Vanquished Spirit.
Copyright 2014, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Second edition.
Cover photo provided by Bruno Passigatti. (www.iStockphoto.com).

Dedicated to everyone at the Horror.com forums the invaluable advice.

"Steampunk is Victorian science fiction." - G.D. Falksen.

In a world plagued by bloodthirsty vampires a group of church goers get more than they bargain for when they search for a missing Countess named Susannah Elfred Ardel. Fearing that she may have succumbed to the temptation of eternal life by offering her soul to Satan, the group consisting of two priests, two nuns and a steam carriage driver, try to bring her back into the fold.

This steampunked themed horror contains references to vampire bites as well as descriptions of bloody violence.

 

 

Chapter 1 - The Dead Village

Whilst looking up at the increasingly greying sky I could sense the onset of bad weather. I didn't relish the idea of being caught within a storm and hoped our search would soon be over, yet at the back of my mind I knew deep down that our search would prove futile. It was imperative that we attempt to return our loved one back to the flock, and release the evil that consumed her soul, but deep down I knew she would be lost forever. The many virtues of being a vampire meant even the strong willed were often tempted especially when faced with their own mortality. Countess Susannah Elfred Ardel went missing the moment she was informed of her incurable disease and it was likely she chose the life of a vampire rather than face the alternative.

There was a foreboding chill within the still air, and a deafly silence, as though nature herself had abandoned the area leaving baron trees and empty fields that would have otherwise been full of life on a spring afternoon. The only sounds were the constant hums and occasional hisses that emitted from the large engine of our steam carriage as we navigated down the winding lanes heading for the ruins of Ashdown Village. As to what we would discover was anyone's guess as no one had ever ventured in such a damned place in nigh on twenty years.

The occasional droplet of water fell atop of my bald head causing me to wonder if rain was about to fall or if it was steam from the engine, whatever the case I would have preferred a roof on such a modern vehicle as I didn't relish the idea of returning home soaked to the skin.

As the narrow lane grew increasingly bumpy, due to the dried mud of the frozen ground beneath, the steam carriage wobbled from side to side on its soft suspension. For a brief moment I felt we were about to topple out which caused me to instinctively grab one of my fellow passengers upon her knee. I quickly pulled my hand back and held the seat of the driver in front. The rough ground upon the lane's surface continued to wobble the carriage causing the engine to struggle and splutter as a cloud of steam shot out of its funnel like a kettle coming to the boil.

The vast fields either side of the lane that once supported crops for the villagers contained nothing more than dried mud and an occasional weed. Even plant life was bereft due to the evil atmosphere that surrounded the baron village.

The stone structures of cottages gradually grew into view looking somewhat like skeletons without their windows and roofs ever intensifying the bone chilling feel to the area. The closer we got to the village the thicker the atmosphere felt causing my chest to heave with each breath. It was likely my imagination, due to the heavy steam from our own transport, so I had to remind myself over and over again that I was a man of God and therefore immune to the effects of evil.

I shuddered the moment we drove into the village square as our steam carriage hissed and choked. Everyone remained silent looking at the skeletal buildings either side wondering at the atrocities that had taken place many years before. We then received a nasty shock as the engine let out one final hiss before coming to a halt. All was quiet with not even a distant breeze to break the silence.

"What happened? Did we just break down?!" I quickly said whilst trying to repress my panic.

"Not to worry," Lewis our driver responded in his usual gruff toned voice, "We've just overheated, is all. Old Nelly just needs to cool off."

With that he attempted to pat the engine then quickly changed his mind as to not burn his hand.

"Give it half an hour or so then we'll be able to get going again," he added.

His calm tone filled me with confidence but at the same time I knew all too well that he could be wrong. The reason we had to rely on modern steam power was beyond me, horses were much more reliable and had instincts of their own.

All five of us, consisting of the driver, two priests and two nuns, shared that little steam carriage and while I found the village ruins foreboding part of me felt relief that we had stopped as I could then stretch my legs. We had been travelling for hours and my back ached along with a feeling of cramp within my limbs.

Before I had chance to move one of the nuns, named Gwen, clambered over the seats leaning against my shoulder and jumping onto the ground. It was a spectacle to see someone of her advance years move in such a way but I was sure she was just as eager to stretch her legs as I.

