent time in all of them. This was to be out of the rain and to be in Nadine’s protective arms which captured him without protest. When she wasn’t holding him or teaching him, they would spend time laughing, or talking, or somewhere in between, and they’d never be bored.
Judas knew it wasn’t love they had, but decided he may be additionally bitter as he travelled the second piece of human, steel ingenuity that had been built in the last few years. Manhattan did look beautiful, but Brooklyn looked better. Plus, it was where he was going, and if he didn’t think it looked better, why would he ever leave where he’d come from?
Wood and metal meshed together like a Frankenstein construct made the bridge, and Judas was forced to reflect on the homunculus he fought in France in one of the later years. It had been a bridge in its own right.
On the other end of the bridge the man who today wore a black coat and blue but seemingly darker pants carrying one suitcase, found a carriage and rode it to Ulysses Street. The fare was fair, and it wasn’t like Judas would care. The hunter had his scent to track. Jane Thurner was not one of those scents, and this had not made her any less of a chore to track for Judas in the past.
1471 Ulysses Street, number eight, was the address Judas had gotten from Jane’s old friend Amelia in Versailles. Amelia was dodgy, hopefully not this dodgy, or loyal to Jane for that matter.
Rap Rap Rap – rap rap rap rap rap.
Knocking is a signature, and Judas liked his.
The picture that she was opened the door, and the victory of her dimpled smile followed. Judas was happy. Then her smile turned rancid, and her eyes narrowed, and the door slammed. The traveler had predicted this and stoppered it ahead of time with his foot, though now it hurt enough that he wondered if it was worth the attempt.
“Jane, please talk to me,” Judas stepped inside as his prey sashayed away from the door. A grin cursed his face, and he was thankful she couldn’t see it.
“Just go away, Mr. Sycamore,” Jane was so proper that in her anger she tidied up, and in her rage she addressed him with a title.
“I never meant to hurt you. I don’t think it’s fair you don’t see that.”
“I was at school. Contributing to society so that I could make something of myself like you had when you were a child in the bloody jungle.”
The mustachioed man thought of Nadine. He hadn’t felt like a child, and in some ways it was the most youthful thing of his formative years. The boarding schools certainly hadn’t coddled him like the voodoo chanter had, and then again the schools hadn’t taught him how to destroy a zombie by punching through the quivering flesh where its ear had once existed.
“Can I sit down? I’ll take off my boots.”
“I would hope so,” Judas could hear her rolling her eyes in the other room. “Please.”
The hallway that led to the door was thin, and Judas left his shoes by Jane’s. The sight of the pair of pairs together again did him a pleasure, and he knew that was no thinking to be had. Romance and love are different; cute and passion are dissimilar too.
The apartment was not unlike Nadine’s in its cozy feeling. Jane was granted a bathroom, a kitchenette, and a bedroom, however. The medicine woman had very different amenities.
The man sat himself on a three legged stool in Jane’s kitchenette, across from a stove that was boiling water. The woman had no windows in her apartment, spare one in the back, and Judas thought that was uncomfortable.
“Jane. Jane could you talk for a moment please?”
The owner of the apartment had gone from tidying up on to straightening her shelves and dusting a large pink and blue vase.
“Why, Mr. Sycamore? So that you can explain to me all the ways you didn’t mean to hurt me, how you just want to hold me, how life is the one who kept us apart and that you are just a humble servant of-“
“I was feeling especially dramatic at the time, Jane.”
The woman had quit her cleaning and walked into the corner of a kitchen across from Judas, crossed her arms. Mr. Sycamore truly enjoyed her pout lips.
Jane wore a dress, which was not uncommon for her. It was brown and green, like a Christmas tree. Her crossed arms pushed her breasts into the front of Judas’ mind. The rumpled green cloth did a poor job of presenting the breasts that Judas knew were not only heavy but perfectly bundled. With each breath her chest rose and dropped, and Judas realized he would need to move the conversation forward if he hoped to move towards Jane.
“How has New York treated you?”
“Why did you come here, Mr. Sycamore? I am not feeling chatty - keep in mind I don’t actually want you in my apartment.”
“I couldn’t leave things as they were, and I was already on my way to New York for business.”
“Bullshit. You pick up business wherever you bloody well want, so bullshit,” Jane spat the words as she poured a thin glass of a whiskey.
“Well,” Judas covered himself. “It worked out to do both. Do you believe that, Jane?”
“Like I believed that you had stayed true while I was at school.”
“He was my fucking doorman, Judas!”
The glass slid across Jane’s counter, and Judas was thankful that Jane was pouring one for herself as well. Jane’s proper edge was departing the conversation.
“Thanks, Janie.” Judas pulled on his glass until it was dry, and spoke awkwardly, like someone delivering a eulogy.
“Don’t call me that, Mr. Sycamore,” the woman straightened her arms before taking a drink. “It is too common for someone as yourself.”
The soldier moved his eyes about the room. There were small paintings dotting the walls, and one on the fridge.
“Can I kiss you?”
Jane finished her whiskey.
“Please, go, Mr. Sycamore.”
Judas stood, and as he left the kitchenette Jane gripped his hand.
“It is good to see you, Mr. Sycamore, just not yet. I,” she paused and brushed hair away from a dimpled smile that began to appear on her face. “I hope you try again some poor day.”
The rambler only managed a weak smile, stooped to put on his boots, and stepped into the gargoyle world of New York. It made him sad to think, but Judas felt right at home.
The bridge was less impacting the way back across. Judas’ three pieces of paper rustled in his coat pocket, and he kept his hand scrunched around the bundle. The man felt ready to depart, to begin the newest questing, but he walked back to Manhattan intentionally.
One Lung Curran wouldn’t let him come back to New York if he didn’t at least investigate this “leprechaun” scenario. One Lung Curran may not let him even leave New York if he didn’t check in on the Irish misfits.
The alleged Irish misfits, any ways. Jessup had never mentioned them, the Codex spoke naught of the tiny folk of lore, and Judas had chalked them up to legitimate legend.
Thankfully, Judas kept an open mind.
Soon, the traveler found himself right back in One Lung’s part of town. The whorish boys were upon him five blocks before he even came upon the hideout, and it wasn’t long before Blinker and his shalileigh stood in front of him with a half-smile that spoke to the devilry of the entire scenario. Judas thought that the three boys who escorted him to the gangster’s base could be devils themselves. In his experience devils were poor concealers of their curved, red horns, however, so he put the thought out of his mind.
“Ah, yer back so soon!” One Lung called from the back of his club. Lannon the Cannon, as Judas had taken to calling him in his head, was on the bosses right. The golem of a person looked more muscular and standoffish if possible. One Lung was in his general attire, knowing smile included.
“I didn’t think that I’d find safe travel in, or out, of New York for a while were I not to investigate your brothers…infestation?” Judas darted his eyes at the two dolled up boys on either side of him as he brought his suitcase with him to sit in front of One Lung’s desk. They seemed to approve, and Blinker leaned against the door, flipping his blade.
One Lung smiled and his teeth were brown like a dog’s coat. No sheen or luster, just dirty.
“I never thought I’d see the day but the little buggers are in there, sure as you and I are in here.”
“Tell me the place, Curran.” The man in the black coat said, and not with a smile.
Lannon the Cannon rested a hand on Judas’ shoulder, and Blinker cussed profusely to the extent of reminding Judas what a worthless cur he was and who he was fucking talking to and-
“Boys, my good men,” One Lung stood up and now placed his hand on the oafish Lannon’s, “Give him the address to Bobby’s place. If he’s in a hurry, then let him rush.”
Disease can strike a house, Judas learned. The house hadn’t been too far from One Lung’s hideout, and the walk had been the most pleasant part of Judas’ day. A boy had smiled and waved at the traveler, and Judas actually smiled back.
Boards were running off the structure like they were in the Rhine, and rusty nails and odd bits of metal decorated the pitifully small yard. Of course, the yard was brown, dead grass. The yellow house stood fairly removed from any neighbors, and was smallish. One floor, but with a basement. Bobby had tortured fellow immigrants for his family’s businesses.
The gangster boss had told Judas that Bobby, and his wife and two kids, a couple of red headed micks, had moved in with an associate while Judas did his “exterminating,” as he had put it.
The whole building smelled like a jar of moonshine, which is different than whiskey, because it’s stronger. When Judas walked inside, it was like tumbling to the bottom of that jar.
Judas had prepared a little differently for this investigation, considering he knew little about the scenario. The metal of his dagger felt heavy on his belt loop. Black boots gripped on rotting floor.
A living room greeted Judas, though the couch and chair that adorned the room looked like a puppy’s teeth had been after it for months. The pieces of furniture had floral prints, and Judas scoffed. Beauty cannot be replicated on house hold garbage, he thought. The paint flecked concrete monkey that had sat on the porch was a testament to this.
The mustachioed man held his hand in his breast pocket, with his other gripping the hilt of his knife, and saw an open doorway that was a vein to another room.
No codex or voodoo training could have prepared Judas Sycamore for the sight that lay in the kitchen of Bobby Curran’s beaten up flat.
Four red and bushy looking children were in the kitchen; two on the counter with their legs dangling like children’s on a dock and two with their backs propped against cabinets that rested on the floor. But they weren’t children, because children do not have sets upon sets of barbed wire teeth.
The mutton chop bedecking creatures had different accessories; a bowler hat for one, three golden hoop earrings on the fat lobes of another, and all of them sported a murky green jacket that looked much brighter once. Their mouths kept Judas’ attention, though; a vortex of seemingly steel mesh that clacked and whirred as they chattered between the four of them. Leprechauns aren’t truly machines, it’s just their mouths that give this impression Judas later wrote in his codex, in the end cabin on the trans-Siberian express matter of fact. Their teeth gleam this way because the Irish rovers eat each other’s pots of gold to assert dominance, and as a rite of passage into adulthood.
Leprechauns also hate other Irish folk, and it’s considered rude in their culture to pass by an Irishman’s home without infesting it, scavenging the place for metals. These particular critters were young, so they will not bare shame for allowing the no good thieving Irish folk to leave with their lives.
Alas, they have since ameliorated their feelings of dismay and shame, and decided that Judas would not be leaving the house with his life, the no good thieving Irish fucker.
Judas is not Irish, and removed a large golden hand cannon from his breast pocket, and shot an impressive chunk of leprechaun brain into bits. The chap who had been sitting with his legs dangling over the side like a children’s on a dock, the one to the right, blinked once and spit up cherry blood through spindly teeth, and fell backwards into the kitchen sink with a TWANG.
“OHHH CHITTA WOTTA HEENY GONNA HAFFA OHH” was most of what Judas could discern from the three remaining leprechauns who stood and began to roll up their sleeves. The tarnished golden buttons on their coats had pots of gold inlaid on them, and Judas made a note to write it down later. The codex was his guide, and had it had information on leprechauns before the event at the Curran home, Judas may have known what pain was to be suffered when a leprechaun got a hold of the rear of one’s calf.
