When Darkness Falls

Page 3

As if on cue, a mist started to rise.

"Will you look at that!" Julie said with awe.

"He's got a fog machine going out here somewhere!" Tony told her. "Any minute now we'll start to hear the theme from The Twilight Zone."

"Or Jaws!" Jeff said with a laugh. "Land shark-cemetery shark, coming this way!"

"The tomb lies right ahead!" their guide called out, spinning around with a sweep of his cape.

And indeed it did. It was a grand tomb, if a decaying one. Beautifully carved gargoyles guarded the four corners of an intricately designed wrought-iron fence. Lichen and vines covered the walls and the steps that led to the gate. "Come, come!" the guide said, mounting the steps and beckoning to them.

They followed.

From outside the gate, the tomb had appeared old and abandoned and decaying. Dry leaves covered the floor.

But once they were inside, it was evident that the walls were lined with coffins. They weren't bricked in; they lay on shelves, covered with debris and spiderwebs.

"Oh, spooky, spooky!" Jeff intoned.

"It gets better below," the guide promised. "I promised to scare you," he added with ominous dramatics, sweeping his cape around his shoulders again to lead them toward the rear of the tomb, where damp, ancient stone steps led below the ground.

Jade wasn't sure if she was glad of the stranger's protective hold as they walked down the damp steps into the Stygian darkness below-or if he made her even more afraid. She thought that she should pull away and take refuge behind a pinheaded football player. But the guide lit a match off the stone wall and set fire to a torch, illuminating the underground vault they entered.

Julie was the first to let out a little scream.

The dead lay in various stages of decay beneath tattered shrouds. Skulls stared into the abyss of endless night; bony fingers clasped one another over chests covered in the remnants of silk and linen. Here and there bones littered the floor. Rats squealed and darted at their entry; a bat flew across the great underground tomb, drawing a startled scream from Sally.

"This is pretty cool, great to see, but I'm not scared yet!" Jeff told their guide.

"Because you haven't seen Sophia," the guide said. "And, young sir, I think that you should meet her first. Come here. You'll volunteer again to be the ancient victim, won't you?" The guide crooked a finger at Jeff.

Jeff swaggered forward. "Sure. Bring it on. Beat me. Torture me."

"How about your girlfriend?" the guide queried.

"Oh, I don't know...." Sally began.

"Come on, Sally, be daring. Fulfill my fantasy-menage a trois!" Jeff teased.

"Oh, baby!" Tony hooted.

Sally made a face at him.

The guide smiled and led them to a sarcophagus that sat in the middle of the floor. It appeared to be sealed with a heavy stone, but the stone gave with a nerve-tingling, squealing sound as the guide shoved it to the side. Within it lay an elaborate wood coffin that had somehow withstood the ages. It, too, was decorated with an abundance of gargoyles and demonic-looking creatures.

"Sophia and her minions!" The guide hovered behind Sally then, lifting her blond hair, his fingers moving around her neck, fluttering over the exposed rise of her breasts, sliding along her neck again. "The place

... for the dead to dine!" he said. "For here life beats so strongly!" His touch on the girl was almost indecent, Jade thought, ready to say something, to put a stop to it all.

The girl looked as if she were mesmerized, awaiting his touch. She turned to the guide, her head falling back. He smiled at the rest of them, catching her with one arm, delicately touching her then with his knuckles, that touch running from her throat down through the cleavage of her breasts. He tore away her top; no one moved. She smiled up at him. Jeff, her boyfriend, stared at him.

Enough. Jade was going to start forward.

The stranger pulled her back.

"Don't," he whispered. "Don't interfere now."

Was it part of the act? Was this the adult version of the tour?

She would have shaken off the stranger's touch, except that she felt the chill along her spine again. An inner voice warned her: Don't speak! Don't move. If you do, you'll be in danger!

Run. . . .

No, she couldn't run. The guide would see her run; he would drag her back. ...

"Open the coffin lid," he commanded Jeff, who did so, apparently oblivious to the fact that the man he had ridiculed had now nearly stripped his girlfriend, who smiled at him, almost purring as he caressed her naked flesh.

Jade was rooted to the ground with fear.

Jeff ripped the lid off the coffin. There was a woman within it, young, beautiful, with raven black hair, wearing a white linen gown with fine lacework. She wasn't in the least decayed; her eyes opened. She stared at Jeff and smiled-a damning, come-hither smile. ...

