At Death's Doors

by Bob Nailor

Table of Contents

Harvest Festival
Bad News at Twelve
Eternally Be Mine, Valentinus
Blue Marigold
Boring Sentience
Just Around the Corner
Steps of Future Past
Dragon's Bridge
Fiona of the Oils
The Gypsy Lamp
Jules Hamphert, The Holiday Case
Basement Purgatory
I'htha's Conquistador
Purgatory Moon
Rainbow Mists of the Pagan
Sea of Regret
Summer's Beast
The Marie Vale
The Wizard of Wixom
Dance of Death
You Don't Know Jack
The Masque
Fantasy's Death
About the Author
Pangaea, Eden Lost (Sample)

Harvest Festival

'The metal bar pried the first board from the casket. A musty, decay-ridden stench of bilious, yellow air wafted from the opening.'

"Oh, that is just totally gross." Henrietta pursed her lips in disgust. "You know it isn't true. Why do you keep telling us these stories, Mr. Craiovescu."

The young girl stood and straightened her lacy, pink dress. She shook her head to force her long, dark tresses behind her shoulders then nonchalantly flipped the last few stray strands with her hand.

"Aron! Dan!" she said, staring at the young boys still sitting on the floor. "Are you going to just remain there and believe all this?"

Basarab Craiovescu allowed a wisp of a smile to curl the edges of his lips—his eyes narrowed to watch Henrietta; she was eighteen and the lively one of the three children. Her cheeks only hinted a blush against the very pale skin. Her dark eyes stared back him.

"You can leave if you don't want to listen, Etta," Aron said then stuck his tongue out at her. Definitely immature for a boy of almost fifteen, but it served the purpose.

"Oh!" She stamped her foot on the dusty, Oriental carpet. A fine cloud of aged particles lifted into the air.

"You weren't there," Aron said. "How do you know this isn't true?"

Aron's companion, Dan, nudged him. "That should get her," he whispered. "I don't know why I bother with the two of you," Henrietta said. She folded her arms in front of her belligerently before turning her back to all of them. "I really don't know why I bother at all."

The young boys attempted to stifle their giggles, but failed.

"I should have taken Stefan's offer to go out tonight," she mumbled.

Basarab cocked an eye in her direction.

"Stefan Ologul?" he asked.

His voice hissed the name and Henrietta was forced to turn and face the older man.

"How is it that you know of this Stefan Ologul, young lady?"

Basarab's eyes flared as he enunciated each syllable in the sentence.

Henrietta bent her head down so she wouldn't have to face the man, or his piercing eyes.

"Speak," the old man demanded. "Tell me."

"There is nothing," Henrietta stammered.

"Tell me exactly when and how you met this Stefan Ologul," Basarab demanded.

"Last night," Henrietta stammered. "I went to the village festival." She looked up at him. "Against your wishes." She hesitated, blinked her eyes then bowed her head down, ashamed. "I'm sorry."

He watched her and tried to remember how many years it had been since he had last attended the festival. He shook his head—too many years had passed to recall. Perhaps it is different today, he thought.

"So you went to the festival against my wishes?" Basarab asked. "Were you stared at? Did anyone want to know where you lived? I am sure many wondered who you were?"

"Yes," Henrietta replied. "I was constantly asked who I was and where I came from. I told them my name and they would frown. When I told them I lived in the Castle Craiovescu, they would wave their hand in front of them and I would feel a pain." She paused. "Only Stefan was different."

"How was he different?" Basarab asked. "Speak, girl."

"He smiled when I told him my name and where I lived."

"Henrietta's in trouble," the boys touted in singsong and danced about the room.

"Aron! Dan! To your sleeping quarters," Basarab commanded. "She is not in trouble—at least, not yet."

He stared at the boys, his gaze narrowing. They hustled from the room.

"And what of our story?" Aron asked when he stopped at the heavy wooden door. "When will you finish it?"

"Tomorrow night," Basarab said. "After our evening meal."

Henrietta shook her head. "You know they hang on your every word," she whispered. "You really shouldn't lead them on."

"They should listen carefully," Basarab said while watching the heavy, ornate door glide to a soft closing click. "There is more history in my tale than even you realize. Now tell me about the festival and Stefan." He smiled.

Henrietta breathed a little easier. Basarab now seemed less upset and almost agree able to her activities of the prior night. She sat down on the edge of an overstuffed ottoman and proceeded to straighten her dress.

"No more stalling, young lady," Basarab said. "Stefan Ologul is not someone to be dismissed so lightly. I have known the Ologul family all of my life." He paused. "They are a dangerous lot."

She sat before the old man, her eyes wide with surprise and fidgeted with a ribbon of her dress.

