An original story
All characters appearing herein, with the exception of Abraham Van Helsing, who is public domain, are property of me! (After writing fanfic disclaimers, that's nice to say.) This work can be distributed, as long as it is posted in its entirety.
Ghosts In Belgium
"Sniff, sniff." It's behind me… The rustle of a bush was all the warning I got. I sensed more than saw a grey, shaggy shape hurtling toward my unguarded back. Then I whirled around, flintlock pistols extended, and threw myself backwards. I could feel the breeze as the claw intended to tear out my throat flew past. Then my guns spoke, and the conversation was over.
The furry form crashed to the ground in front of me, broken and bloody, then began to shrink. I watched it closely as I reloaded my pistols and put them away. I saw the fur disappear, melting into nothingness, and then I noticed something. No, make that two somethings. It's a female. It's totally human again, now, naked, and I can see that… Wait a minute, something's wrong with its stomach.
It was pregnant! And that means… a mate.
I wasn't even done cursing myself for holstering my pistols before it attacked.
He attacked in a blind fury. Charging in without thinking of strategy or danger, just of revenge. That's a bad way to fight. He made a mistake when he tackled me in his human form. That means he just broke a couple of my ribs, not my spine, and he didn't have any real claws or teeth to attack with. Lucky me. I just blew away his first effort at having children, and a spiked silver plate sewn into the knee of my trousers insures that he'll never make another.
However, all I've accomplished so far is making him mad. Hopefully, he's mad enough.
He rolled off of me while cradling his jewels, then stood, becoming a pillar of anger. Caught up in his berserker rage, he threw his head back and howled, then began his transformation. As the bones and muscles started to writhe under his skin, I grabbed for my belt. I drew one gun with my left hand, and pulled a pouch of wolfsbane out of my ammo belt with my right. I pulled free the tie on the pouch and ran up to the still-changing beast. As his once-human mouth stretched and shifted into a muzzle, I stuffed the pouch down its throat. His malformed paw-hands batted futilely at my arm as I closed his mouth and stroked his throat three quick times. Still convulsing with the change, he started spasming, and fell to the ground. He tried to spit the powder out, but it was too late. Before he finished changing, he started shifting back.
I then picked myself up, took one look at the female, decided retrieving the bullets would be too messy for the trouble, and left.
Hello, my name is Emilio y Alexi del Alhambra, and if you hadn't guessed already, I hunt werewolves. And I'm not too bad at it, judging by the fact that I'm still alive. What I just described was a fairly normal day for me: Emilio finds wolfie, wolfie beats on Emilio, Emilio outsmarts and kills wolfie, and then a battered and bruised Emilio limps home. I do this about once a month. It keeps life interesting, even if it is expensive. Silver bullets don't grow on trees, you know.
I'm writing this to share a unique experience I had with you. While the kind of thing that I told you about before happens all the time, this one was very, very, different.
I was called to a town in Belgium where they claimed to be having trouble with werewolves. More accurately, my friend Abraham Van Helsing was called, but he was unavoidably detained, so I got sent. I didn't mind going. The only problem was they didn't say what kind of trouble they were having with these werewolves. So I was completely unprepared for what I found when I reached the town.
At this point, I must digress, for I don't want you to think that the only way I resolve problems is by killing things. It's just that most of the time, werewolves don't give you any other option.
I walked into town, turned a corner, and ran straight into the belly of a werewolf in its hybrid form. A full 7 feet tall, weighing in at 400 pounds, and capable of killing me with one paw tied behind its back, I fully expected to die right then and there. Instead of killing me, he apologized and walked around me.
A couple of minutes later I picked my jaw up off the street and went to find the town council.
The council met in a large hut that was round and filled with seats all facing the center. They called it an amphitheater or something like that. Anyway, you could see and hear the speaker from anywhere in the place. I thought it was a good idea.
The speaker was another werewolf. I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my mind.
The wolf spoke, "Master Alhambra, you have been called here to help this village. Will you do so now that you know what its population is?"
"You mean all of you are werewolves?" I replied.
"Yes," he said.
