A Devious Thing.
GETTING UP IN THE MORNINGS WAS THE WORST of it, when he was obliged to leave his dreams behind. For in his dreams he was usually himself, while in his real life the Necroscope Harry Keogh had become someone else entirely. Or not entirely, for on the inside he was still him. But on the outside ...
... It was confusing, dizzying, frightening, maddening ... especially maddening. And not only for Harry but for his wife, too. Indeed, more so for Brenda, for she could not and did not want to understand it; she only wanted things back as they had been. As for her baby son, Harry Jr.: well, who could say about that one? Who knew what he was thinking, planning, working on? But then again, who but a fool or a lunatic would believe that an infant of eighteen or so tender months was capable of working on anything?
Oh, he worked on getting fed or changed or attended to the same as any baby: by screaming for it. And he worked on collecting his audience of admirers the same way, too: by burpingand farting and smiling in that gormless-innocent way that defenseless infants have, with their fat little faces seeming to slide off to one side, and their eyes getting crossed, and the drool dripping down off their wobbly little chins. Completely disarming, and utterly charming, of course. At a year and a half most of that was over now, but as for defenseless ...
Harry Jr. was an angel--but one who had come face to face with the devil, and won! Him and his father both. But that had been only one battle; the greater, bloodier wars were still to come. Right now neither one of them knew that, however, which was just as well. Were it otherwise, they might not want to go on. The future has good cause to guard its secrets ...
But as his father was more than just any man, so Harry Jr. was more than just any baby. It was when he was being ... well, the other thing--when his expression was other than a baby's, and his thoughts more than the groping, fuddled demands or inquiries of an inchoate mind in an untrained body--that the espers of E-Branch were especially interested in him. It was when they felt, sensed, experienced the awesome, alien power washing out from him as he experimented, or did whatever it was he did, that they knew for sure he wasn't merely a baby. And when those baby-blue eyes of his lit with a faraway expression seen previously only in his father's eyes, and they knew that he conversed with a teeming majority no one else but he and Harry Keogh could hear and talk to ...
Getting up mornings, the Necroscope would think of these things and, like Brenda, remember when it had been very different; when the world was a different place and he'd been a different person. It was easy to remember, for in his dreams he was still that other person. Hell, he was that person, even when he was awake! But only on the inside; which is to say, inside his head. For outside--in Harry's body and face and entire external appearance, and especially in the mirror--he was someone else. A man called Alec Kyle. Which took some getting used to.
That was probably why he clung so tightly to his dreams and was reluctant to let them go: because they were a form of wish-fulfillment, a place and a time when the world was a different world and the Necroscope a different person; himself.
This morning was the same, or should be ...
For some, especially the young, waking up to a new day is a renewal, like being born all over again: the first day of the rest of their lives. Despite that Harry seemed to have done an awful lot of living, he was still very young: twenty-one years old. But his body--or Alec Kyle's body--was ten years older. And knowing that this was what he must always wake up to, Harry really didn't want to. It wasn't that he was suicidal about it; the fact that he now inhabited an older and alien body scarcely made him long for death (not the Necroscope Harry Keogh, a man who'd had it from the horse's mouth more than once what it actually felt like to be dead, who knew what it really meant to be incorporeal!). It merely made him reluctant toward life, made it safer to be asleep and dreaming--
--Well, sometimes. It depended on what you were dreaming about.
Currently he was given to dream a recurrent theme of life (but his life, before all this) where, like the proverbial drowning man, he clung to the straws of his past existence only to feel them grow waterlogged and slip one by one from his straining fingers. Each straw was a scene from the times he had known and the life he had lived, the chronological story of his oh-so-strange adventures. So that like a drowning man facing his imminent, inescapable death, the dream-drowning Necroscope saw it all skipping before his eyes like a scratched, comically accelerated, badly edited monochrome film.
His childhood in Harden, on the north-east coast of England, where he had attended primary and secondary schools with the roughneck colliery kids; his retreat from the mundane world of the living into the minds and "lives" of the Great Majority; his secret being discovered by Sir Keenan Gormley, then Head of E-Branch, and his subsequent return to "the real world" ... his acceptance of his condition, the fact of his unique talent, and his willingness to use that talent by taking sides against the monstrous evils rooted in the USSR and Romania.
And superimposed on these accelerated glimpses out of the past, his lifelong relationship with Brenda, a simple colliery girl whose love had formed the strongest single link between Harryand the orthodox world, one of the few things that kept his feet planted firmly on solid ground when often as not his mind was under it. And superimposed even over this, a glowing picture or memory of his mother--radiant as any loving mother as visualized by her child: her soap and rose-petal scent, the sweet warmth of her sigh, a golden aura all around her, as if the sun had risen behind her to diffuse her brilliant silhouette--all too soon snuffed out by a maniac, who in his turn had been snuffed by Harry.
Which was always the point where the Necroscope's blue, poignant dreams turned a dark, vengeful red. For after Viktor Shukshin there'd been Thibor Ferenczy, Dragosani, Yulian Bodescu, Theo Dolgikh, Ivan Gerenko ... The list was a long one. And what of Faethor Ferenczy, that "father" or grandfather of vampires? Faethor had been dead for a long time now, true ... but so had Thibor before him, and even a dead and buried vampire is a threat. Harry still couldn't be one hundred percent certain that the Old Ferenczy hadn't left other remnants (or revenants?) to fester in the earth like Thibor, waiting out their time until a grand return ...