"He was very kind and gentlemanly," Henrietta said. "He almost didn't believe me when I told him I lived here in the castle." She looked up at the old man. "He told me nobody lives here." She glanced back down at her fingers. "He said it is deserted. Why would he say that?"

"So it has been," Basarab said nodding his head.

She turned a quizzical look at him.

"We hide here in the back of the castle where none will search for us," he said. "I fear your attendance last night might bring a few repercussions."

"But I live here," Henrietta said. "As do Aron, Dan and you. Do we really cower in the back of the castle?"

Basarab stared absently into the corner of the ceiling, his eyes glazed.

"Mr. Craiovescu?" she called. "Are you listening?"

The old man's eyes darkened and he smiled at Henrietta.

"We need to go to the festival tonight," he said. "I've not attended in many years." He hesitated. "I am not sure if there will be some who remember me or not. We shall see. Perhaps we may even meet your young man, this Stefan Ologul."

Henrietta's eyes widened in surprise. "We will?" she asked. "Won't Aron and Dan be surprised?"

"They have gone to sleep," Basarab said. "We will not disturb them."

The large door opened.

"We want to go," the two boys clamored. They scampered about the room.

"Fine," Basarab said stoically. "But there are rules which must be strictly followed."

"We will," the boys chimed together and continued to dance about.

"It could well be your death," Basarab said solemnly.

He stared at the rowdy boys with his dark eyes. They stopped their dancing.

"Such melodrama," Henrietta said. "Do you always need to terrorize them?"

He turned on her. "Tonight you will learn your heritage," he hissed. "Come."

# # #

Stepping down from the coach, his bare foot touched the ground. With both feet solidly based on the bare dirt, Basarab's eyes rolled back and his eyelids quivered in ecstasy.

"Ah," he whispered. "To feel the earth against my skin once more. This is bliss."

"It's just dirt," Aron said. "The same as at the castle."

"Not just any dirt," Basarab corrected. "In the castle, the dirt is old, unturned. This is the land of our forefathers, refreshed daily by man. Feel the energy engulf you." He reached down and grabbed a handful. "It has been a long time since I have visited the village."

"Look!" Henrietta called. "There's Stefan."

Basarab glared in the direction she pointed. The youthful man was already approaching them. He let the dirt filter between his fingers and fall to the ground.

"Henrietta," Stefan called and waved. "You did come. Is this your uncle you spoke so fondly of last night?"

Basarab shot Henrietta a glare then raised his eyebrows. "Uncle?" he asked.

She hung her head for a second. "These are my cousins," she quickly added, ignoring the older man's dark looks. "Aron and Dan." She smiled at Stefan.

"Come," Stefan said. "There is a gypsy's tent and she will foretell your future. Just show her your hand."

"Can she do that for me?" Aron asked.

"And me?" Dan chimed and held up his hand.

"I am sure she can," Stefan laughed. "Would you also like your future told, Mr. Craiovescu? I am sure the gypsy woman would enjoy the opportunity."

"I would prefer not, Mr. Ologul," Basarab replied.

Henrietta flinched at the coldness in his words and clutched Stefan's hand. She had never seen this side of the older man, the one she now claimed to be her uncle.

"Boys," Basarab said. "Join me. Do You want to attend the festival? You'll find there is much for you to learn."

He stretched out his arms, offering his hands to be held. The boys looked to Stefan and Henrietta then grabbed Basarab's hands.

"If you will attend with us Henrietta," he added, turned and pulled the two young lads with him down the dusty road and into the fray of the festival.

Henrietta looked with pleading eyes at Stefan.

"May I join your group, Mr. Craiovescu?" Stefan asked.

The old man stopped and turned to face the younger man.

"Mr. Ologul," Basarab said. "I and your family have never gotten along. I see no reason why you should, or would want, to inflict yourself upon our outing."

Stefan frowned.

"I do believe it would be better if you joined your family, Mr. Ologul." Basarab smiled politely, turned away and once again tugged the young boys toward the festival.

"Uncle," Henrietta yelled. "You are a very rude man. I will be joining Stefan tonight."

"So you say," Basarab whispered so low even the boys didn't hear. "And when the heat begins, you will search me out."

"Do you hear me?" Henrietta yelled.

"As you wish," Basarab replied loudly. "As you wish. Find me when you feel the need."

"Come, Henrietta," Stefan said. "Let us go to the gypsy tent." He smiled at her and pulled her gently along the way toward the festival and the tents.

# # #

"This, my lads," Basarab said. "This is the festival."

He waved his hand before them to encompass the revelries ahead; a jumble of tents and stands with people laughing and moving about. Flickering torches were lighted everywhere and added to the celebration going on. A strong smell of ale permeated the air, as well as that of roasting meats and other tasty treats.