My fellow priest Reverend Vinny quickly climbed out to assist along with Lewis the driver who took a number of steps away and peered at the vehicle whilst removing his goggles. I stared back at him as if to ask if he can get it started again. He nodded his head in response, his face reminding me of a panda due to the dark impressions of oil around his eyes.

"I need to, um..." Gwen said to Reverend Vinny before turning to face me.

I waited a moment before responding whilst wondering what she was referring to.

"Oh, right," I quickly said once I realised what she meant, "Just don't wander too far."

I was about to add that she should stay in sight but stopped myself as I realised it would be inappropriate under the circumstances.

"Actually I should join her," Bethany said before she too clambered out from the back of the carriage.

A thought popped into my mind as why women always felt the need to pee together but on the other hand it was far safer. Who knows what could have been lurking nearby. Gwen waited for Bethany to approach before both of them headed into one of the many empty cottages making sure to keep out of sight of a chancing glance.

Stretching out my arms and taking a deep breath I heaved myself up in my seat then climbed out of the carriage and joined Lewis as he stared at the engine. I had no idea if he was looking at anything specifically or just a general stare.

"So are you certain this thing will start once it's cooled?" I asked knowing his response will be more honest as we were out of earshot of Gwen and Bethany.

There was a short pause before he responded.

"Oh, yea, no problem," he said nodding his head, "Old Nelly's the most reliable carriage I've ever driven. It's just that..."

"Just that what?" I quickly asked.

"She shouldn't have overheated on such a cool day is all," he added, "It's as though she somehow doesn't want to travel any further. I'm sure she'll be fine once we turn back."

I wondered if steam vehicles did have instincts after all just like horses but immediately dismissed the thought. It was bad enough to imply animals had souls but for a machine that was beyond the pale, almost blasphemous.

"This village is too vast to search on foot," I said matter-of-factly, "We need this machine of yours up and running and in tiptop condition."

Lewis removed his hat and wiped his brow before quickly nodding.

"Aye, yea, it'll be fine, just give it half an hour or so," he responded.

The carriage let out a metallic clunk as the engine cooled as though confirming its master's comment.

 

Chapter 2 - A Lost Soul

Within moments there was loud screaming as both Gwen and Bethany came running out of the dilapidated cottage heading towards us, their faces as white as sheets. We didn't need to ask what they saw and didn't hesitate to clamber into the carriage. Gwen still had her bloomers down to her knees while holding the hem of her habit causing her to hobble at a slow pace.

"Hurry!" I shouted at them while holding out my arms in preparation to pull them into the carriage.

"It's not ready, it's not ready. I can't start her yet!" Lewis yelled as he jumped into the driver's seat in an attempt to restart the engine.

Being far braver than myself Reverend Vinny had made his way over to Bethany and forced her to move more quickly, while half carrying her back to the carriage, where I assisted in lifting her inside. Vinny then swiftly made his way back over to Gwen.

"Start you damned blasted piece of manure!" Lewis shouted at the engine.

The noisy sounds of the struggling steam powered vehicle, as it hissed and choked building up pressure, began to fall quiet as I noticed a figure within my peripheral vision. It was her, the woman we had been searching for, Countess Susannah Elfred Ardel. She was dressed in black, with very tall heels, a black cloak and a small top hat. The material of her clothing reflected brightly within the light looking giving the illusion that it was sliding around the contours of her body. She appeared gaunt with a twisted posture, holding her arms forward, bending her fingers as though they were claws. I stared toward her face, particularly her mouth, to see if she had been turned but alas it was unclear. Both Reverend Vinny and Gwen then came into view and it was clear the Countess had her eyes set directly upon them. The delay in her reaction was no more than seconds yet it felt an eternity while my eyes fixated upon her with my heart praying she was still human, but with what happened next my hopes were swiftly dashed.

Gwen let out an almighty bloodcurdling scream at the stop of her voice that echoed around the bare stone structures of the dilapidated cottages. The creature that was once a dignified human being named Susannah Elfred Ardel had its fangs buried deep within Gwen's shoulder while blood streamed down the loose material of her habit.

Reverend Vinny stood in shock, either frozen with fear or simply due to having no idea how to help Gwen. There was no way a mortal human being could fight a fully turned vampire and he was no match for Susannah.