She rose in the coffin.

It's an act; it's all part of an act.

Their guide began to talk again. "They feared her; they feared Sophia as they feared neither God, the devil, nor even the English king, Edward, Hammer of the Scots, when it came time for him to ravage Scotland! They feared her, God, yes; her kin feared her, and so, to keep her happy and away from them, they brought her youth and beauty, and they fed her . They brought the blood of young flesh to her and her company. Jeff, volunteer ... show her the blood that pulses through you; give her your throat." And Jeff did so, reaching out to the woman, helping her from the coffin, smiling like a fool as he stepped into her arms. She kissed him, the kiss erotic, and then he inclined his head....

And she bit into him.

He screamed.

"Scared yet?" the tour guide demanded. "Are you scared yet?" He smiled. And with this smile his drama had reached its peak, for he now had huge, glistening white fangs where his canine teeth had been. They glowed in the torchlight....

Then he started to laugh-and he leaned forward and bit into Sally's neck.

She screamed; a cry of the anguished, a shriek of the damned. Blood began to spurt everywhere, spilling over the coffin, the ground.

It's real, oh, God, far too real.

The others began to scream and shout, to panic, to head for the steps. But from the shelves of tombs, the dead began to awake. Corpses, half-clad in their shrouds, misted in spiderwebs, suddenly rose, blocking the steps. Shrieks and screams of terror went up. The dead reached for the living.

Jade, as panicked as anyone, disbelieving, in terror, tried to run.

The stranger shoved her back. "No! Stay here, quiet, in the corner-wait!" She would have disobeyed, but the tour guide was suddenly in front of her. He was covered in Sally's blood, smiling. She backed away.

And suddenly the stranger was between her and the tour guide. And the tour guide breathed with a deep rattle and made noises like spilling lava, as if he already tasted blood. He jumped toward the stranger with the dark eyes....

He said something, a name she didn't quite catch. "I thought it was you. Bastard, you would interfere-"

"And you would destroy everything."

The tour guide tried to strike out, to hammer him down.

The dark-eyed stranger repelled his blows and parried them. The tour guide flew across the room, hit with a terrible force....

People were screaming loud enough to wake the dead! Jade thought hysterically.

She had to get out.


An exit.

Where? Everything was shadowed....

And everything was red. Because blood was everywhere.

A corpse was attacking Julie.

A corpse!

Somehow Jade came to life. She grabbed the burning torch that had given them light here beneath the ground. She attacked the corpse, which backed away.

Another was at her rear. She spun around, whirling the fire before her.

Then suddenly it seemed as if they were all after her, stalking her, coming closer, and closer, and closer....

They were wrenched away one by one. They went flying, shouting and hissing in fury. She felt their eyes, felt their hunger and their hatred. She was losing her mind. This wasn't happening.

She saw the tour guide coming for her, still smiling, pleased. He reached for her. She struggled. He was incredibly strong. She couldn't twist or turn. He smiled while she screamed and struggled, tearing at the tailored white blouse she was wearing.

"Shh ... shh ... you are the cream of the crop, this midnight hour!" he told her.

She saw his fangs.... He was coming closer and closer to her throat....

Then his smile faded.

He was right in front of her face; then he was gone, torn away again by an incredible force that wrenched him cleanly from his feet.

And she was dropped. She fell on the floor hard, striking her head against the stone. She heard the tour guide scream with rage, protest, hurl obscenities at someone named . . .

She saw the stranger again, bending over her. Saw ...

His eyes. Deep, dark eyes. Eyes that burned with the red fire of the torch, with a strange golden touch of flames and moonlight.

Then she felt the pain in her temple deepening. Stone, yes, she had struck the stone, and the world was fading....

The torch she had held still burned on the nearby ground.

She thought that, distantly, she could still hear the sound of screaming.

And she began to fall, fall, into eternal darkness....

Stygian darkness.

Like his eyes, with the fires gone out...

* * *

They found her upon the tomb that bore her family name, MacGregor.

She was laid out atop it, stripped, but swathed in white linen.

A shroud.

She was barely aware of her surroundings when she first awoke. The police were there, and she could hear the sound of a siren. She drifted, then realized that now the siren was being blared by the ambulance that carried her.

She fell in and out of consciousness. She tried to tell the police what had happened; she talked about the tour guide, the tavern, the monster, Sophia de Brus, who had risen from the coffin.

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