"What are they celebrating?" Aron asked.

"What festival is this?" Dan asked.

"A harvest," the old man replied. "They call it 'The Harvest Festival' but it is still just a harvest."

Dan gave a quizzical look.

"What harvest do you mean?" he asked.

Basarab looked about to see who was near. Most villagers seemed to keep clear of the threesome and they were, for the most part, quite alone.

"Do you remember my tale of earlier tonight?" he asked.

Both boys nodded vigorously.

"It was that very same night they dug up every grave," he said. "They went to each mausoleum and raided the bodies resting within. The villagers called it "The Harvest" and it was an event to purge the land."

"Purge?" Aron asked. "What were they purging?"

"The blood curse," the old man answered. "The blood curse," he whispered a second time. "They were adamant and left no gravestone unturned that night."

Two young women passed their group and stared at them. Aron stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose, making a face. The one lady made the sign of the cross in the air before her.

Basarab turned his head and felt the pain stab through his body. His young companions moaned in the newfound pain, crumbling to the ground, writhing. They had never experienced anything like that.

"Come, boys," he said. "We must hasten into the mob. We shall become lost and one with the celebrations at hand. We can't let that happen again."

He grabbed the young boys' hands and pulled them to their feet and then trudged forward into the mob that feted in the street before them.

A plump woman with too heavy makeup and a blouse hanging too low on her bounteous breasts, smiled drunkenly at them, especially Basarab.

"Ah, my good man," she slurred. "If you hadn't brought your children with you I could have entertained a man of your stature. A fine time we would have had." She cackled then lifted the tankard into the air. "To the harvest," she yelled and almost fell backward. Regaining her composure, she leered at the young teen-aged boys. "Perhaps I should perform their first," she offered. "Yes, that's it. Three for the price of one," she yelled. "To the harvest." Again her tankard lifted into the air.

Basarab could feel the heat building in him. He realized his error in bringing Henrietta and the boys to the festival—they shouldn't be here. His teeth tingled and he continued to stare at the plump white flesh of the woman's almost bare breasts. He turned away and pulled the lads away, down the street. He glanced at his young wards, but the woman's comments and actions had little effect on them. He sighed relief for their naivety.

A priest approached. Basarab bowed his head to avoid any eye contact and pulled his wards into the shadows of a tent. The priest glanced at the huddled group, shrugged his shoulders and continued on. Stopping suddenly, the priest turned back to them, smiled, made the sign of the cross in their direction and voiced a blessing.

Basarab cringed and writhed at the pain. He grabbed the boys to him and held them close as they whimpered in agony.

"I want to go home," Dan cried. "I don't like this party."

"Why does it hurt?" Aron asked. "Who was that man?" He wiped a tear away.

"He is what they call 'a man of the cloth' and to be avoided," Basarab said. "He bestowed on us what he calls a blessing, but to our kind, is a curse. I had forewarned you of the dangers. As part of the festival, it is customary to make that sign to ward off any—"

"Can we go to that tent Stefan spoke of, get Henrietta and leave?" Dan asked, cutting Basarab's explanation short.

"In time," Basarab said. "In time." He knelt down to their level and pulled them closer to him.

"Remember the tale?" he started.

Both boys nodded their heads in agreement.

"Let me finish it now. The villagers had their harvest. They opened each coffin and pulled the body from it. In the bright sunlight, the preserved bodies smoldered to ashes and to re-affirm their beliefs, a wooden stake was driven into the heart of each body they had unceremoniously pulled from the graves. The villagers had to kill each and every one of them."

"Why would they do that?" Aron asked. "If they are already dead, how can they kill them again."

"I don't think I like this story anymore," Dan said.

"They had to rid themselves of the blood curse," Basarab hissed. "They didn't want our kind among them. The mob was led by none other than Litovoi Ologul, Stefan's grandfather."

The two boys' eyes widened.

"So," Stefan said. "The stories about you are true."

Startled, Basarab turned quickly to face Stefan and Henrietta.

"Like a thief in the night, you come upon me?" Basarab asked.

"No more than your kind has done to us in the past," Stefan said. He smiled evilly at Basarab, yet held Henrietta close to him.

"You have not yet called an alarm," Basarab said. "Why?"

Stefan nuzzled at Henrietta's neck then boldly licked it. She pulled away, shocked at his sudden familiarity.

"Mr. Ologul," she said. "How ungentlemanly of you."

"Come," Stefan said and pulled her close. "Are you one with him?" He kissed her lips, parting them with his tongue in an attempt to feel her canines and confirm his thoughts.

"Stefan!" Basarab yelled. "Stefan Ologul, you will stop immediately. Exactly what is your intention here? Let Henrietta go."