Pushing Bethany to one side I jumped from the steam carriage and ran as fast as my frightened wobbly legs could carry me, all the while yelling at the top of my voice.

"Get your hellion hands off her!" I yelled with authority.

As I drew closer I realised I had no way of stopping the vampiric beast but I couldn't simply stand by and let it finish its human meal. Gwen was still screaming out loud looking down at the terrifying sight of the pool of her own blood in which she sat. She writhed in agony as the vampire gnawed down to the bone.

Without thought of my own safety I ran as fast as I could using my own body as a battering ram then jumped at the vampire causing her to lose her grip upon Gwen's neck. Whilst witnessing my reaction Vinny too decided to spring into action and pulled Gwen's arm dragging her to safety. However the vampire wasn't going to relinquish her meal that easily and jumped to her feet before dashing at incredible speed and plunging her teeth deep inside Gwen's arm.

"Get back to Hell you Satanic beast!" I yelled trying to physically prise the vampire away but to no avail.

The sound of her fangs squelched as she repeatedly gnawed into the flesh of Gwen's arm trying to get her teeth ever deeper whilst gulping down Gwen's blood. My heart pounded in my chest knowing that Vinny's and my attempts at rescuing Gwen were proving to be fruitless, it was only a matter of time before Gwen's struggle for survival would be lost. Vinny continued pulling Gwen's arm while I pulled against the vampire but there was no give, no lapse in the creature's mighty vice-like grip, of its fangs. There was then the horrifying sound of small cracks as the vampire reached bone once more.

"Leave me here, let me be. Save your own lives!" Gwen screeched between breaths.

Neither of us needed to respond as Gwen knew all to well that we would fight to the death if we had to.

There was then another sound, a pleasing one this time, as the steam powered carriage hissed into life letting out a high toned whistle shooting up a cloud of water vapour into the air. The entire carriage shook as though furious with rage while Lewis had his eyes set upon us. Then with one forceful jerk the carriage headed in our direction at full power as Lewis set his sights upon the vampire.

In a flash the vampiric monster relinquished her grip upon Gwen's arm and jumped to one side while Lewis steered the carriage in her direction with the intention of running her down. It was a pleasant spectacle to watch the vampire flee in fear and I felt a sense of justice now that the tables had turned.

Gwen was in a bad way, with blood pouring form her neck and arm, but she was still alive and fully conscious albeit in a lot of pain. I tried to give her a reassuring look but didn't know how. Both myself and Vinny lifted her to her legs then slowly hobbled away from the vampire's direction.

The sound of a crash as the steam powered carriage hit something caused us to all turn to see what had happened. The vampire had been hit and fell to the ground with a thud. She was still alive but dazed whilst crouching on all fours trying to regain her faculties. A shot of steam wafted out of the carriage accompanying the sound of a bang. I hoped to dear God that the engine wasn't damaged.

Lewis managed to manoeuvre the vehicle around while Bethany continued to duck down in the back covering her head. In what seemed an awfully long time but was in fact only a few moments Lewis drove in our direction then swiftly pulled the break causing the carriage to skid to a halt.

"Quickly!" He yelled as both myself and Vinny assisted Gwen into the carriage.

It was then that I noticed blood soaking through Vinny's clothing causing me to wonder if he had been bitten too, before I realised it was Gwen's blood which I myself was also soaked with.

With one quick glance to check we were safely inside Lewis released the break and the carriage jerked forward at speed causing a sense of relief to fill my body. However this relief was only shot lived as the vampire had already jumped to her feet and was giving chase.

"Doesn't this damned monster ever give up?!" Lewis yelled.

I couldn't believe the incredible speed she moved as she ran and it was clear to all that she was catching up.

"Blast!" Lewis yelled before pulling his hand against the brake lever causing the carriage to slide across the ground.

"What are you doing?!" Vinny shouted.

Lewis was frantically fiddling with the controls of the carriage causing ever more wafts of smoke combined with steam to blast from its funnel. He then lowered the break and to our surprise we all lurched forward as the vehicle reversed at full speed.

Lifting myself up in my seat, whilst half standing to get a better view, I could see the vampire still running in our direction. From the look on her ghastly features she was just as surprised to see the carriage reverse as we were and found it difficult to stop herself from running into us which she only managed to do by intentionally falling flat on her face.

