IN THIS EPISODE: …New vampire Victoria chases down potential victims…
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CHAPTER 37 – The Vampire
Topaz Cushing – The Chamber of Horrors
Moonrise: First Night of the Full Moon
Topaz could feel that Paul was somewhere nearby, but the emotional chaos in the mansion was nearly deafening to her extra-sensory sensitivities—like a band blaring in her ear when she was trying to listen to someone across the room.
“Paul?” she wanted to call out, but she didn’t dare. Within the mansion, the Duprixes also lurked, and Topaz had a very bad feeling about them. Even amid the psychic maelstrom, that much remained clear: something awful had happened to both husband and wife, something that made them less than human. Topaz couldn’t tell whether they’d been overtaken by madness, or something even worse.
As she cautiously crept down the servants’ stairs to the basement door, part of her wished she’d stopped on the second floor, checked there first. (It seemed so much safer.) But she had to trust that her sister would handle that job, just as she had to trust her twin on one startling fact that kept echoing through her mind:
Paul Shaw is a werewolf.
How could that be? Despite her history of psychic feelings, and accurate predictions with tarot cards, and prescient dreams, and all the rest, another part of Topaz had trouble believing in something so purely supernatural. This was the Twentieth Century, after all, an age where railroads spanned the continents, humans flew in airplanes, and radio travelled around the world instantly through thin air.
So, part of her suspected—even expected—that one day, each of the strange abilities that she and her twin shared would be explained by science. And the same would be true of all the eerie artifacts in their family exhibits.
A werewolf, though… A man who could change into an animal during nights of the full moon…? That was much stranger than the vision of a wolf—Black Shuck, or whatever it had been—that both sisters had experience last winter. Far stranger than her dream this afternoon. Omens and visions could all be in the mind, but a werewolf…!
Topaz wasn’t sure whether she wanted to see such a thing, or not see such a thing. Certainly life, and the whole world, would seem a bit simpler if Paul was insane, rather than cursed.
We may find out, soon enough, Topaz thought as she neared the door at the bottom of the stairway, the back entrance to the Chamber of Horrors.
The door was supposed to be locked, with only the twins and the Duprixes having the key, but as Topaz approached, she saw that it stood slightly ajar.
Someone’s down here.
Again, she almost called out “Paul…?”—but a prickling sensation at the back of her skull warned her not to. Instead, she cautiously pushed open the door, trying not to make any sound.
As she peered through the ever-widening gap, though, she almost gasped in terror.
Beyond the door, near the center of the exhibit space, lay a scene of utter horror:
A nude woman, dangling upside-down from a rope affixed to an overhead beam, twisted slowly above the bath of Elizabeth Bathory, the Bloody Countess. Gore covered the woman’s chest and face; her throat had been slit, and her eyes gazed lifelessly into the darkness.
Topaz recognized the victim as Lily Carlson, a frequent visitor to the waxworks and, until this awful moment, a woman Topaz believed to be Victoria’s best friend.
Yet, here Lily hung, slaughtered like an animal, and—as Topaz watched in shock and terror—Victoria, as naked as the day God made her, was bathing in her friend’s blood!
It was all Topaz cold do to keep from screaming.
As she watched, transfixed with fright, Victoria rose from the tub, and the crimson fluid covering Madame Duprix’s nude form transformed into a sheer, blood-red gown.
The wicked mistress of the house seemed to be admiring herself in a mirror near the tub—Bathory’s mirror, which the twins had given her in lieu of rent, Topaz now realized.
Not only that, but Victoria seemed to be talking to someone, though the only other person Topaz could see in the room was the dead woman.
“So, you’re telling me that nothing on this earth can hurt me?” Victoria said, stretching out her arms and admiring the fluttering red gossamer now covering her skin.
She paused, as if listening to an answer, though Topaz heard no reply.
Victoria smiled, showing gleaming white fangs. “Then it’s time to settle accounts with my worthless husband!”