The fighting traveler shoved his hair back over his head before revealing the blade from his belt loop and grabbing it in his left hand. The golden gun, which Judas had received as ample pay for disposing of a bull chupacabra that had escaped from an underground chupacabra fighting ring, before the local authorities had caught wind, caught a bit of light that fluttered in from the kitchen window and blazed in the remaining counter top Leprechauns eye.
It growled, and leapt. His mates followed suit.
Judas floated to the left, sending the counter top combatant sailing past his right shoulder and onto a rugged table in a small dining area, and kicked the one foot five inch Rodrick, though Judas never would learn their names, back into his corner with great gusto that contorted Rod’s lower thoracic vertebrae. When Rod tried to rise, he found his legs didn’t try at all.
Rod’s friend who had been on the ground with him gnashed his teeth. Judas did register this, he truly was paying attention, but the table top leprechaun with three golden earrings leapt on Judas’ back and made to tear his throat out.
The human whirled around and his hands went to his shoulder to begin pulling away the newfound parasite, and this is when Judas learned all about Leprechaun’s mouths.
The first set of teeth in a leprechaun’s mouth are the loopish, gear looking whirls of blades. These teeth are to shred and rend and obliterate flesh, hide, bone, stone, and yes even metals. Behind this intimidating display is an equally tall and equally sharp but pointed instead set of forty teeth. These teeth are stalactites of war whose only purpose is to further dissect and partition any foreign objects into nothingness. The ultimate set of chompers are a bit more human in form, resembling molars in part, but also resembling eel’s arcing design. Every other tooth is a flat and large tooth, with cusped and all to make dirt, food, and bone digestible. The other teeth in this array are pointed backwards and are thin and long like the end of a feather. They are barbed, and they are meant to keep anything in a leprechaun’s mouth precisely there.
Judas lost a potato sized mass of flesh from his lower leg. The jeans he wore were never wearable, even when they had been patched up, because who chooses to remember such an event just to wear a pair of pants?
A scream died in Judas’ throat, and he dug his knife to the hilt into the unwanted companion’s back, and arced his arm across his head and down as he turned around. The kebabed leprechaun was thrown from the knife and into the leprechaun who was scowling as he chomped away on Judas’ calf. The munching leprechaun was cursing and muttering as he struggled to move the other leprechaun’s corpse off his body when Judas knelt down. Slowly, and with a lazy lack of attention, Judas raised his arm and smote the creature by driving the weapon that had spiked the piggy backing attacker through its brain, twisting it back and forth to assure the Leprechaun’s demise.
The wound in Judas’ calf was bleeding quick, so Judas ignored the leprechaun who had become a paraplegic slumped in the corner and tore the curtain off the window. The sun lit up the gross floor, and sparkled on the cherry blood in the sink.
Nadine. Judas thought about Nadine as he pulled his pants leg up. Nadine the medicine woman from the bog, Nadine the mother Judas wanted more than glory, Nadine the witch. The dreadlocked woman with the libraryesque knowledge had taught Judas about roots. It wasn’t a knowledge that the fighter found himself imploring much, but when Judas saw the concavity of his leg he knew why he carried the packet of ground plants that he did. There was aloe leaves, fennel, opium poppy, cayenne pepper for muscle soreness, cocoa bean, and psilocybin mushrooms.
Between trips Judas often found the time to create his remedies. With honey and a bit of flour Judas was able to form small logs of the assorted flora. This was so that he could chew them in his molars as he performed the duty that was required.
It was storming outside when Nadine had sat Judas across from her and taught him some of her wisdom about natural remedies, and gathering plants, in her shed. There were rules that Judas would never forget.
The curtain was long enough to tie around Judas’s leg, above the wound. He knotted it there and began to search for alcohol in the kitchen; he knew there would be some. Absent mindedly he shot the last living leprechaun who couldn’t seem to shut the fuck up. Through the head wouldn’t be an appropriate description since there was no head left at all; only what looked like a stage that had been heckled by rotten tomatoes.
Alcohol located, thankfully of an enormous proof, Judas placed the combination of roots in his mouth. The taste was like salvation and unwashed greens, though Judas had washed them. It was just because they had been so much a part of the earth.
The wounded man found his way, on one leg, to the leprechaun torched couch and lay himself along it. The bleeding had slowed, and Judas knew that a pain this large needed time and rest. Two things Judas didn’t consider himself in abundance of, but he buttoned up his jacket and put his weapons in their places. He bit down hard on his medicine, and he felt juices flow down his throat.
Know the plant before eating what it bears. Know the plants, dangerous and therapeutic, in your area; by name. Do not eat plants unless I am certain of what it does to my body. Know the plant before eating what it bears. Know the plants, dangerous and therapeutic in my area; by name. By name. Do not eat plants, or what they bear for that matter, unless I am certain of what it does to my body. I’m sorry Nadine, I didn’t know.
That’s the point, Judas boy, you didn’t know.
He was my fucking brother, Judas!
Sometimes the women whispered, and sometimes they screamed.
Sweat coated Judas’s brow, and his calf ached and ached. Time had gone by, and Judas thought not very much, and he thought that was okay because the bleeding had seemed to halt for the time and the task was not assuredly done. Only the kitchen.
“Fucking free loading micks,” Judas spoke softly, because he didn’t curse much, except he was in so much pain.
The hobbling man lifted a door that led to Bobby Curran’s old waterboarding castle; the basement was dank and dark.
Mutterings and chitterings rang from deeper below, and Judas returned to the kitchen to make a Molotov cocktail from his one-time antiseptic, a rag he found on the oven, and matches that he used to smoke would be the catalyst when the time came.
Again Judas lifted the basement door, which was in the corner of the nearly furnitureless living room, and hiked down the latter. Chittering and muttering became louder, and Judas didn’t mind. In fact, though he didn’t think of himself as a maniac, he did smile a little.
The basement was dark and dank but less so further down and away from the ladder. A card table had been set up, and though leprechaun’s had no concept of playing cards, they did sit at the table and appear to chat as the four in the living room had. There were seven at the table, and there were five more in the corner sitting in a circle. All twelve grinned and clacked their teeth, stroking their own facial hair or their allies’.
On the walls there were sticky blobs that looked like Brussel sprouts that had been over steamed, except even over steamed Brussel sprouts do not hold infantile leprechauns in them. Because the globs on the wall did. Though their heads were smaller, the fetus creatures’ teeth were unmistakably enormous and even in their formulating state they had a messy shag of red hair.
Judas shot three dead and used the matches to ignite the Molotov cocktail before any were the wiser. A cacophony of screaming and chatter didn’t distract Judas from seeing the pods on the wall go up in flame, and he was thankful. Perhaps the entire pod scenario was a piece of the opium and psilocybin, but he had a great tolerance to the narcotics, and he decided to record it in the codex later.
When things had settled down it seemed to Judas that it went nearly as well as possible. In their panic, the insect like hairy creatures neglected their manes that had caught flame and ran in scattered directions. This behavior actually lit more leprechauns on fire, and, though Judas gagged at the smell of roasting Irish fairy, he was glad only a few still squirmed in their forest green jackets. Black boots crushed leprechaun lungs and hearts as the traveler limped around the room polishing off the remnants of the nest.
Unlike on the Valhalla, Judas dispatched these rogues as a mercenary. That meant he did the hitman’s task of cleaning up leprechaun blood, a thick mucus, off the walls for Curran. It was like destroying cradled, aborted Irish demons.
While Judas finished, scraping blood that had now congealed in the sink in the kitchen off with a bit of curtain, he thought about Jane, and he thought about Nadine, and mostly he thought about Robert. Robert Thurner was mustachioed too, and Judas always thought that was a sweet thing which they shared.
Appealing to the Gopher Gang or not, Judas decided that the house being vacant and the burlap sack of leprechaun corpses he left in the corner of the basement, plus a note of thanking his “good friend” Mr. Curran, would be enough to allow him to leave directly from the neighborhood right then. The city was getting colder, and as he had thought before, it was only ever getting colder from its people, too.
The sun was still shining, and this gave Judas good faith as he picked up his suitcase from the front, barren yard. The two black figures strolled away, the sentient one deciding exactly what he would do next.
From a dark corner a third, fanged figure participated in the afternoon that Judas was enjoying. The corner was dark and no sun would get in. Micchia’s man, well, once man, watched from behind a high collared coat, and started to walk, keeping care. The sun was shining only on his master’s prey, and this gave him good faith.
Chapter 4 – Pedro
When he went to tell One Lung of his victory over the faeries, he had given him a tip that confirmed his suspicion.
“Box 36 at the O’pra,” he had leaned in. “You’re looking for the Italian, right?”
“He’ll be there, surely,” One Lung reclined.
Yani’s note had mentioned a Italian elder vampire who trolled the theater. It fed right into this family theory – an ancient line of vampires that Judas had tasted a portion of on board the Valhalla.
The Metropolitan Opera House was a beehive of activity. It’s gilded corridors a swarm of well to do socialites. Manhattan’s social elite. In their ostentatious finery they mingled, tipping back their glasses, each filled to overflow with as much value in alcohol as a working man makes in a day. Judas entered, his small satchel slung over his shoulder, and bought a ticket, unaccustomed to the mindless euphoria, the inane topics of conversation, and the queer smells of the rich. After locating Box 36 on an ornately framed, wall mounted layout, he moved toward and then up a wide, burgundy carpeted staircase, and then up two more, for Micchia’s reserved Box was on the enormous structure’s fourth floor. Judas had never known that the floors which the wealthy stepped upon would be so soft. He located both the entrance to Micchia’s seats and the proper spot from which to observe it.
Tonight’s production would be Wagner’s Opus Gotterndammerung, The Twilight of the Gods. Though he was not an aficionado of the operatic arts, the creature killer derived a grim smile upon reading the synopsis of the work with its references to the three sisters of Fate, the magic ring, and the notion of the ending of the time whence the reign of the arrogant, powerful Gods comes to an end. Many of this evening’s patrons began to move to their seats, chock full of mirth and liquid self-importance. So many peacocks, thought the hunter, gathered together for their presentation to one another. Judas spotted two men wearing black tails, one older, wearing a warm smile, the other a tall, axe faced man with a watchful eye. Carrying himself with his weight balanced deftly on the balls of his feet, more security presence than guest, he opened the door to Box 36 for the other, for Antony Micchia.
Judas knew well how to contain his fear. Among many other things, the two years serving in the government’s intervention in Haiti had taught him that. The fear worked for him now in the same way that a stage actor used his nervous energy to hone his craft, to channel it, to improve it. All of his senses stayed sharpened now with not one, but two of the fiends to dispatch this night. He watched the door to the box from the far end of the burnished oak bar in the mezzanine, watched through the mirror, fully aware that Micchia’s escort was keenly able to detect anything amiss. He sipped a soda water, planned, and waited. A hunter at his quarry’s favorite watering hole.