The young man released the girl and looked directly at the older man. He noticed the two indents on Basarab's lower lip, obviously caused by extended canines.

"The heat has begun?" Stefan asked. "Lust? Love?" He then looked at Henrietta. "My kiss did more than you admit openly." He grinned at her and then grabbed his lower lip. "Go ahead," he said. "Touch your lips like this. Can you feel them? I can see them."

Basarab grabbed Henrietta's hand and pulled her closer to the boys and him.

"Take them," Basarab hissed at her and motioned to Aron and Dan. "Take them home immediately."

"No," Stefan yelled. "I need her."

"Only trouble will ensue," Basarab said. He looked about to see if their argument and sudden outbursts had attracted attention. "For what purpose do you need Henrietta?"

"What my grandfather despised—" Stefan inhaled deeply. "I want to embrace and become one with it."

"Do you realize what you are asking?" Basarab queried.

Stefan nodded.

"Your father?" Basarab asked. "What will he do? Will he not follow in his father's footsteps? It will be Litovoi Ologul's Harvest once more. Is that what you are searching for?"

Stefan stepped back and re-evaluated Basarab. He thought sure his request would have been met eagerly. Instead, he was now cornered in a quandary. He smiled at Henrietta who still had a quizzical look. She was truly innocent.

"I am of age," Stefan started. "What I wish for my life, or death, is of my own free will. My father may not approve. We both know my grandfather would never approve, but he is gone now and we have nothing to fear from him."

"Ah, but your father," Basarab said. "He would hunt the catacombs of my castle to avenge your turning. None of us would be safe."

"Don't you think the Harvest Festival would be appropriate to allow me to join your family?" Stefan asked. "Allow Henrietta to join with me and bring the turning."

Basarab shook his head. "This can not be done. Not tonight. Never."

"I could do it," Henrietta said softly. "I think Stefan would be perfect for my first."

"What is she talking about," Aron asked innocently.

"I fear coming tonight was an ill-chosen decision," Basarab said and patted the two boys on the head. "As long as you are with me there is no doubt you will feel the brunt of the villagers' anger." He tousled their hair. "Against my better judgment, run along and stay together. Without me, the villagers will not question your being here. Enjoy the festival and await my calling."

The two boys glanced at each other then quickly hustled away into the marketplace and mob of people. They were just two boys running, nothing unusual to raise an eyebrow.

"Now," Basarab said. "I will attend to you, Stefan. I will not allow a joining of a hunter with my Henrietta."

"Your Henrietta?" she asked. "Since when am I yours?"

The older man glared back at the young girl.

"You have always been mine," he said. "Every day that—"

"I am nobody's," Henrietta said and stamped her bare foot on the ground. "If I wish to join with Stefan, then I shall do so. Not because you approved or disapproved, but because I decided."

"Perhaps my choice of words was hastily and incorrectly constructed," Basarab said.

"Oh, there you are," the robust woman said. "You've sent the lads away. A wise choice."

She barged past Stefan and pushed Henrietta away from Basarab.

"Honey," she said, scrutinizing Henrietta. "You are much too young for him." She glanced over at Stefan. "Now him." She winked at Stefan. "He is closer to your age. A man like this," she grabbed Basarab, "deserves a proper woman, like me."

"Madam, please," Basarab begged trying to disengage her stranglehold on him. "This is a private conversation."

"Oh, shush now," the woman said grabbing Basarab's hand and placing it on her bosom. "That should get your desires heating."

Basarab glanced down into the cleavage before him and could feel the blood curse heating in his veins. The ravages of desire were buried deep in his body but now they arose, renewed at the offering. The canines pressed on his lower lip as they grew. His breathing slowed and deepened, his intentions of lust more obvious.

"That's more like it honey," the woman said enjoying his heavy breathing. "Oh, yes," she moaned as Basarab slowly kissed, nuzzled and licked his way from her bosom to her neck and the beckoning jugular.

"Watch, Henrietta," Basarab whispered in a husky voice. "Learn."

"Oh, you are kinky," the woman tittered. "You are a naughty boy for allowing these two young virgins to watch us." She closed her eyes and fell under her lover's hypnotic touch.

Basarab opened his mouth and the fangs quickly pierced the flesh. He sucked the blood, enjoying each pump of the woman's heart as it pushed her life's source to the surface.

The woman moaned and went limp.

Basarab held her tightly and kept her from falling to the ground. How many years had he denied the blood curse?

Henrietta watched and could feel the heat growing in her body. A strange warmth she'd never experienced grew from her loins to slowly envelop her. She let the waves of passion flow over her. Henrietta felt the tips of her canines touch her lower lip and press.

End of tease read...

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