There was then a screech as the carriage skidded to a halt once more before suddenly lurching forward causing me to tumble out to the sudden change in momentum.

"Wait!" I yelled as Lewis drove off at full speed into the distance.

As I jumped to my feet I saw the vampire crouched down just a short distance from me with blood oozing from her fangs down her chin. She stared at the carriage as though deciding whether to continue the chase before turning her gaze toward me. Her head tilted to one side as she smiled with pleasure.

 

Chapter 3 - Hiding Place

In a flash I jumped to my feet and ran at full pelt into one of the dilapidated cottages, through its doorway, frantically trying to find somewhere to hide. I knew I was likely being followed so dashed through the cottage then into the next in an attempt to outwit the hungry creature. I just hoped vampires hadn't the ability to sniff out victims on account of my clothing being drenched in Gwen's blood. My plan was to head back in the direction of the carriage in the hope they were waiting for me in the distance but I needed to lose the vampire first.

I stopped and looked out of the cottage's window for a brief glimpse to see where the creature was but she was nowhere in sight. Quickly darting my head behind me I wondered if she was toying with me, and hiding herself nearby, but it was likely my imagination. My mind was telling me to hide while my body screamed at me to run, causing my heart to pound with indecision.

With extreme caution I peered around the doorframe at the back of the cottage and crept slowly across the hard clumps of dried mud heading in the direction of the distant fields knowing they would eventually lead to the dirt road of which we came. However there was no kind of thicket in which to conceal myself and knowing how fast the vampire could move there was no way I could outrun her if she set her evil eyes upon me. I just hoped she was resting up somewhere out of sight.

Stopping momentarily, just to make sure I wasn't being stalked from afar, I continued at a slow pace making as little sound as possible. It was going to be a long journey home on foot and it was soon to be nightfall. Just the thought of that beastly monster nearby was enough to make me panic which took all my will to repress. I would likely die of fright long before reaching home.

I had only one decision open to me which sent shivers through my trembling body and into my very soul. I was going to have to find a hiding place and wait it out, wait for the morning, and for rescue.

The bare cottages were simply ruins, totally unsuitable, so I was going to have to search for a better location, but where could I find such a place with just barren fields ahead of me? I crouched down whilst attempting to think while jerking my head in every direction on the lookout.

To my left, where the broken cobblestones of the village met the dirt road between the fields, was a small declining slope leading and a ditch beneath. It must have once served as a small stream that fed the fields. The road passed over the top of it so I gathered there must have been a bridge beneath. It was far from ideal as a hiding place but more suitable than the cottages.

Glancing a few more times making sure I wasn't being followed I slowly made my way over to the ditch and hurried down the slope almost taking a tumble in the process. A sense of relief filled my body as I knew I was out of potential eyeshot allowing me to let out a deep breath.

The bridge was larger than expected as I hurried inside towards the far end which was partially blocked by rubble and rotten wood. The stream wasn't totally dry either and there were large puddles of water as well as a strong smell of dampness beneath the bridge. My heavy footsteps felt squidgy with my shoes already encrusted with mud.

Clambering across the rubble, with my body in a state of extreme exhaustion, I hid myself in the far corner and rested my eyes before falling asleep knowing I was relatively safe.

 

Chapter 4 - The Tears Of A Lost Soul

It had only been a number of minutes before I awoke, or at least I felt it was only that long. Daylight was barely hanging on, and it was lightly raining, but I knew it wasn't going to be long before nightfall and not long before the upcoming storm. My eyes had already adjusted to the dim light of the stone archway of the bridge and it was then that I noticed something odd about the way in which the items of rubble and rubbish were scattered. They clearly were not random and there was what looked to be the remains of a fire in the middle as well as rags for bedding. Someone had previously spent the night under that bridge and I hoped to dear God that it had been a homeless person rather than the horrifying alternative.

In almost an instant my unasked question was replied, and it was the answer I dreaded the most, as the vampire came scampering into the archway beneath the bridge in which she used as her home.

I had no idea as to whether her eyesight was more acute than an a human's, but luckily she had not yet set eyes upon me, as I continued to lay at the far end of the darkened arch hidden among the rubble. I concentrated with all my might to keep as silent as possible while I stared directly at her wondering what she was about to do. The silhouette of her fangs was fully visible as she waited, simply standing still, in the middle of the archway. I wondered if she could track my scent.