About seventy minutes into the production the door to 36 opened. The younger man walked out, looked furtively around, assertively alert, shut the door as to make as little noise as possible, and headed for the loo. Judas rose from his seat at the bar, grabbed his cane, and walked that direction.
Micchia’s tall soldier, smelling of jasmine perfume and cigar smoke, stood nearby. His well-polished, long boots planted solidly on the floor, beginning to relieve himself, swiveled his head briefly, his black, pupilless eyes scrutinizing the well smiling creature slayer.
“Evenin’, good sir,” Judas said, leaning his cane against the wall, unzipping his trousers, and stepping to the toilet facing the wall opposite the creature. A snarl and a faint animal sound was the only response as the beast turned back to the wall. Judas slipped a fine and strong silk cord behind the steel pipe bringing water to the bowl below him. With rapid, practiced movements, he grabbed the looped end in his left hand, keeping the free end in his right, and moved two steps behind him, dropping the open circle of strong line around the head of the bodyguard as it became aware of the danger and started to turn, its speed of motion faster than any manner of man. As the soft, grey noose fell below the strong chin of his opponent, as the beast’s hands rose for Judas’s face, the free end of the cord was yanked hard and continuously, pulling the now growling thing sideways and off balance towards the unused bowl which moments before Judas had stood in front of.
With an unceremonious thud it fell on its back, sliding quickly to a stop against the metal pipe, grasping for the too tight silk cutting into its windpipe. Judas tied the free end with great speed around the pipe of the other toilet and pulled the small crossbow from his satchel as the beast reached now for the ebony handled, double edged knife inside its boot. With a small twang, a quick rustle of moving air, and a thwack of contact the bolt settled through its upper right arm, pinning it to the burnished oak wainscoting behind it. It now reached awkwardly across its body with its left hand to grab the knife still buried in its right boot.
Judas sneered, loading a new bolt into the crossbow. The bodyguard’s fingers fumbled for the top of the handle, its leg and arm crossing in front of it, a bundled, jerking mass of tailored clothing and gnashing teeth. Judas raised his hand, aiming the finely machined weapon, fired the custom made bolt straight through the soldier’s face with a satisfying thud, protruding now squarely from the upper left cheekbone, holding the head now firmly against the polished wood.
“The line seems too thin to do its job, does it not?” Like an insect pinned to an entomologist’s board the creature writhed and kicked out at Judas impotently, still fighting to understand just what was transpiring as Judas pulled out a half inch wide metal spike, hollowed out like a straw, and dropped his body weight onto the flailing being, driving the oversized nail down and into the upper chest, feeling it slide down through the ribs to settle into the black heart below.
“Imagine. The product of a spider.”
Kneeling on the one free hand, Judas removed the small pewter flask of holy water and aimed it for the opening of the spike’s top as it moved wildly.
“I mean the line, of course, not this.” He held it still as best he could as he poured half of the container’s contents at the hole, unsure of just how much fell in. A stench of scalded meat rose into his nose, blisters bursting on the skin of the face and neck as the creature’s eyes popped wide open, a soundless scream escaping its lungs as the potent liquid worked its way into the unholy, organic machine that powered the squirming mass below him.
Judas grabbed the knife from the bodyguard’s boot, dismounted, leaving it flopping like a fish on the deck of a boat as he moved to the door to the hallway and jammed the blade into the thin space between the opening side of the door and its jamb, pinning the door properly closed.
“Die already, blast it,” he needed to hide the foul thing so as to allow enough time for his night’s true work to reach fruition. He kicked at the fletched end of the metal bolt protruding from the upper bicep, working it free, removed it as the mass of wretched flesh finally stopped moving. Releasing the line from its knot about the pipe, Judas kicked the beast’s lifeless head from the wainscoting and removed the silk line, wrapping it quickly and stowing it back into the inner pocket of his burgundy blazer. He dragged the heavy body into the far stall, propped it upright against the wall, kicked twice at the end of the crossbow bolt to secure the skull against the wall, twisted the boots into a semblance of a proper position on the floor, locked the stall door, and clambered up and over the door.
“Damn, it’s always the straight men.”
Grabbing a long swath of paper from the stall next door, Judas hurriedly mopped up the dark splashes of blood as the door was tried by an obviously unhappy patron of Manhattan’s finer stuffs.
“Sorry,” Judas yelled out. “A bit sick in here.”
One more handful of paper moistened quickly in the sink sufficed to hide the evidence of the killing, if killing it could properly be called, he thought.
The creature slayer grabbed up his cane and moved in two steps to the door, prying the knife free, slipping it into his boot as the door swung in and the red faced, corpulent man in the white sideburns and top hat puffed at him with indignation.
“Well, if it isn’t too much trouble, sir,” he said to Judas, reminding him of a more swollen version of one of Santa’s famous elves. Judas brushed past him, turning his face down and away in an attempt to thwart any possible future recognition.
“Scallywag and a scoundrel, I’d say. Really!”
If you only knew the horror I just cleaned from your gilded city, he mused, moving silently on the thick red and gold patterned carpet of the ornate hallway lining the doors to the prized, private boxes of the wealthy.
The door to Box 36 swung inward on well lubricated hinges, each one, thought Judas, costing probably as much as he paid in rent each month. The box was surprisingly small but velvety plush. Micchia didn’t turn his head, confident in his guard’s capabilities and fully enraptured in the swelling crescendos of sound from the stage below. A brief survey showed only the two high backed, padded chairs, a small cabinet of liquors, glasses, cigars and snacks on the wall next to the door, a coat tree and an umbrella stand. The only other objects in the room, aside from a heavy, gold framed mirror on the wall, were Micchia, salt and peppered haired, fully bearded, a short, heavy crystal tumbler half filled with a floral gin of high quality, and the bottle itself set on a round shiny wooden table between the two chairs.
Judas closed the door, grabbed one of the heavy crystal glasses, poured himself two fingers of the clear juniper elixir, sat down, raising the glass to his lips, leaning his cane against the half wall in front of him.
“Here it comes,” Micchia said, his eyes, rapt and smiling, never leaving the stage. “So magnificent. Wait, wait,” the Eastern European accent prominent in his words. Judas took in the seven rows of boxes lining the curve of the spectacle that the opera house was, noticed the gilded vents and the chandeliers, the small heads of the audience below. The voice of the opera singer was something magnificent indeed, the voice so clear and so strong.
“Ah…you see, Clemenza, is it not as I have told y-“
Only now did the man turn in all his sophistication and finery to see who it was that he now spoke to.
Yet the old vampire was not new to surprises. A long lifetime, one spanning almost four centuries, trains one well enough in the art, no, the science of interpersonal happenings.
“So, it is you.”
The man appeared to be a man in his sixties, appeared every bit an upper Eastside gentleman as he looked thoughtfully at Judas and put his cigar to his mouth, pulled slowly causing the end to glow a deep orange red.
It may have been the smallest of smiles that turned up the corners of the creature killer’s mouth, or it may been simply an involuntary reaction to the tang of gin. Micchia smiled.
He had known that Judas would come for him but he imagined that it would take weeks before it would happen. He imagined that his man could dispatch the mortal.
“And Clemenza, who saw your handiwork with the Irish - did he not present an obstacle? That one has not been bested in the hundred and twenty years that he has held his position.”
“He seemed competent.”
The older man drank from his glass, turned back to watch the spectacle below.
“Yet you seem in no way injured. I must say,” another pull from his Cuban. “I am impressed, Mr. Sycamore.”
This did worry Micchia, as did the knowledge that his cousin on the steam ship, despite his uncouth and unceremonious manners, was dispatched as well by this lesser being, this human. The bile rose in his throat and he tried to rinse it down to no avail.
“Tell me of the one who attacked Frederick,” Judas watched the man carefully, full in the understanding that he was no man, with the knowledge instead that this seemingly gentile man in his waning years was neither a man nor in any way waning. Indeed, he thought, this “man” was a butcher, a beast whose power and ferocity had allowed him to not only endure almost four centuries of bloody battle with both the mightiest of men and all manner of demon as well. Not only had he endured, Judas knew, but he had risen to the very top of the vampire food chain. “What do you know of that night, Micchia.”
It was as though the uttering of the two syllables that formed his human name impressed some new and previously unknowable premonition of threat to the vampire don.
“You seek your own end quite assiduously, do you not, Mr. Sycamore?”
“Call me Judas. I’ve some sense that we will be dispensing with all formality here rather shortly.”
The aria built in intensity and volume now, the crowd fixed in its attention, the orchestra’s utterly clear sounds a palpable presence, almost a wind that pushed upon their bodies.
“Yes. Well then, Judas,” another sip and pull on his cigar. “As impressive as your exploits up to now have been,” turning to fix his formidable gaze fully upon his guest, “what really do you estimate your chances to be of living long enough to finish the drink in your hand?”
“I shall drink it slowly, then,” Judas set the glass down, his eyes never leaving Micchia’s. “Again. The beast of which I speak. Do you know in which fetid place this filth now hides?”
“Oh, oh Mr. Sy-,” catching himself. “Judas, I think it not likely that Lord Vadelli hides at all. Nor do I believe that he is anything but effervescent in his anticipation of your visit. What he did to you before –the decimation of your manservant - guaranteed both your attempt to return to him and your premature death.”
Judas grabbed his cane with his left hand, grabbed the ivory handle with his right and twisted it ninety degrees until it made a sharp click, then withdrew a two and a half foot long, bright, double edged sword, setting it across his lap as he set the flask of holy water on the table between them.
“He was no manservant. The brother of a lover is all. Where is he, Mr. Micchia? This Vadelli?” He picked up his glass and drank half of the remaining gin. “This does not need to be as unpleasant nor as painful as you may imagine that it could be.”
The look in the older man’s eyes dimmed somewhat, and a look of nostalgia, thought Judas, seemed to fill them now as Micchia sat a bit more relaxed in his tall backed chair, resting his head and looking again out at the drama unfolding below.
“Maybe it is a game for younger beings,” sipping the alcohol and working it around in his mouth, trying hard to taste it, to remember it. “It is just, oh, just so ironic, I suppose, to find that after so many lifetimes of having my way with every man, every woman, every person on this infested planet, that it would come down to a man of, what are you, still shy of thirty cycles of this measly planet?”
Judas nodded, running his thumb along the fine edge of the thin yet deceptively strong steel of his blade.
On the stage below Brunhildde has taken revenge for the killing of Seigfried and in an operatic fervor of pitch and tone is commanding the Rhinesmaids to lay torch to the funeral pyre into which Seigfried’s body will be placed and into which she will throw herself along with the ring of power. The stage lights turn the entire auditorium from artificial night to full day, the dancing lights of the stage flames casting a devilish play of shadow across the men still seated in Box 36.
The creature killer knew enough about the guile of such as the being before him to understand that within their range of weapons perhaps the most potent of all was their ability to manipulate the minds of those whom they intended to devour. He hadn’t brought his golden gun due to the scene it would cause. The music below subsided somewhat, the final act only mostly finished. The beast besides him, while looking every bit the soft dandy of the Manhattan elite, was in every way a creation of the devil, formed and trained in the art of killing.