"You'll need to tell me what it is before I say yes, but I won't withhold my help from good people, whatever kind they are."
He then explained to me that a ghost had been haunting the town's well. Apparently a murder had been done, and the body thrown in. But no one recognized the ghost, and no one confessed to the murder. So until I found the murderer and avenged the death of the spirit, the well would be unusable.
"Hmmm. I don't know if I'm the best one to conduct an investigation like that."
"We chose Professor Van Helsing or yourself because we knew only someone from outside the community could find the killer, and then survive to dispense justice."
"So I'm to be judge, jury, and executioner? No thanks."
"No. you will find the truth and tell us. We merely meant that our investigator need to be able to defend himself from one who has already murdered once."
"I see. I'll do it."
"Thank you. Sheriff Bell will take you to the well and explain the situation in more detail."
I followed the sheriff out to the edge of town opposite from where I entered. There, he led me to an unremarkable stone well, reminiscent of the kind depicted in paintings of wishing wells, but quite normal for this region. As I looked over the edge and into the water, the uniqueness of this well made itself very clear. It looked back at me. Not with the standard reflection of my own face, but someone else's face, where my reflection should be. This kind of thing sends chills up even the most experienced spines, and mine was no exception.
"Hello, spirit," I began. "I'm here to help you. I'm going to see if I can't find out who slew you and bring you the peace that you deserve." It's kind of corny, and rarely works, but it also rarely hurts to try, and makes things real easy when it does work.
All of a sudden, an unearthly voice said, "I am Correne Naidal. I know he who slew me."
"And what is his name?" I replied.
"Einhart Starhair… he is the one whom I hate…."
The sheriff was visibly shaken. "Starhair? Spirit, are you sure of that name?" he exclaimed.
"Aye," said the spirit, and faded from view.
"That was quick. So who is Einhart Starhair?" I asked.
"Our clergyman, the leader of this town's only church."
I have to admit at this point that the idea of religious lycanthropes had not occurred to me. Especially not, as turned out to be the case, nice religious werebeasts.
"How about you take me to him?"
As we crossed town, I noticed that the town, like many in the region, had a wall surrounding it, with gates where the main road entered and exited the town. There were a pair of guard posts just outside each gate, and each one had a small gong in it. In the town, citizens walked about, some in human form, some in their hybrid form, and even one or two in wolf form. However, as soon as the gong sounded, all the werewolves in forms other than human stopped what they were doing, and changed to human. I asked the sheriff what was going on, and he replied,
"That gong means that a normal person has entered the gate. We don't let many people know the truth about this village, for obvious reasons."
"Then why did they not sound the gong when I entered town?", I asked.
"Because the council decided that it would be best for you to find out for yourself the truth of our village before they spoke with you."
"I see the logic there. That way, I would know what I was getting into."
We passed by the north end of the market, and I caught a glimpse of the bazaar. I saw several smithies, a couple of carpenters, several food carts and stalls, all selling meat, and one lone vegetable and fruit cart in the corner. I ran over to it and bought an apple. I figured he could use the business.
Another street over, we reached the church.
I entered the church and tried not to stare. I didn't know what I was expecting, but I was somehow disappointed. There were no bloodstained altars in view, no sacrificial victims trussed up in corners, and all in all, it looked like any other church. Images and icons of light defeating darkness and good overcoming evil filled the alcoves and covered the walls, and I felt the peace that comes from knowing you have found a place where you can safely take off your gunbelt.
All these things were in total conflict with why I had come here.
I saw a man in the back of the church, at ease before a reading stand. Before I got close to him, I knew this had to be Starhair. He was huge, even for a werewolf in human form, and somehow he reminded me of my good friend Veritas. Veritas has a way of glowing when you look at him out of the corner of your eye. It comes from the sheer amount of holy zeal that God has poured into his being. Starhair had the same kind of half-glow about him. I knew at first sight that this man could not have committed the crime for which he was accused.
"Master Starhair?" I began.
"Please, call me Einhart, and you must be Master Alhambra."