Get out of here! Topaz’s mind cried. Paul’s not here. Get out!
But the scene before her was so appalling that Topaz found herself rooted to the spot, initially unable to even tear her eyes away from the gruesome sight.
Go! the more sensible part of her frantically urged.
Topaz backed away from the door, which now stood about half open.
As her heel bumped into the riser of the first step, though, Victoria spotted her; the two locked eyes.
Topaz’s soul froze.
Victoria leapt out of the tub and hurtled toward the doorway.
Topaz turned and ran headlong up the stairs.
As she rounded the first turn in the stairway, Topaz heard Victoria say: “Come back, little rabbit!”
Ahead of Topaz lay the door to the waxworks, on the first floor. She grabbed the knob and twisted, but it was locked. She let go, and kept running up the stairs.
“No escape for you, little bunny,” Victoria called, laughing, from somewhere behind her—but how close?
Don’t look; just run! Topaz told herself.
She raced up another turn and threw open the door into the servants’ hallway on the second floor and then slammed it shut behind her, cursing that the door had no lock.
She glanced into Paul’s room—his door was open—as she raced past, but she saw no sign of him. Where could he have gone? Had Opal found him already? If only Topaz had time to think!
The door at the far side of the hallway burst from its hinges, revealing the red-draped form of Victoria Duprix. She stood atop the landing, both beautiful and terrible.
“Stop running, now, and I promise to kill you quickly,” the madwoman said.
“Bugger off!” Topaz replied, reaching the far door, passing through, and quickly shutting it behind her.
Up or down? she wondered as she found herself on the second-floor landing. Perhaps Father had something to combat this creature in his room upstairs, but Opal (and Paul) more likely lay below, in the waxworks.
Topaz didn’t stop long to think, but in those few instants, she heard the pad of bare feet, beyond the closed servants’ door, approaching at a furious gate.
Down! Topaz decided, and practically flew down the long, twisting flight to the front entryway.
She slammed that door behind her, too, but as she did, she caught a glimpse of Victoria vaulting over the rail and plunging, heedless of any harm a drop from that height might cause her, toward the doorway.
Three closed doors faced Topaz. One led to the street, another down to the Chamber of Horrors, and the third to the Duprix Waxworks. Topaz knew behind which of the three her sister must be.
She slipped through the waxworks door and closed it just as Victoria shattered the door onto the landing.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” the thing that had once been Topaz’s landlady called—because the younger twin had no doubt, after what she’d just seen, that the supernatural was real, and Victoria Duprix was no longer human.
As Topaz’s mind reeled from that realization, the door she was leaning against smashed inward, sending her flying across the wax museum.
She landed with a bone-jarring thud near the entrance to the joint Duprix-Cushing mummy exhibit. Not daring to waste time getting to her feet, she scrambled inside.
“Come back, pretty bunny,” Victoria called sweetly. “I only want a little taste!”
Topaz crawled across the old oak floor as quickly as she could. Ahead, she heard what sounded like people talking. The voices were coming from the tomb part of the display, right before the exhibit continued down the short flight of stairs into the Chamber of Horrors.
She stood up, keeping one of the largest of the Bastiti displays between her and Victoria.
“Opal! Paul!” Topaz cried. “Help!”
“Help! Help!” Victoria parroted mockingly.
Then, moving so quickly that Topaz barely even saw it, the madwoman was on the far side of the life-size diorama, reaching for Topaz.
“No!” Topaz screamed.
She heaved with all her might, and the display figures of Bastiti and King Sethmosis toppled onto Victoria.
With a startled squawk, Vincent’s evil wife crashed to the floor, thrashing.
Topaz raced into the next room.
Then she stopped dead, the tableau before her even more mind-numbing than anything she’d experienced so far tonight.
The entire re-created mummy’s tomb was lit by red-orange firelight from torches burning in sconces placed at intervals along the walls.