“You desire, then, to find the Dark Lord Vadelli, to seek him out for the purpose of what, Judas,” looking again into the eyes of the man who came to slay him, “to exact vengeance for the taking of your ability to have peace? Because of what he did to your poor Frederick?” Micchia smiled now as a shudder ran Judas’s length at his mention. Micchia drained his crystal glass, laughed softly.
“He was a fine boy. And still you believe that it was Vadelli that took him in every manner before feasting on his flesh?” He relit his cigar and pulled long on it as he watched the blood rise in his adversary. “My, my, but you underestimate the scope and ambitions of my liege,” knocking the fat ash from the end of his cigar. “As you remain ignorant of my role in the events which have directed the course of your obsession with pursuing the denizens of the darker realms.”
“What is it you are saying, fiend? Speak plainly now.”
“Oh, shall I?” Chuckling almost to himself, looking briefly down at the fine production below. “It behooves me to assume that at the least you have understood why it is that our Dark Lord had such interest in your pale sculpture from Brooklyn.” Returning his gaze to the younger man.
“Yes?” Judas’s upper lip curled, a wolf readying to launch at the taunting bear.
“There were really two intersecting phenomena that provided a draw of uncanny weight,” amusement licked at the corners of Micchia’s eyes, painted his lips. “The boy was a witch of great means, yes, of great and unheard of pure power. His abilities, his natural abilities, combined with the teachings given him by the long line of his mother and her mother’s mother stretching far back into the soul of the forests of the Isles. The ancient magics, you see, the rites that he worked, as you of all people well know, were no mere illusions of blue smoke and chicken blood. He possessed that most rare of traits. You see, our Lord had need of his power, singular amongst both mortals and within the groupings of us higher beings. Devouring a body with that power does a man, or one wearing a man’s form like my lord, good. And does good to get rid of the man on your tail. Or so we hoped.”
Memories itchy and hot like worms ate at Judas’s mind, the images of returning to his abode to find Frederick torn into red pieces, of Vadelli’s assault, of the beating he took and of the rending of poor Freddy’s body. His enchantments were strewn in the room like bits of boat after a wreck.
“Your words mean nothing,” he lied. “And know this, filth, I shall in short order exact my revenge on your ‘Lord’ for what he did to my Frederick.”
“Hah. Your Frederick,” blowing a blue white spray of smoke through his broad grin, “he made such sounds, Judas, such sounds as you most likely never produced when you played his body, the finely crafted instrument that he was.”
Judas twitched and Micchia smiled even wider still.
“Twas not Lord Vadelli that ravaged “your” Frederick, my young friend. It was I who reveled in the fruits of him. That night was long. I was only repaying the debt, since you did leave him to hunt my kind for the night. Did you not?”
Judas heard only his heart now smashing against his inner ear. The orchestra, the thundering voice of the two singers below, the words of his adversary now tumbling like grotesque shadows from Micchia’s moving lips, all of it drowned out now, a black veil pulling itself across his eyes.
His extended arm now held in front of Judas an ivory rosary yellowed with time, one that Judas knew well although he had not seen it in seven years. It had once belonged on the night table of the only being that ever knew Judas and accepted him, the only man that he had ever allowed to see him be weak.
In a move too fast to see, Judas swung his blade across the space between them, severing Micchia’s hand from his wrist, ripping the rosary from the hand as it began to fall. In the space between moments, Micchia snarled a fierce cry and pounced, maybe flew, from his seat on top of the slayer of beasts, knocking both of them backwards as the chair toppled onto the floor, a sticky, hot spray of blood filling the small box with a sugary, pungent odor.
The beast’s teeth were gnashing at his neck as Judas worked to keep him at bay, shifting his weight to roll the creature off of him. Both knew full well that it behooved neither to make their struggle known to any other person as the war which they waged had been and needed to continue to be by all necessity kept secret. He worked to slide the blade between them, his left arm folded across him, pushing against the undead weight of the vampire.
The final song begins and with it the torching of Valhalla and the Hall of the Gods. Both the light now and the volume rising.
“Damn you to whatever hell you came from,” pushing the flat of the blade up now with both hands, succeeding in rolling him off. Both now, eyeing the other, rose to their knees. With almost a dark humor Judas saw that the stump of Micchia’s left wrist was reshaping itself into some sort of a point. He swung the blade but missed cleanly, the beast dodging back and now moving too fast into him, around him, wrapping his arm around Judas’s neck and squeezing. His airway closed. Judas aimed the end of his sword at the face behind him and thrust it backwards, feeling it catch some part of flesh. The grip loosened somewhat and tucking his chin tight, he used his left hand to shove upwards on the elbow holding him, managed to drop below. Doing a forward roll, breathing in deeply, Judas reached into his inner pocket and withdrew a small linen bag, popping up on his knees behind the tall chair formerly occupied by the patron of Box 36.
In a growl of a voice not loud enough to be heard above the rising finale of the night’s event, the vampire taunted him:
“You’ll soon enough become quite familiar with that hell, mortal.”
He walked slowly forward, pushing the chair over as Judas stood up and flung the powder from the small bag into the creature’s face.
“Ahh!’’ wiping his eyes, his left stump now one large horn of a claw appearing made of extended bone. “Tricks! Is that your final trick, Judas? Was it your best shot?”
Micchia moved himself so that Judas was trapped now in the corner of the small box. He was, indeed, out of tricks.
“Like a rat I shall break your back and then I shall eat you even as you still live.”
It was then that the powder began to change the vision of the four-hundred-year old creature, causing the world around him to shift and move, creating three different versions of his prey. Judas swung the blade low, sinking it through the flesh of the calf to embed into the bones of the lower leg. Micchia grimaced in pain as he stabbed at Judas with the ten-inch claw of his left arm. Unfortunately for him the Judas that he properly skewered was but a phantom. The climax of the pounding voices dueling below mirrored the tempo and the fury of the men battling in the opera’s prized box.
Dodging around the vampire, Judas picked up his flask of holy water from where it had fallen on the floor then spun and kicked all of his strength and weight into the back of Micchia’s right knee, dropping him directly to the soft carpet, the long blade still stuck into the bone of his right leg. Grunting, the vampire swung his claw around and behind him too fast, ripping into the meat of Judas’s left side, breaking two ribs and gouging a furrow into him. The pain blew an enormous white explosion into his head, stunning him. He stepped back as the creature rose again to its feet, unscrewing the flask’s top and grabbing the ebony handled weapon of Micchia’s guard, dousing it with the sacred liquid.
“What, more sleight of hand, Sycamore?”
The beast leapt for him, its long teeth bared and poised to sup, but once again it mistook which of the apparitions was the real Judas. The hunter drove the eight inches of the holy water dripping steel up through the chin of his enemy, driving it hilt deep at an angle into the brain. Again Judas kicked down through the back of the knee to put Micchia on the ground.
It made effort to speak, but the sound that emerged was stifled as though the top of a bottle had stopped an expanding gas from escaping, a muffled sound overpowered by the piercing clarion note of the final piece on the stage below. In its eyes there was certainly no fear, for the beast that had played the role of Antony Micchia, upper East Side dandy, had become more than intimate with the full panoply of the untoward emotions of the undead, of the vicious and unclean horrors that comprised the populations of the sundry realms of the kingdoms wherein he was nothing if not welcomed.
No, mused Judas later as he came to pore over the event, it seemed that the emotions displayed in those eyes underneath the jaundiced yellow glow of the opera house was more akin to the wistful satisfaction of a life well lived.
The creature killer, his left hand still on the handle of the long blade, wrenched it around in a strong, tight circle, twisting the head up and around as the scalpel sharp metal edge tore a mighty gash, half severing the beast’s head. The claw came up and went into and through Judas’s left bicep, causing him to half swoon. In a state of half wakefulness, his ability to continue a testament to the ghastly training and experiences of his soldiering against the living and the dead, he found the focus to overturn the flask in his right hand and push it down the gaping neck wound of the beast whose left knee he still held to the floor with his foot. The tenor below held his note, the subtle vibrato modulating with the pain of loss, a golden and timeless sound which hovered and dominated as the opera goers held their collective breaths, witnessing the death throes of the Gods.
Judas reached down and wrenched the now broken sword from the vampire’s lower leg and brought it up to saw through the remaining flesh around the beast’s spine as it worked still to free itself from its destroyer with the long claw, missing as the holy water moved down into its belly. His mind now a red storm at sea, his eyes feral, glazed over with battle fury, Judas grabbed the largely dismembered head in the crook of his still good arm and pulled it down and to the side, his knee in Micchia’s back, torqueing the bloody mess over until it snapped and came off.
The audience gasped, roared with exaltation and unbridled approval as the tenor dropped his final note and collapsed to the stage, the lights fading softly down, full dusk come at last.
Judas Sycamore lay on his back on the plush floor, letting the head roll free to his left, the pain of his wounded arm and ribs acute, the smashing of his pulse too present, the words of the foul creature who spread its blackness under the name Antony Micchia filling his mind with images which burned like a molten metal poured into the spaces behind his eyes. Without the rosary he would have known that the fiend talked only unsubstantial words of deceit for purposes both clear and easily dismissed. But now Frederick was with him again. A little, faded set of beds.
Binding the flowing wounds of his arm and his chest, staunching their bleeding and cleaning up the blood as best he could from his boots, Judas readied to leave. He took Micchia’s outer long coat from the coat tree and put it on to cover his own torn and blood soaked garments. Gazing around the small room, the victor of this night’s contest thought for a moment, then took the remaining length of his cane sword and hacked off the twelve-inch claw of bone at the beast’s wrist and placed it in the small satchel with his crossbow, settling the strap around the back of the sole upright chair and then rifled through the pockets of the grisly, wet nonhuman shape below him. He took the handmade gold watch from the fob pocket, the large diamond ring worn on the small finger of the right hand, the wallet fat with unspent notes, and a small box of wooden matches with the words The Columns Hotel on its outside.
The same words were printed on the business card found on the Valhalla. So it meant Lord Vadelli, the vampire lord, the ancient sire, couldn’t be far. Judas sat down, collected a glass, filled it with two fingers of gin and waited for the crowds to settle into the hallways.
A small pill box from his trouser pocket provided him with two small hand rolled pellets of a combination of antibacterial plant matter and laudanum that he readied before any known combat. The ten minutes of regaining his body’s resting balance and of allowing the painkiller to dull the biting pain of his new wounds were filled with uncomfortable thoughts and with a sorting through of the new information that he had just gleaned.
The words of Micchia worked like beetles in his head, boring through his psyche with great discomfort. He finished his drink, practiced deep breathing with his eyes closed like Nadine taught, then stood, stashed the rest of the bottle of the gin, though Judas wasn’t much for it, in his satchel, and shouldered it before joining the city’s elite in the crush of pressed bodies pouring into the hallway. He couldn’t shake the thought that he shared less with the frilled, rouged dandies he kept pace with than the beast whose four century reign he had just ended.