Surprisingly she collapsed to the ground, landing on the pile of rags, and breathing roughly as though in pain. She cried out, screaming loudly, before bursting into tears and crying like a child. It was difficult to witness but there was no way I was even tempted to cover my ears, as even my slightest movements may be enough for her to detect me. Her cries continued while she rested herself flat across the ground, rolling herself within the rags, and kicking and punching the air with rage. She was having a tantrum possibly caused by anger that she had yet to find me. I was in extreme danger if she discovered I was hiding within the very location she used as her home. I closed my eyes and prayed silently that this nightmare would soon end.

 

Chapter 5 - A Prayer Before Bedtime

It was a number of minutes before the fiendish vampire ceased with her tantrum and began gently weeping instead. The sound of the pouring rain outside the archway wasn't enough to cover the sound of her inner turmoil as every sound she made echoed around the confined space. Part of me felt sorry for her but as I remembered what she had done to Gwen any feelings of empathy I had for the beast diminished.

Cocking my head to one side I began to listen intensely as I heard distant voices. There was no way I could call out a reply due to my dangerous predicament but I continued to listen over the sound of the downpour of rain. It was a few moments before I realised that I wasn't hearing voices in the distance after all but a very silent whisper echoing softly within my location. I stared ahead at the vampiric beast, particularly toward her mouth, as she spoke to herself. She was praying. I couldn't believe the words I was hearing for they made no sense coming out of a vampire's mouth. It was the prayer of a human not the prayer of a beast.

"... my soul to take," the vampire continued her whisper, "If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways. Father unto thee I pray, thou hast guarded me all day. Safe I am while in thy sight, safely let me sleep tonight. Bless my friends ..."

It was a bedtime prayer, one of the many kinds of rhyming prayers children were taught at an early age to get them into the habit of praying each night. It had been so ingrained into her psyche that she was even taking the time to pray whilst no longer human.

A feeling of warmth entered my body and heart. Clearly the kind and caring soul of the woman known as Susannah Elfred Ardel was still within that vampire somewhere. She hadn't fully turned. I then came to realise the possibility that all vampires still partially retained their humanity concluding that they were all victims of their ghastly fate. Susannah needed help from God and that was the very reason I was guided into that dank archway beneath the bridge.

After the prayer was over she crawled over to the remains of a previous fire and brushed away some of the burnt ashes before placing some fresh twigs inside. She took a momentarily glance as though looking for other items to burn then proceeded to light the pile of twigs using a small metallic lighter. I wondered where she had obtained such an item and if it had been a precious gift that belonged to her from when she had been human. There was the sound of a slight hiss before the spark from the lighter ignited the flame and the twigs. Susannah then shut off the lighter and held it close to her body before tucking it within her clothing.

Letting out a sigh she huddled next to the fire and twitched her shoulders trying to gain some warmth from such a small flame. The flicker of the fire reflected in her moist eyes enhancing the sadness within her soul. Her face, that was encrusted with dirt and dried blood, contained clean trails caused by dried tears that were emphasised by the downpour of rain that could be seen behind her as though the whole village was weeping on her behalf.

The striking stare, emitting from her extra wide pupils, was directed toward me and I couldn't tell of she could see me whilst I hid in the corner among the rubble. From her viewpoint I may have been nothing more than a dark shadow but it could be that lighting the fire had revealed my presence. I could feel the hairs upon my neck stand on end while my chest throbbed. It was imperative that I remained totally motionless while keeping my breath as shallow as possible. Her head moved to one side whilst her gaze continued to stare right at me. I half expected her to pounce on me yet I dared not move in case my assumption was wrong.

She remained totally silent with the only sounds coming from the pouring rain outside and the dripping sounds of water seeping into the damp archway.

It was a number of moments before she blinked her eyes and relaxed her posture. She was taking a nap, albeit in an odd crouched position, much to my own relief. The emotional turmoil of fear within my own body, along with the emotion of empathy I felt toward her human side, was a drain on my strength. With all my will I hoped I didn't fall asleep only to then awake whilst being fed upon.