On the far side of the room, at the back of the crypt, rested an upright sarcophagus containing the mummy of Bastiti. In front of that, stood another mummy, at least, that’s what Topaz thought the tall bandaged figure must be—but that mummy was moving! It stood, arms upraised, chanting as if praying or making an offering to the ancient gods.
“Mighty Seth,” the mummy’s gravelly voice said, “Ruler of Darkness, this humble servant thanks you for your beneficence! Oh, Nephthys, Mother of the Underworld, sister of Isis and keeper of the deepest secrets even your royal sibling does not know, thank you for granting the boon of rebirth to this unworthy one! Long will I serve you and your most faithful disciple, Bastiti…”
It’s Sethotep! a voice inside Topaz declared. That was absurd, though; the Egyptian architect had been dead more than three thousand years! He’s come back to life!
But was it? Was anything impossible on this reality-bending night?
Vincent, dressed in strange robes, stood near the tall mummy (whether actually Sethotep or some kind of weird, ceremonial masquerade). But the master of the waxworks seemed frightened, and was backing away from both mummies, toward the entryway where Topaz stood, gobsmacked.
Vincent sidled around the left-hand wall, avoiding not only the mummies, but the altar located in the middle of the room, which he seemed to be paying no attention to.
Opal sat crouched beside that altar, hidden from the sight of both Vincent and the mummies—though, from her vantage point near the entrance to the tomb, Topaz could see her sister clearly enough.
Worst of all, atop the altar lay Paul, tied down with leather straps and writhing horribly. His wrists had been cut, and his blood trailed down the sides of the slab.
Paul screamed in agony, and Topaz thought he must be dying from those terrible wounds and loss of blood.
But as she watched, still transfixed, Paul’s body began to change: his chest expanded… his feet burst from his well-worn shoes… the nails on his hands and feet became longer and sharper… thick, coarse hair sprouted all over his body…
Opal watched all of this with as much shock and revulsion as Topaz, but then, as if by instinct, she turned and spotted her twin.
“Topaz!” Opal’s voice came loud and clear in Topaz’s mind.
“I’m here!” Topaz mentally replied. “What do we do?!”
Opal’s eyes went wide with horror. “Topaz, look out!”
Topaz turned, but not quickly enough.
Before she realized what was happening, Victoria had grabbed her by the throat. The madwoman lifted Topaz off her feet as easily as a grown man picks up a kitten.
“Chase is over, little bunny!” Victoria sneered, baring her fangs.
“Let her go, you bitch!” Opal shouted, charging toward Topaz’s attacker.
With a contemptuous laugh, Victoria tossed Topaz into her sister.
The twins crashed down, jumbled together, limbs flailing, and skidded across the floor. They came to rest against the wall near the exit from the fake tomb leading into the Chamber of Horrors.
The blow knocked the breath out of both girls, but Topaz and Opal struggled to untangle themselves as Victoria stalked closer, grinning a wicked grin.
“What is she?” Opal whispered, terrified.
“A vampire, I think,” Topaz replied. “She was bathing in Bathory’s tub. She murdered Lily Carlson.”
“No,” Victoria purred, stalking toward them. “I killed a traitorous slut who was sleeping with my hus—”
And then the monster who had been Victoria stopped.
Vincent! Topaz realized. She’s noticed Vincent!
Victoria, now entirely focused on the sculptor, turned away from the scrambling, fearful girls. Silently, the vampire crept up behind her husband.
“Hello, my love,” she whispered.
Vincent spun, taken completely by surprise. “Victoria!”
She grabbed him by the throat. “Yes… Victoria… Your loving wife.”
“I… I…” Vincent stammered.
“At a loss for words, husband? Don’t worry. Soon, you won’t have to speak at all. I’ve killed your lover, and now, it’s your turn.”
“Victoria, no! Stop!”
But she didn’t stop.
Instead, she bared his throat and bit him.
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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