Judas hailed a carriage to bring him to his flat. He heated a bowl of water, pulled the sticky, wet clothes from his upper body, and cleaned his wounds before wrapping them in the cleanest cloth he could find. He would allow himself two days of rest to ease his broken skin and tissues to begin their proper healing. Then he would delve into this Vadelli.
Chapter 5 – Pedro & Paolo
No one stopped Judas from leaving town. He was thankful since he had done his damndest to please One Lung, and he had even managed to help out Yani. Fortune favored Judas more than ever before, since he hadn’t had any particular plan for seeking Vadelli.
Avenging Frederick was just what he needed. It was like a pipe dream – the type of thing that many hold onto in their back pocket, but never have the courage to show to the world. What Frederick meant to Judas was insurmountable. Their relationship was brief and gorgeous, intimate and brimming with glee.
The train clicked and clacked into orbit. Judas had a not very good seat by the window, but it beat the Valhalla as far as transportation goes.
He had met Fred Paddocks by-way of his sister, a woman named Dahlia. Judas had been introduced by a mutual friend of high class, fancying each other while Judas was in the city, and their dates had been quite pleasant. Judas saw them as a way to meet people in high society – try to sniff out on large prized leads.
It was like she had never existed once Fred walked in the room. There was a buffet, a gorgeous thing with lobster, and Frederick sidled up to his sister.
“Bugger all this, right?”
“Hush now, Frederick,” Dahlia slapped his hand.
“Come on – it’s boring.”
“He’s right there,” Judas chimed in.
Frederick returned the look. He had short red hair, like a patch of fox fur, and a smile like half of a moon.
“Frederick this is my date, Judas,” Dahlia said.
“Hey Jude,” Frederick said.
“Hello Frederick,” Judas tipped his hat.
Judas was only in New York that time around for six weeks. As those few weeks were spent with Dahlia, they were also spent with Fred. The two would meet in the same apartment Dahlia was in; their family owned the flat and whoever was in the city used it at their leisure. It only led to aloneness because Dahlia kept busy bookkeeping in Manhattan. She didn’t need to, it was just a way to give back, she thought.
They sat by the large window in the front of the room and took each other apart. Judas peeled back Fred and got to see his loves: sailing, painting, and magic. Judas showed himself to Fred, too, and the ways that he made his money sweeping the night away. They couldn’t believe their luck. They kissed.
Frederick had the body of an athlete, his physique golden. He preferred to take Judas in his hands and mouth, and Judas stroked Fred for his generosity. They slept together and fled the harshness of life.
Judas stayed in a hostel, and if he was clever could sneak Fred in the back. If anyone knew what they were doing with each other, the ways they grabbed one another, they would be run out of both the apartment and the hostel.
Work had been good for Judas and Fred was inspired to take his magic further. As Judas took out stooge creatures, ghouls and whelp vampires, his notoriety swelled. In that fiendish world, offending the wrong people meant a fast punishment.
When Judas came home Fred was murdered. His small joy desecrated and sundered. Judas preferred not to cry, but shambled into a watery mess that evening. The family searched for Judas – he took refuge with Jane, a woman he met at the Dragon, for a few weeks before his lust rose and soured the deal. He took to Europe shortly after.
The classic horn of the train woke him up. It wasn’t fair he still thought of him, dreamt of him, but he meant to end all of that. Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, was just an outpost, really. But a well to-do one, filled with people who were serious about the world of crude oil. Silly but sturdy looking buildings read “General Shoppe” and “Post Office” on his left and right. Judas hailed a coach and asked him to take him to the edge of town.
A cabin that felt like a shack sat in a bit of yard away from the road. Just like Judas had been told in the letter he received while he was abroad.
He knocked on the rusty door.
Arthur opened the door.
“Hey there, Sticks,” Judas stuck out his hand.
Arthur wrapped him in an enormous hug. The man was tall and lankey, like a Cherokee scarecrow.
“You’d better fill me in, old pal,” Arthur invited him in.
Judas laid his luggage to rest and took off his coat. The old soldiers caught each other up on their lives and how they lived since Haiti. How the city had become too much for Art and he spent his time tinkering away on gadgets and inventions, and sold any good ones to the local militia. How Judas needed his old pal’s help.
“You’d better go to the Columns, then,” Art scratched his chin. “He’ll be there, I reckon.”
The Columns Hotel was certainly the most lavish establishment in the otherwise downtrodden work camp of a place. Judas walked into the lobby and observes, looking for a large, bearded man with imposing manners. The red carpet in the lobby, the gold, braided trim, the chandelier, the dark hardwood front desk, the smart uniforms which every employee dons informs him of the expectations which each guest must have. A wide, elaborately adorned double door lead onto the saloon and dining area which stood adjacent. Having left Art behind in order to remain inconspicuous, in order to keep his friend less vulnerable to the racism abundant in this country, Judas found a table in the corner of the place and, ordering a neat glass of middle shelf whiskey, sat down to watch and to wait.
He was rewarded roughly sixty minutes later when he heard a loud baritone from the adjoining room.
“I’ll have his head, I will. The rogue. Bring him to me.”
A man of extra human proportions walked through the open French doors and into the dining area, moved between the ten tables, sidled up to the bar, ordered a bottle of Dewars, received it, walked with the other man with him to the table fronting the hearth, sat down and pours two glasses, laughed loudly, raucously, and drank. At about that pace.
“I don’t think so, Mr. Alighieri. He will,” says the colossus of a man, holding his glass up in front of his face, watching the flames dance through the golden liquid, “as the others have before him, give way. Have you tendered him my offer?”
A watchtower of a man, carrying some case, followed his employer to his table.
“Why yes, sir, of course he has. I believe he is quite clear on the matter.”
“Tomorrow then, Mr. Alighieri. Tomorrow it will happen, yes?”
“Of course, Mr. Vadelli. Tomorrow.”
Judas listened, watching surreptitiously, from his table in the furthest corner, fascinated. The creatures have never ceased to have this effect on him. To keep him rapt and interested, ripe with interest and intent. How they appear, how they act and behave almost entirely like their mortal cousins. He was amused until his thoughts returned to Frederick. To the part the hulking wop before him played. The hunter’s eyes narrowed, his teeth crushing too firmly together.
Watching Vadelli, observing the great power that radiated from him, his sheer mass, made Judas aware that he needed Vadelli’s devil sworn henchmen to fight him separate from the great beast himself, for he appeared too powerful to take down when aided by his unholy posse. He came to understand that to tilt the balance in his encounter with the Italian’s associates, Judas needed to choose the place and he realized that in these ways he could just maybe succeed in taking down the group of six and then the cursed lord himself.
You may have fooled some of these proletariats, Judas thought as he watched the grizzly man that had blended into the bar with his associates, but I see you.
I see you.
Judas stood and came to the bar, a sleek and polished slab of hardwood, walking by the table where Vadelli and his numbers man sat.
“A scotch,” Judas said. “I’ve just come back to the states and I’ve a mariner’s thirst.”
A pencil stopped writing behind Judas, a cough, then the writing continued. The scotch scooted into the traveler’s hand, a coin then audibly slapped onto the handsome bar in reply.
“Where’d you come into?” a forgettable tender asked. It was a pointless question.
“Where else? New York, the island,” Judas half-cocked his head over his shoulder. “On the steamship Valhalla.”
The pencil stopped, and the small, bird like aide murmured something too hushed to be heard. Judas sipped, the tender wrung out the dusty excess of the hotel from an unpopular pint glass. A scurrying, and then a knowing.
Judas stood with baited breath, expecting the next piece.
“The Valhalla? Here fellow, well met,” a roaring voice, with an unmistakably Italian accent. “Come drink with me at my table.”
The area had been hushed. Judas saw that Vadelli now sat alone. The gin set down with a small clacking sound as Judas took his seat across from the smiling baron.
There was a moment, brief, where Judas experienced something akin to panic. Basilisk eyes from stories Yani told were the closest thing Judas could think of that might capture Vadelli’s likeness. His eyes were a bear trap, coated in marmalade, if the man had been captivating. It wasn’t a sick yellow, but a thick, almost glowing, powerful shade that seemed to hug the sides of the mogul’s eyes.
He came back, and Vadelli had waited for him. The Italian monster was no stranger to this beat in his hunting, this rhythm to his tactics.
“You know the ship?” Judas asked, regaining his composure, bringing his drink to his lips.
“I do. I surely do,” Vadelli shot out a hand. The vampire was clearly strong, but also quick. “Tormarco Vadelli. I own land here in the Creek. In fact, friend, I own most all of the land here.”
The haughty beast sipped his tawny colored glass, appraising the still, hard faced man opposite him.
“What business do you pursue in Pennsylvania, so,” looking into Judas’ eyes. “So far from New York?”
“You mistake me already, Mr. Vadelli. For you see I assure you than I am indeed not your friend,” he paused, returned the great stare, waited. “My name is Judas Sycamore and I am here to satisfy, among others, my urge for proclamation.”
Vadelli had not needed to hear the name to know his quarry. His gorgeous eyes drew tighter.
“You’re in the land grabbing game, then?”
“I am,” Judas said. “I just secured a plot out past the textile store. Thirty-six by one twenty-two.”
“That’s a hotly contested plot, no? It’s not like the old world, where one just took and took,” Vadelli almost purred. “How much did you pay?”
“It was a gift,” Judas lied. “From Antony Micchia. It was in his will, that sweet old man.”
Vadelli’s left eye gave a twitch and he sat forward in his chair, and Judas knew he hooked the ancient lord. The vampire leaned back, though, and composed again he purred:
“And when might you be at your,” then paused to smile, the dance catching him in all of its sublime rhythms. “Plot?”
“I’ll be working there late this afternoon I suppose,” Judas lied again. “But that doesn’t much suit you, does it? Daytime, I mean.”
Vadelli made a click with his tongue, sucked his teeth, his eyes narrowing against this game being played. “My associates will be by to make an offering this evening,” Vadelli peered at the bar tender before standing, his bag in his hand. “The most important, the most permanent work is done at night, as you say. I hope you find our price to be fair.”
Judas nodded, cocked his head to one side in a sign of adieu, and then Vadelli took his enormous presence and left.
The hinge on the door of Art’s room was as malnourished as the owner’s sanity. It alarmed the tinkerer in the back of his fellow veteran’s return. Art had been pulled from his home more rudely than Judas, so Judas could only sympathize with his loneliness. Judas was in a self-imposed exile; Art lost his people when he went to battle.
“Did it work? Vadelli dead as…he’s supposed to be? Hah,” Art said from the back room.
“No,” Judas replied, slipping out of his coat and unlacing his boots. “It’s as I expected.
“Signiore Tomarco Vadelli is a titan around here. It can’t be done without eliminating his lackeys.”
Art came out of the back room in a pair of overalls and a checkered shirt buttoned only once at the bottom looking at his best friend squarely in the eyes, trying to remember if he had any maize in the pantry.