Throughout the night I continued to stare at the silhouette of Susannah's vampiric body, as she breathed in and out, while the diminishing fire still gave off enough light to see her closed eyes.

 

Chapter 6 - My Rescue

To my surprise I found myself waking up the following morning to the sound of hissing steam from the road above the bridge. I cursed myself within my mind for falling asleep but felt relief when I realised the vampire was nowhere in sight. The fire was nothing more than ashes while the morning sunshine illuminated the archway.

As I slowly crawled out from among the rubbish I continued to glance around making sure I was safe. I looked at the pile of rags the vampire had slept upon and could see a puddle of red stained urine, or at least I guessed that was what it was. I then left the archway and stepped outside as daylight shone down upon me.

"Hold it still!" I heard a loud voice yell.

"I've got it!" Another replied, "It's not going anywhere!"

Panting heavily I quickly hurried up the incline of the dried stream, up to the road above, into the direction of the voices. To my delight I saw the steam carriage with Lewis sitting in the driving seat and a number of men standing behind it.

"Walter!" A voice called out.

It was Reverend Vinny. I waved my arm back at him as I trotted towards him.

"You're a sight for sore eyes," I said referring to everyone beside the steam carriage, "You won't believe the night I've had. How's Gwen by the way? Did she... um, is she well?"

"As well as can be expected," Reverend Vinny replied.

While heading closer I noticed one of the men holding a large flintlock rifle containing a gas canister and an extra wide barrel. I knew little about such weaponry but could see it was lethal. Part of me felt reassured that he was armed but I still couldn't help feeling nervous about it causing me to dart my head round making sure the vampire was nowhere in sight.

"I think you should lower that," I said as I approached.

"I intend to shoot it," he responded gruffly before heading for the back of the carriage.

It was then that I noticed the sound of someone kicking against the ground whilst whimpering as I followed the armed man. On the ground behind the carriage was the shocking sight of the vampire, bound tightly with rope, laying upon the ground with an oily rag protruding from her mouth. She wiggled frantically kicking the ground while tears flowed from her bloodshot eyes. The man aimed his rifle.

"Wait, what are you doing?!" I yelled before pushing his gun away.

The vampire stared at me as if pleading for my help. Her vampiric eyes appeared less monstrous than before and I sensed the conscious living soul behind them.

"This is the very same creature that attacked Sister Gwen," Vinny said as he stood at my side, "She very nearly didn't pull through and will be physically scared for life, let alone her emotional scars at almost being eaten alive. I know this is a ghastly task but it needs to be done."

The armed man raised his rifle once more.

"If you wish I'll do it point blank in the head," he said raising his gun again, "It's more than it deserves mind, but at least the deed will be done."

I rested my hand against the gun once more and pushed it aside. I then remembered the vampire's prayer the previous night. She couldn't help what she was. There was no way to cure her but maybe all she needed, what all the vampires needed, was understanding. Maybe there was a way that humans and vampires could coexist.

"This is wrong!" I said sternly then crouched down removing the rag from the vampire's mouth before proceeding to loosen her bindings.

Some of the men beside the carriage started to grumble as Reverend Vinny lurched forward.

"What are you doing? This is complete madness!" He yelled at me.

I looked up at him from my kneeing position next to the vampire while continuing to pull against the ropes.

"We were wrong," I said clearly but calmly, "Vampire's are not the spawn of Satan. This is one of God's creatures and her name is Susannah despite what she has become. We need to show her compassion and understanding, not hate."

I stood up and held out my arm for Susannah. She looked up at me from the ground then took my hand allowing me to assist her climb to her feet.

"This is blasphemy," Reverend Vinny said softly whilst shaking his head from side to side, "The bishop will certainly hear of this. Mark my words."

Susannah still had a firm grip upon my hand and stood at my side knowing that I was protecting her. Her shoulders were hunched, and her body shook with fear as she sniffed away her tears.

"You see," I said turning to everyone around me engaging their eye contact in turn, "She's just as afraid of us as we are of her, there's no need to..."

I screamed out as the vampire plunged her fangs deeply into my neck, ripping a lump of flesh from me, before jumping over the side of the road into the dried stream and dashing to freedom. I collapsed to my knees clasping my wound as blood spurted onto the ground.

"You monstrous Satanic freak!" I yelled.

THE END.

 

<<< Back Author's Notes