"Thank you, and please call me Emilio. As you probably know, I came here to investigate a murder. One that, I am afraid to say, you have been accused of committing. Even just meeting you, I feel that you couldn't possibly be the killer, but could you tell me if you know anything about the crime?"
"Not really, and I had no idea that I had been accused. Who leveled this charge?"
"The spirit of the slain did, I spoke with it just before coming here."
"This is troubling. I tried to banish the spirit before, but I had no connection to its death."
"Would you mind coming out to the well with me, I'd like to see how the spirit reacts to your presence."
"Certainly, let's go at once."
We left the church and went back to the well, where the spirit had made another appearance now. It seemed to be half out of the water, it's naked upper body dripping wet. It seemed to be female, and human. It also seemed that my talk with it had reminded it that it had a voice. At the moment, it was screaming.
"I have been wronged by Starhair and the evil god he serves! He sacrificed me on the full moon and drank my blood on a foul ritual! Slay him and avenge me!"
Starhair rushed up to it, and yelled, "I did no such thing, and you know it, lying spirit!"
"NOOOO… He's come to kill me again!!!" it screeched, and with a final wail, it vanished back into the water.
"It seems to be sticking to its story," I said.
"Yes, it does."
"Do you have any enemies who could do this? A powerful wizard that you angered, maybe? Or maybe someone who looks like you did it?"
"I don't know. I can't think of anyone who would do this, but I'll return to my church and pray on it, and we'll see in the morning what has developed."
"Good idea. Which way to the inn, sheriff?"
That night, I did something that I normally hate to do. I asked my friend Gerhard for help. Gerhard and I go way back, but he still scares me a little. He gave me a magical doodad to contact him in case I ever needed to, but was far away. I figured now was a good time to use it. When it comes to magic, I'm almost automatically in over my head. I leave that stuff to the wizards, but there are times when I have to deal with it. This seemed to be one.
I dug around in my satchel till I found it, an unremarkable looking box. He told me I should open the lid, set it on a table in front of me, lean over so I could look inside, and say "puppet". I did.
I have never before been so profoundly uncomfortable, as my very soul was ripped from my body and thrown headlong across several hundred miles to a small inn in Wales named Dovecove. My soul flew through the soil outside and into Gerhard's basement. It there found a home in a tiny figure that I suppose was meant to resemble me. It did a poor job of it, if you ask me. Far too big of a nose.
Despite the nose, it was a perfectly serviceable body, for the time being, and I could talk to Gerhard now. Thankfully, he was home. He was reading a book that was, annoyingly, floating in the air in front of him. As I took over the puppet body, I shouted, "Jeez! That was a rough trip!"
Gerhard looked up.
"Oh, it's you, Emilio. Yes, it is a rough trip. I told you that. But you did get here, and that's the important part. What do you need?"
I explained the current situation to him, and he said that he would be there in the morning to help out. Before I flew back across the world, I noticed that the cover on the book he was reading was a very light-colored leather. Creepy.
Gerhard appeared in my room the next morning, and I mean that literally, as in teleportation. Hell of a way to wake up. Together, we walked down to the well.
The spirit was apparently sleeping in. We stuck our heads out over the water, shouted at it, splashed in the water, and generally did everything we could think of to get its attention. Nothing worked. Gerhard waved his arms around for a minute, then looked down the well.
"I'm detecting a tiny bit of magic at the very bottom," he said. "And I think it's some kind of illusion, but I'm not sure. If it were just a ghost, it wouldn't show up at all. Be careful, Emilio. Something very odd is in this well, and I don't know what it could be." For the first time since I've known him, Gerhard looked nervous. I've seen him scared, angry, frustrated and annoyed often, but nervous was a new one, and that worried me. We didn't say much else before he left the same way he came.
After lunch, I went back to the church. Einhart was there, and he told me of his plan.
"I intend to consecrate the water of the well. I will make it all holy water, which should make it safe to drink again as well as chasing out the ghost."
"Can you do it?" I asked.
"Yes, but I want you to come along to watch my back. If the ghost attacks me when I'm distracted, it would go poorly for me."