“Okay. Okay then, Jude. Then let’s get to it. We’re tonight, then? For sure tonight?” There was a very small choke in his voice, just a little tremor but it did not go unnoticed between them.
“Yes,” Judas said as he put on a pair of leather gloves, his working set. “Hand me that pad of paper.”
The two men worked on their trap. They worked on their weapons, on their staging. Mostly they discussed the associates – Art knew them well enough from their local strutting.
Giuseppe Amorazzo was liken to Vadelli in build, meaning stout, meaning well-muscled, only even bigger, a veritable giant of a man. A tighter and more styled black beard, and instead of a suit, Amorazzo wore a heavy brown duster with an impossibly out of place Australian outback hat. Giuseppe, or the Tyrant, he was called, because he played right hand man in the organization. He was enormously strong, unforgiving, and he was ever eager to dispense the group’s terrible fury upon any man. Otherwise stubborn landowners magically cooperated after the Tyrant brought his special brand of management to the project.
Always toting around a sleek black case and co-leading the group, was the tall, fancy Cassius Alighieri. In an unforgettable way he was as unattractive as he was impossibly tall. His lack of aesthetic appeal hadn’t really any precise cause. The accounts man wore spats and a red carnation in his grey suit’s lapel. He had a bowler hat, and in some way pulled off gentlemanly. In most ways he gave off a sense of uncomfortability, even though he smiled plenty.
The two point men were certainly members of Vadelli’s ancient line, but had come like any immigrant rather than heading a ship like their leader. Edgar’s words struck Judas, since the fields of Pennsylvania were more like the streets of Rome than the ocean.
Behind these forward two was, relentlessly, Santee. It became apparent to Judas what had brought Santee to the associates after hearing Art’s description: he was Sioux, clear enough, and was probably Vadelli’s first siring in Oil Creek. Santee wore a faded blue Union soldier’s jacket, his long black braid falling straight between his shoulder blades. He drove the company stage coach, and he looked miserably sad. His warrior spirit no longer roamed freely, but it remained strong enough to keep him enthralled as one of Vadelli’s pawns.
Santee was no willing tool, but the same was not said for Ishmael.
This vampire was not a stranger to the hired gun work; Judas had heard his name before. Often in Europe, where Judas spent only a mite of time, it came to him that another club had been shut down due to a bizarre and unaccounted for murder. The only times these murders stopped is when Ishmael was working for someone, someone who kept him on a leash. Rarely seen in the day, and if so always in a pair of rectangular, pink shaded glasses, Ishmael was used for midnight work. Slaughtering a hen house, threatening an old man in his bed; Ishmael was good at jobs that let him use his preferred tool, a long and thin gold knife.
Devereaux was somewhere in between these two: interested, unlike Santee, but professional in his manner, unlike Ishmael. Devereaux was bald and had a head like a moose, protruding, bulbous. He was excellent though; the Louisiana native had only come North for more work after successfully installing his former employers in the positions of political power they had hired him to place them in. Devereaux kept time like a clock, too. His dark suit was never complete without his gold pocket watch and a gold nail file, both inscribed with an elaborately calligraphic ‘D.’
Bob the Geologist was said to be the fulcrum of the associates. The only way the operation worked was because of Bob’s “powers.” Bob had a waddle under his neck and a grey cap which made him look like a veteran of the great War. All they knew for sure was his name wasn’t actually Bob, and he wasn’t actually a geologist.
Art said he heard that Bob would kneel down in an acquired plot and somehow raise blue wisps from the ground. Then the associates would set up their machinery, and within a few weeks it was these spots that became the new sites of Vadelli’s corporation. It was more than colonization – Vadelli was harvesting something else from the earth.
“I can’t imagine,” Judas said.
“It ain’t uncommon fer souls to linger, ya know,” Art said. “He’s probably taking some elders out of the ground and eatin’ em.”
“That would surprise you?”
“Alright, Sticks, I’ll give you that.”
Art and Judas joked that Giuseppe was a train and that they would be children tossing stones against him, but, as they talked and worked, they realized that even the weak associates were real menaces. But that’s why they were working, and plotting, they reminded each other.
“Ya know,” Art said. “I actually got a story about those boys.”
“Another, Sticks?” Judas said. Sweat dripped from his brow, but not because he was tired.
“Well not the kind we been tellin’,” Art said as he continued constructing. “An anecdote of sorts.”
“So what people say about ‘em, what I’ve been tellin’ ya, is what they do on the average, right? The usual? Well these ASSociates had themselves a public outing right when the last of ‘em, the creole I think, finally came to town. Down at Skip’s on Main, it’s just their sort of place: looks nice, but the food is rotten,” Art said.
He was chuckling as he told his story. Judas even had a smile.
“Yeah, I saw it myself actually,” Art said, but the glee left his voice. “They were eating right? And a few boys, they were clownin’ at the bar about the black fella and the native, their words not mine, and the ‘wops.’
“I was looking through the window right? I’d been tradin’ and had my arms full when I caught the sight. I tell ya Jude, these guys looked at each other real quick, and when Ishmael got up, the same for the other fellas too, they left grip marks on the table. I swear I saw a tail on one of ‘em, and no doubt a fang or two out of that Cassius fella.
“Those fellas went as white as birch when Giuseppe grabbed one, and the six of ‘em, with Bob holding the door, wrangled the three townies into the alley. I sneaked around the corner to watch, and what they did…”
Art paused and he looked like he was fighting in Haiti again,
“It was as unholy as it gets. Roarin’, clawin’. The boys were in pieces. A lot of pieces.”
Both men had stopped working by the end of Art’s story. The sun was starting to go down, and most of the work was done, so Judas suggested dinner.
“Hey, Jude, I didn’t mean to shake ya, hah,” Art said as he patted Judas on the back. “I just thought of it is all.”
“It’s fine, Sticks,” Judas said as he sat at the ramshackle table. “Let’s just eat a hearty meal, alright? We need full stomachs to defend against gutting.”
They ate as much maize as they could.
Chapter 6 – Pedro
The last light of the sun cast an ethereal pall over the fields of derricks which covered the low, denuded hills of Oil Creek like so many bristly hairs on the flank of a boar, stealing all color from the scene. Judas leaned back against the lightly angled, wooden leg of a forty-foot tall rig, waiting for Giuseppe and the rest of Vadelli’s crew. The smell of oil, of creosote, of the sulphuric methane gas which pushed out of the ground stung his nose, tested the ability of his eyes to not tear up and run.
The oil fields were not empty. Roustabouts, cappers, drilling engineers, and common laborers of every sort tended their rigs, lighting lamps which now, as dusk settled in, intermingled with the furious, spouting flares of the natural gas wells, turning the vast wound of earth into a scene which reminded him of one of Dante's circles of hell. Almost to a man the workers wore such amounts of the wet, black product that they appeared to have been dipped in it and the sound of the many hundreds of them at work, barking and crying out to each other above the din of the machines formed a strikingly appropriate accompaniment to the nightmare all about him.
He went over the plan again and again. He checked the placement of his weapons. The crossbow hanging from its leather shoulder strap beneath his long coat. The sharpened ash bolts in the pouch attached to his belt behind his left hip, the six specially designed Art special bolts in the pouch behind his right. The knife in his boot. His flask of holy water in the breast pocket of his vest. He lit another cigarette and he waited.
"So," the dark voice of Giuseppe growled from behind him, coming closer. "You are ready to make this happen?"
The silence of the men's approach unnerved Judas. He reminded himself that complacency kills more men in his profession than the beasts themselves.
"I believe that I am."
This response seemed to amuse the large man, who turned his head and smiled broadly at the unsmiling retinue of forms behind him, all lit unsteadily in the flickering orange light from the surrounding fires.
"Let us then find and identify the plot so that we can conclude business on behalf of Mr. Vadelli shall we, Mr. Sycamore?" He stared now into Judas’ eyes as though gauging the veracity as well as the potential for gambit in the man.
Judas counted all six of the associates: the two Italians in lead, followed by Devereaux and Santee, then Ishmael and Bob. Shrouded in black clothes and cloaks, their faces seeming never to hold one visage, dancing and altering it seemed every time he tried to fix his gaze on one.
"We shall indeed."
He spun away from the group and led them directly into the heart of the nightmare scene which spread like a wildfire across the hills before them. Their path twisted and turned amongst the cobbled together, almost organic looking wooden structures which arose not in rows, not according to some well laid plan, but rather helter skelter, trees in some forest of the damned.
"You've no funny business planned for this evening now do you Mr. Sycamore? Nothing devilish afoot?" Cassius spoke loudly to be heard.
"I assure you, my good man, nothing funny at all."
"And where, pray tell, is your friend, Mr. Arthur?"
"He will be meeting us here shortly," turning his head back towards Italian Man.
"Not really much for idle chatter, are you, friend?"
They were almost there. Another hundred paces and the plan would go down. The palms of Judas's hands began to sweat as the words of a long proven adage ran through his head: even the best made plan does not survive contact with the enemy. Good, he mused. He did his best work on the fly and the killing madness was strong in him tonight, strong and building like a sexual urge growing beyond his ability to control. His lip pulled upwards in a snarl and the bile began to rise into his throat. One way or another, however it turned out, he would this night find release.
He heard a soft rushing sound behind him, a sound like wind blowing through leaves, turned his head back, saw that it came from the trailing figures in black. They were talking, or communicating at any rate and it sparked in the hunter a small awakening of anxiety. They began to disperse to the right and the left one at a time instead of following him. Would the plan dissolve so soon?
"No. It is just over here. This way."
He continued walking, less than thirty steps to go.
Devereaux stared grimly, silently from his position immediately behind the Italians. Four of the six were moving around in a half circle, sniffing, looking intently around for danger, continuing their rustling sounds.
"Yes, yes, Mr. Sycamore," the Tyrant grinned, used to control in lieu of his boss. "It is just that my fellow associates, well, well they have their own manner of approaching any situation."
Ten more steps.
"And Mr. Sycamore, like the pack of wild beasts that we both know they are, they have evolved to detect and then to defeat any danger that may befall their master."
Devereaux glowered at Judas, his eyes black jewels emitting a cold black fire.
Five more steps.
"Of course they have. And yet with no troubles at all we have arrived."
He turned around now to face Giuseppe and his diminished numbers, standing as they were in the precise spot where he had hoped they would. Judas reached up and removed his stovepipe hat, the signal to begin the show. Like a fiend salivating over his prey, Judas allowed the blood lust to explode.
From the top of the derrick to his left, Art fired the flare gun at the carefully fabricated and carefully positioned bag of petroleum concoction that hung from a line strung between two rigs twenty feet above the five creatures. The sound produced by the explosion was nothing grand, the effect of the thick, flaming naphtha liquid bursting like some giant demon tick certainly was enthralling.
Judas, having leaped clear of the majority of the liquid fire, pulled his long coat open, raising his crossbow. The scene changed now to one of chaos, sights and sounds undefinable and hard to put into any semblance of predictability ensuing. Giuseppe and Cassius howled curses, or orders, in some language never spoken amongst mortal men. A string of bellowing consonants, sharp sounds closer to the highly amplified ticking of insects than to any human words. Their hast, hair and clothes alight, the flaming, gooey fire fluid rolling down their cheeks and chest.
Devereaux and Santee who were just behind their leaders in the trap burned and writhed on the ground, their forms shifting and buckling, two spiders suddenly thrown onto a piece of too hot tin. Judas fired one of the custom bolts into Santee’s torso, where it penetrated and then, as designed, released its payload of holy water, causing the partially on fire wraith to collapse. He dissolved into a fetid, smoky pool.
In the rear, Ishmael’s head tilted back as though he looked into the sky, his eyes rolling back into their sockets, his arms rising upwards towards the sky, lips moving and beginning to foam. What kind of special trouble did this magic represent, Judas thought as he ducked beneath the rushing blow of Giuseppe, more flaming bear now than man. His height must have increased by fifty percent, the strange, almost pain producing, verbal onslaught continuing.
"Take him out!" Judas somersaulted and arose in a crouched run, making himself a harder target for the other four beasts coming in for the kill. Art fired his shotgun at the giant, his entire body now on fire as he began to climb the derrick, eager to grab and to dismember the source of his pain. The shot missed and the Tyrant began to laugh as he climbed, a fire demon at home in his chaos element.
Judas' next shot hit the closest of the swirling devils, Cassius, straight into its heart, but the bolt passed through it and sailed harmlessly away into the night. The creature suddenly was no longer there, but appeared twenty feet to his right while two more settled, as if out of the smoke before him, one of them striking and connecting with the hunter, its claws rending three deep gashes in his upper arm. His knife in his left hand, Judas cut at the neck of the wraith but like the other before him, the substance of the beast lessened and the knife cut empty air instead.
What magic indeed?
The derrick atop which Art sat was on fire now as Giuseppe reached not ten feet below him. A new shell in the gun afforded him his next opportunity and this time his shot was true, smashing into the demon where his neck met his shoulder, the blast knocking it from the derrick to fall twenty feet to the ground below. The intended damage from the phosphorus load had not the hoped for effect, causing the stunned creature to guffaw as it rose once again to its feet.
"Fuck, Art, they’re like ghosts now!"
Scrambling up the nearest derrick in an attempt to regroup, to come up with some tactic that may work. Glancing at his friend, Judas saw that the fire was now beginning to engulf his friend as Cassius screamed new orders to his remaining hounds, focusing the four on Judas as he waited for the fire to smoke Art like a small bird from its tree.
Art reloaded, unsure what to do next. Looking at Ishmael, still in some sort of trance, puzzled, his mind turning over to find a solution that might yet turn the battle. Bob was posted next to Ishmael, frantically looking left and right.
"I'ma have to get off here, Jude, n I ain' found no way to harm that fucker awaitin me-"
Then it came to him. Then he understood.
Before he could scramble to the top of the derrick one of the shapeless, swirling associates manifested above him, while below him one sunk his claws into his calf and wrestled to pull him free. Judas fired an ash bolt into its face, hoping that the natural magic of the wood would work where the metal of the previous bolt did not. The monster faded to smoke as the bolt passed through it but it did succeed in freeing Judas's leg from the impaling claws that moments before held him tight.
"Ishmael!" Art yelled, coughing hard from the smoke, his pants leg on fire now, burning him.
"Time to come down and play, mortal!" Giuseppe screamed up at him. "Time to die!"
"Kill Ishmael! He's the source! Not Bob!" Art jumped for a line that ran from his perch to another nearby derrick, caught it, his shotgun hanging from a cord around his shoulder, began to move hand over hand away.
Slashing at the beast above him and to dodge the slashing cut of yet another of the wraiths, Judas now understood as well. It was the Ancient European, the colonizer, using some Nordic magic, that was gifting the others with their power of insubstance. He needed now an unmolested moment in which to reload his bow. A moment he would not get. Instead the creature killer reached into the pouch behind his left hip, grabbed one of Art's special bolts and jumped from the derrick, the left sleeve of his coat ripping away in the grasp of one of his enemies.
The line from which Art dangled burned through and he plummeted the twenty-five feet to the ground, making a loud sound, half exhalation of breath and half fractured groan, as he hit the ground not fifteen feet from the flaming giant, its features largely melted and unknowable.
Judas drove the bolt to its fletching into the upturned left cheek of Ishmael. With all his agility he loaded another and plugged Bob the not helpful body guard.
The startled knife-wielding half-man crushed to the ground, somewhat falling into Bob at the same time. As Judas caught his breath, rolling to one side and popping back to his feet, the magic man writhed and rolled on the ground, one hand holding onto the three inches of metal which protruded from his face, and then he was still.
"Art!" The four associates, their powers reduced, made their rustling noises as they climbed down the derrick, giving Judas the time he needed to load another Art special into his crossbow. He fired and hit Cassius and this time the holy water inside did its work, collapsing the black figure instantly into the pool of flaming oil at its feet. He looked over as he loaded another bolt to see Giuseppe pick Art up and throw him into the flaming legs of the derrick, collapsing one leg, making the entire structure wobble, almost ready to fall.
Judas managed one more shot before Devereaux fell upon him. No time to reload, he grabbed for another bolt as he grabbed Judas, threw him down and began to rake him with his claws, moving in close with his teeth. His pocket watch dangled above Judas’ chest.
From a distance he heard Art scream, and decided that they had a good run these past years. Even today had accounted well for themselves. Heard Art's gun go off loudly from inside the pyramid of fire. Way to go, friend, go out with a bang.
The phosphorus shotgun blast caught Devereaux before his teeth took Judas, threw it violently off of the slayer and twelve feet through the air before it landed, quite dead. Art screamed again, crawling through the fire towards the waiting giant.
"You have taken from me my friends and brothers, Sycamore!" Giuseppe stood over Art's burning form, no longer laughing. "You have reached far beyond your human abilities tonight. But Mr. Sycamore, you should have stayed home."
He reached down and picked up Art again as Judas jammed his last special bolt into the temple of the wraith on top of him, sending it rolling across the flame littered ground chirping its small rustling noises.
"No," Judas stood, grabbing his flask of holy water in his left hand and three ash bolts in the other. "No, you evil fuck, not tonight."
He ran at the flaming giant, ran up two rungs of the nearest derrick before launching himself at the creature's head and chest.
"Put my friend down, you bastard, because tonight I send you home to the vile realm from which you came!"
Judas drove the three ash bolts into the beast's throat, causing it to drop Art, who gasped as his body, smoking and still partially alight, hit the ground.
Giuseppe stumbled backwards and fell with Judas on top of him, the flames burning into Judas's hands and legs as he sat astride pouring the holy water into the holes made by the bolts as he yanked them back and forth, providing the liquid the access it needed to seep into the throat of the fallen giant.
Chapter 7 – Paolo
“Unrequited love to me is just a one-man cult.” Frank Ocean
As Judas began to heave the he big Italian man’s body off of him, it brushed away in a pitch black breeze, becoming memory. Judas swallowed an angry yell and collected himself. He wanted to parcel out a plan. There was a lot of chaos in the field. There were blue gases rushing out of earthen holes, billowing high into nothingy wisps, and he couldn’t be seen here. Local enforcement was the Italian Man and his forces, and since they were all vanished now Judas knew there wasn’t a rush. His plan to leave a mark worked, but he needed to drive the point home. To make sure the boss knew it was Judas, and where he could find him.
Fire was in his eyes and his heart. It was the thing that ate his friend’s leg, if it wasn’t the pressure of an enormous derrick. The first part of the plan was to be sure. In the darkness Judas lifted charred wood to look for Art’s body, and he found it, and it was sticky and hot and half-dead and Judas swallowed a scream again. Art was not heavy, and his bones were broken and uncomfortable over Judas’ shoulder. The walk to the edge of the field, where Judas lay Art for a few hours, was emasculating. He left Art with his invention and took up a shovel and went back to the field.
The shovel was a good tool for aggression. Judas threw it into plots of decay and unearthed the rest of the gases. They would hiss and simmer before popping forward into the night, and Judas would go along. He did this for a few hours, making sure it was ruined. The shovel was a good tool for hacking along the base of another derrick, and by shoving and hacking and shoving more the derrick came down, too.
He collapsed, like the derrick. The Valhalla. Those fucking leprechauns. Micchia. Now the cohort.
And all that is left is this patch of ruined earth. And Vadelli.
The door swung open at Judas’ shove.
“I’m heading into town, Art,” Judas coughed.
“It won’t work unless it’s tonight, Art,” Judas said. “And that’s if we’re lucky. Covens know about each other deeply, and it’s possible Vadelli is on his way here already. If we’re lucky, I can take him in the night before some raven tells him his news.”
Art sat up, wheezing. He pointed to the desk.
“Take another bolt,” Art said. “It’ll be easier than a stake.”
“I’ll take both,” Judas collected himself. “I’m optimistic, but I’m also a pragmatist.”
The walk into Oil Creek was slow. But he made it to the Columns by sun up.
It only took the resting of a bolt gun on the counter to get the attendant to reveal Vadelli’s room. Judas soldiered the steps. His wounds yelled to turn back, that he wasn’t ready. He yelled back that it didn’t matter if he was ready.
Room 312 was only two doors from the steps, which Judas found odd. Surely Vadelli could afford a more private lodge. Perhaps that was the point.
He jimmied the lock.
The room was dark as grime.
In the corner there was an obelisk. Unmoving, but not sleeping. Just resting, Judas knew.
He foxed his way through the doorway and slipped the door shut – no light from the hall could be chanced. Judas put a hand out to guide himself along a vanity and toward the corner. The bolt gun in his left hand, he slid the right from the vanity into his coat pocket. Armed with a stake, too, he crept to the edge of the bed.
Where a night stand might be by the pillows, Vadelli charged.
It was the tiniest click of the bolt loading that stirred the dark one.
Yellow eyes reared upon Judas and a still strong arm shot out to clasp the bolt gun.
With a lazy grunt, Judas arced his right arm down and into Vadelli’s chest.
“Oof,” he spat.
“Die,” Judas said. “Go away and let me mourn.”
Vadelli began to crumble like ashy paper at the fire. The huge hand that enclosed both Judas’ hand and the gun fell away. Just a pile and Judas in the room.
He soldiered back down the steps and thanked the attendant.
Walking back to Art’s felt only a bit better than walking to Vadelli’s tonight.
I miss your legs tonight, he wrote.
He didn’t know if he was writing about him or his sister, either of them, it didn’t matter. He wanted them both. And neither could be with him. Judas scrawled in a journal that smelt like the scotch he always drank. He wasn’t sentimental, it just kept him sane in his insane moments. With the inky darkness outside and murder on his hands he needed the moleskin thing tonight.