At the well, we found that the ghost had finally woken up, and was doing its reflection trick again. As Starhair started pouring various bottles into the well and chanting, the spirit piped up, trying to interrupt his chant, and making noise to distract him. It seemed to know what he was trying to do, and when it failed to stop him one way, it reared out of the water, and tried to block Einhart's access to the well.
"What is it, spirit, do you not want me to free you?"
The spirit then said something in reply that I'll not repeat here. Suffice to say that it involved Starhair, Satan, and something that was probably physically impossible.
As I looked for something to write with, Starhair charged forward in a fury, swinging a mighty fist and catching the thing off-guard. Amazingly, he connected, sending the wraith-like creature flying out of the water and across the gravel-covered street, where it sprawled like a slain marionette. It then lurched to its feet and shambled back towards us. Starhair pulled a cross out of his shirt and held it forth while he rebuked the foul creature before him. It completely ignored his effort and kept coming. Inspired, I threw a vial of holy water at it. It hit it full in the face, and it screamed. And the scream was different. It was not the voice of the spirit, the hollow, wraithlike voice that seemed to come from the air itself, but this was a voice that was real, and solid, and very much alive. As this realization dawned on me, the creature's illusion crumbled and its true form was revealed to me. It was blue, about human sized and shaped, with claws, vicious teeth, webbed hands and feet, and a reptilian look to it. Some kind of sea devil!
Great, and I'm all set up to hunt werewolves. Nothing I've got is going to hurt that thing at all. Unless…
I shouted at Starhair, "It's a demon, not a ghost! Keep it busy, I'll be right back!"
I ran at a breakneck pace into the town, searching for the market. I rushed into the market and shouted, "Who has fishhooks?". One of the merchants, with a confused look on his face, held up a bag. He opened it and showed me the contents. Several hundred fishhooks. "I'll take 'em all." I snatched it from his grasp, threw a bag of silver bullets at him and ran for my horse. I grabbed my saddlebag at a dead run and headed back towards the well.
The fight raged on with the two equally matched. The sea-demon was weakened on land, but was still strong, and Einhart had changed to his hybrid form, which was very impressive. As I arrived on the scene, Starhair had just scored a solid hit on the demon's chest, but seemed to bear the marks of similar hits on himself.
I grabbed the tube I had loaded with gunpowder and wadding on the way from my horse, and stuck the fuse in the hole on top. I poured the bag of fishhooks into the barrel, then set flint to steel, and lit my punk. I hefted the bombard, and screamed, "Einhart, get down!!" Then aimed as carefully as I could and touched punk to fuse.
My ears rang with the report as the bombard nearly leapt from my hands. The hail of hooks slammed into the sea devil, shredding it into an unrecognizable mess. Amazingly, Einhart was able to get out of the way of all but one of them, and he didn't hold it against me. He shifted back to his human form, and I watched with interest as his clothes seemed to fold in just the right ways as to still fit when he was done.
The town council came out, examined the remains, and took the testimony of Starhair and myself, as well as the couple of people who had come running when they heard my bombard go off. It turned out that the clergyman had killed someone, another demon, probably the "ghost's" mate. It wanted revenge, and that was why it "haunted" the well. The council thanked me for my work and gave me a very nice reward, a small bag which could hold about four times as much as it should have. I thanked them, said it was only my duty, and wandered to the market to see if I could trade a bag of coins to get my bullets back.
A couple of days later, with my bullets, a full stomach, and a smile on my face, I left town and headed home. After that, I never had quite the same attitude about hunting shapechangers, and I often wished that they all could be like my friends in Belgium.
Author's notes: Emilio is roughly based on a D&D character of the same name that I played long ago. This story is the first fiction of any length that I wrote, and I've recently revised it. I have plans for Emilio still. If I can get in touch with a good artist, I'd like to create a comic book based around his adventures, and an Emilio novel has been my pet project for some time.
If you have any suggestions, or are interested in teaming up with me on the comic book idea, drop me a line.
As always, C&C is highly appreciated, even if it's just a note saying that you enjoyed the story. I keep all the feedback I get, and it encourages me to write more.
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