Art’s shed was lonelier with Art in such bad shape. The tools were lonelier and the books and the bits of food Art was working on in between tinkering on gadgets and gear. It just seemed empty. The smell of broiled flesh made Judas foggy, he felt weakness and he hated the human necessity. Judas wrote, remembering a simple time with Arthur when they had been kinder. Art had always been that kind but Judas wasn’t anymore.
We were sitting by a river in France. It was strange that Art was there, but he told me he was visiting a relative, or maybe a woman. Either way we were there together in a small village near Bordeaux and he had a wild hair to fish. Didn’t make sense. I hadn’t been killing things as long so I guess I didn’t think it was a strange past time yet, and Arthur always loved that type of thing. He was so excited. He brought four bottles of beer and a tackle box with extra material, like flies and line, for me to use since I didn’t fish really. We couldn’t keep the sun out of our eyes and thought it was hilarious when we could only catch sun fish. We said it was because of the sun, but then Art caught a trout and I clapped him on the back and he almost dropped it. We had a fire in the afternoon and roasted the fish and he told me about whoever he was visiting. I don’t remember who he was visiting, but I remember the trout was good.
Now Judas knew he missed her. The woman from New York. The same one it had always been. Frederick had been a better lover and his legs were stronger, but she had a sensitive hardness that Judas understood better. Her stoniness reminded him of a guardian of ancient tomes and artifacts long since touched. Judas decided she was probably a guardian of those things. He packed his bags neatly like he liked. Then he left Art’s shed, door locked while his friend healed, and went to the train station.
The train to New York left right away which was good for Judas because he didn’t like to wait. Too many variables. He lit a cigarette and waited the few minutes the train needed to arrive. He inhaled deep and fast and the nicotine pierced his temples and it was not enough. On the train he punched his ticket and then rested his head on the window. Sleep poured into him against his better intentions.
Epilogue of Book 1 - Paolo
He is never home. But this is one of the places he’d consider close.
The manor was far too big for only Heartin, but he kept it up any ways. Judas was confident that he played a part in the old man’s reasoning.
“I think the firs are nice,” the former banker would say. “And where else do the birds clump together, waiting to be shot?”
A low riding cloud lounged on the estate. The manor lounged on the wide fields, too. Pockets of trees dotted like dirty pores until the back of the manor was reached; a long walk could be taken through the woods, there. A misty, dense scene with a dilapidated, chunky tree house crowding an oak tree on the left would greet any visitors. Packed gravel, a luxury at the time, made a fine crunch against hansom wheels when such a well-off visitor would come to see Heartin. Not many crops grew on the property, but no one would farm them if they did. Not anymore.
These unpleasant details made the forty acre-property seem enigmatic, but for upstate New York it wasn’t anything special.
That’s why the aspiring hunter had made it his home; it was a smart buy, affordable. It’s why our hunter had made it a sanctuary; it was unassuming, but legitimately so - not in a contrived way.
A burgeoning interstate was sprouting some miles away, beyond the clumped birds and firs. Judas hated the noise, but Heartin liked the idea of more regular company.
Mr. Jonas Heartin was a banker born in Yonkers and who had lived in Sacramento for many years. Bifocals shaped like small kite shields sagged the bags under his eyes and made his near-impossible to tame mat of white and black hair all the more incredulous. California ways did not suit the economist, nor did cheating-motherfucking-absolute trash husbands, so he took Easterly again.
Heartin was a spot wittier than his fellow upper class businessmen. When the Foundation Lads Golfing Club had been invaded by Pumpkin People, he alone sensed aberrant, perhaps demonic activity. The others claimed it was just the poorly hired help. Jonas put out an ad in his more connected circles in Hell’s Kitchen and his friends at the Natural Museum of History
On the hush, of course, but that’s where Judas lives. He handled the jack-o-lantern obsessed klan with efficient grace, and began a friendship with Heartin afterwards. Rare for Judas, but not for Heartin who always possessed a punctuated laughter like firecracker fire. Bonding over their similar names, Jonas and Judas discovered their mutual appreciation for the Theodore Roosevelt side of life. Heartin had recently purchased his home near Elizabethtown, and they spent the weekend shooting fowl amongst the firs.
“You’re a clever shot, clever…” Heartin would sputter each time that Judas would shoot a fat grouse. It was like Judas put truth to the adage “kill two birds with one stone” he was so sharp – and especially when he used a sling and rock.
In remembrance of their meeting, they would shoot rotting pumpkins.
Heartin had a wife for a time, and she might prepare the three of them dinner on nights Judas came through. Heartin also might cook, but never Judas. Jonas wouldn’t admit it, but he was trying to impress his new friend. He had developed a reverence for the man, and hoped his hosting skills (and Glazed Pheasant) might impress him.
Judas doesn’t stay in one spot long, though, so the two men don’t visit much. Maybe once a year, but sometimes longer.
The dog came about when the stars aligned and Judas had reason and time to stay in New York a while.
Judas knocked off his boots and opened the heavy door. It was only Heartin and Bird Dog now, the most recent Heartin spouse years gone.
The traveler wheeled his suit case down the long entrance hall way. He could hear the popping and hissing of a fire in the room at the end, on the left where the glow of fire brewed. It was the furnace of the place.
“It’s a bit of a tale…” Heartin would say. This time he was pulling on an Irish coffee after a dinner of Corned Beef Hash. His mother’s culinary roots had fascinated him lately, and Judas bore witness to the awful experimenting.
“It isn’t really,” Judas would say right back, like two old actors performing, yet again, to no one but themselves.
“Jonas? Jonas?” Judas called out in the present. His pea coat melted into his arms as the heat grew. Soon he was walking around the corner in hocks, corduroy and a flannel shirt. The house was a sanctuary indeed – Judas never felt like he could breathe in his vulnerable plain clothes otherwise. He was too leathered for that, but the manor took the hardness from his ways.
“Mr. Sycamore!” Jonas stood in his living room, his hands and face to the fire. Mr. Heartin too was in a flannel shirt, green and black, with trousers on. He had thick brown slippers on his feet that shuffled along the floor like brushes.
Jonas had no hair on the top of his head, only liver spots. The usual white and black hair clouted around his head, now, and was wirier than before. The stubble on his sagging jaw was dotted with black. His belly was a drum of age and good eating.
Judas hugged, briefly, this old friend. But his eyebrows raised in the middle and he couldn’t quit darting his eyes around the room.
“Is Bird Dog in the house?” Judas asked. He fidgeted with the handle of his case.
“I would not leave her out on an afternoon like this, even if she’d prefer to run through all the frosted grass,” Heartin said. His speech warbled, and Judas never asked why. “BD! Come on BD!”
A melodic pattering of steps preceded the pooch’s arrival. Judas has killed many ghouls and vampires, beasts and outer-things that could look and talk just like you or me. None of them were as human as Bird Dog. It’s the light in her, Judas thought, that pours forward so that a lost retch could seek her in the dark.
It isn’t much of a story – Judas is right. Jonas just teases any humanity from the salty man when he can.
The darkly dressed hunter had been hunting for produce that morning at the Market. The Market sounds like an easy description for an honest and unique place, but the Market is indeed the name of a grocery store, at the time one of North New York’s finest shopping depots, that lies on the way to Heartin’s mansion.
Judas had four red onions and a bag of potatoes under his arms. He had his cases with him, too, so all around encumbered.
Since his entry to the store ten minutes or so prior, a girl with a thick brown braid and a green dress, one with white around the collar, had set up a booth outside the store. The girl had a bit of a shine herself, but it wa the puppy whose paws clung to the edge of the shoddy wooden pen that Judas saw radiate.
The dog was red like a chestnut and had long hairy ears. She was small and happy and Judas knew that.
“What kind of puppies are you selling?” Judas asked, voice warbling but the girl didn’t ask why.
“They’re not for sale,” she said keeping her eyes forward like Judas wasn’t even there. “They’re free. To a good home.”
Judas clutched his onions.
“I need a hunting dog,” Judas said, keeping his voice even.
“She’ll hunt, sure,” the girl said.
“You think so?” Judas asked. He almost smiled.
The leash hardly fit in his hands, but Judas kept up his journey with produce, luggage and the rope that kept his new dog tethered to him. Not that she was going anywhere; it seemed she already knew to heel.
Heartin didn’t believe him that she was for hunting.
“I named her Bird Dog,” Judas said as they stood in the Heartin kitchen that evening. “She’s for getting birds I’ve shot.”
“Alright, so she’s for hunting,” Heartin said, drinking a post-dinner coffee, black. “She can’t go with you?”
Judas paused. Bird Dog sat on his feet.
“No, she should hunt only bird,” Judas said, his voice dropped low. “Besides, the girl said to a good home.”
“Is that what you’d call my home?” Jonas laughed his explosive laugh. “After all the muck I’ve made of my life?”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jonas,” Judas said. “I didn’t mean here necessarily, any ways.”
“Well alright, sounds fair to me,” Heartin said.
There was a pause, then Heartin realized what Judas wanted:
“You know, she would get a lot of experience hunting bird if she stayed here,” Heartin continued. “I can show her the difference between a grouse and a goose.”
“Not that you could hit either,” Judas said.
“Ah, you protest?” Jonas ambled toward the sink.
“No,” Judas said like a bullet. “I’d be alright with her staying here.”
“You can always visit,” Heartin said, setting his near-empty mug on a coaster.
“Why say that? She’s only a hunting dog,” Judas said, scratching behind her sasquatch ears.
“Surely,” Heartin said. “You’re right. She’ll sleep outside then.”
“That seems unnecessary,” Judas said like a whip. “She can sleep with me, to get to know me for future hunting. If that’s alright.”
“Surely,” Heartin said. “Headed up then?”
“Yes, good night, Jonas. Thanks for your hospitality,” Judas walked upstairs, his new friend trailing each step.
“Goodnight,” Heartin took up a book. He liked to read before sleep because he had heard it was the best way to remember things. The economist had never had any children, not with any of the foolish trash he had married over the years certainly, so he had never had anyone ask him the age-old question “Can I keep it?”
He was glad that Judas had fallen in love.
“It’s a bit of a story,” Jonas said, mulling over his Irish coffee. He watched Judas sit on the floor by the fire and catch up with his old friend.
“It isn’t,” Judas said, staring at his beautiful dog.
“We remember it differently,” Jonas said, cracking open a book.
“Just like the pumpkin people, eh Jonas?” Judas said, flashing a rare smile.
“I shot Enoch myself, however you spin it,” he replied. It was their oldest squabble and it felt like oatmeal dumped in his lap to even talk about it.
Bird Dog rolled on her back to give Judas the gift of scratching her belly. Judas was grateful.
“Hey, I think-“ Judas began.
“She probably needs to get to know you better, before we go hunting tomorrow. It has been a while,” Jonas said in a familiar tone, the words rolling over the lip of his book.
Judas grinned and so did his lady.
“Goodnight Jonas – premier idea,” Judas said. The two old friends almost ran the stairs.
“Glad I had it,” Jonas said, smiling behind the old book. In all the muck, through the firs, he remembered something good.