Colored by his fears and anxieties, the Necroscope's dream was quickly becoming confused. His mind was Harry Keogh's, but the brain that housed it had once belonged to Alec Kyle, a precog for E-Branch. Harry's truths--his thoughts, memories and emotions--dwelled now in those same vaults of complex, convolute cerebrum once Kyle's, where still the odd crevice or corner remained, not yet conforming to Harry's contours. Kyle's weird talent had been governed by the "shape" of that brain; his precognitive glimpses had used to come to him during those vague, confused periods of mental hiatus between dream and waking proper, at that point in time where the conscious and subconscious minds separate, allowing a dreamer to surface to reality. Nothing was left of Alec Kyle now, but the shape of his brain had not yet changed entirely; perhaps some small part of his talent lingered on.
For on the point of waking, suddenly Harry's dreams underwent a rapid transformation, mutating into sheerest nightmare! And because precognition is the dubious art of seeing the future--andthe future is not a dream but a series of as yet unrealized events--it was as if everything that the Necroscope experienced was real as life. And the difference between these two dream-states was ... electrifying! Most people, including Harry, "know" that they are only dreaming, but on this occasion he didn't.
As before it was a kaleidoscope of scenes, fast-fleeting, over which he had no control. But where before he'd considered himself accustomed to strangeness ...
He stood in a place that wasn't of this world, at the rim of a desiccated plain of boulders that sprawled in one direction to an aurora-lit horizon, and in the other merged with foothills climbing steeply into mountains. Close by, a huge luminous dome was set in a walled crater like the eye of some fallen Cyclops in its buried skull, giving off a cold white light. The dome was like an alien pharos--but for what weird travelers? On high, the disc of a tumbling moon was lit half with the gold of an unseen sun, half with blue starshine; its surface pattern was in a state of flux, caused by the eccentricity of its orbit and rotation.
Clinging to what he knew of the geography of his own world, Harry's instinct told him that the aurora signaled north; odd, because that meant that the unseen sun lay far beyond the mountains in the south. But this was after all an alien world--
--To which he'd been sent ... been sent by ... by Faethor?
Here his reasoning faltered. To see the future is dangerous enough, but to try to remember what is yet to be ... !
et for a moment Harry had known that Faethor Ferenczy had sent him here, that his being here had at least been advised or guided by that father of vampires, that Lord of Lies. And also ... by Möbius? But for what reason? A quest, obviously--but why obviously? And if a quest, then for what, for whom?
He looked all about. The mountains on the one hand and the seemingly endless boulder plains on the other, and between them the enigmatic Gate, its cold white light flooding outward to silhouette the scattered, menhir-like boulders, casting unevenly concentric rings of shadow out into the Starside night.
The Gate? Starside? But these words, concepts, were meaningless to him ... weren't they? Now what the--!?
In the north-east he spied distantly rearing stacks, fantastic rock formations crowned with ... turrets? Towers? Tessellate stonework? ... Battlements? Or was the effect simply the work of an alien Nature? Harry thought not, for there were lights up there. Smoke curled from tall chimneys; motes moved with purpose in the dark air around the upper levels. At this distance they were motes, anyway ...
Suddenly Harry was aware that someone watched him. Spinning on his heel he fell into a crouch. On the boulder plain, only a short distance away, there stood a figure, slim, male, with a face of gold, burning in the reflected glare from the Gate. He held up a hand, gestured, said something, but Harry heard nothing. He was allowed to see but not to know ... the future guarded its secrets.
Harry knew instinctively that there was no danger here, not from this one, at least. And filled with strange emotions, he moved toward the other. Yet while he would have approached him anyway, this motions were involuntary, the flowing, maddeningly ungovernable mechanics of dream--or rather, of precognition. But the golden-faced one had commenced to make urgent gestures, pointing into the sky to the east. Harry looked.
And now there was danger here! Those motes circling the great stacks--but no longer motes! Dark blots, rapidly taking on grotesque outlines, descending out of the sky from the direction of the aeries, and--
Within his dream-self, Harry recoiled from the word. But his future-self continued to move toward The Dweller.
Finally he accepted that he was not given to know everything and concentrated on reaching the one who waited for him. But looking back he saw that the things in the sky were fast approaching, and that they were like nothing he had ever seen or nightmared before. One was winged, shaped something like a manta. The other was ... incredible, monstrous, gigantic! It squirted through the sky like a squid in water. And now Harry could see that the first creature had a rider--Shaithis of the Wamphyri?--and knew that the second was one of his constructs, a warrior.
Harry was close to The Dweller now ... Shaithis aboard his flyer was swooping down out of the sky ... the wind from the flyer's mighty manta wings blasted dust and grit up from the plain into Harry's and The Dweller's faces ... the creature's shadow fell on them as it shut out the stars!
The Dweller held up a wing of his cloak. Harry looked at him, at his golden mask, the scarlet eyes behind it, the mind behind the eyes ... and knew that mind! Yet he couldn't possibly know it! And for all the strangeness, still he was unable to stop himself as he stepped--or flowed--forward into the shadow of The Dweller's cloak, and felt it wrap about him ...
... And the kaleidoscopic picture changed. Harry had known what would happen next--except it didn't! Instead of finding himself in The Dweller's garden (whatever that might be) Alec Kyle's wild talent had snatched him into yet another possible future, or the same one but further down the timestream.
Now he was in the last great aerie of the Wamphyri ... Karenstack? And furtive as a thief, he pursued the Lady Karen as she descended to her larder. Sinister and silent as smoke, Karen flowed in through a dark doorway; following her, Harry kept to the shadows while she activated a trog and brought it out of its cocoon. He watched her lead the shambling, comatose neanderthal to a stone table where it lay down, stretched itself prone and bent back its ugly, prehistoric head for her.
Then the Lady's jaws opened ... opened ... gaped! Blood slopped from her crimson mouth; scythe teeth sprouted, poising over a sluggishly pulsing jugular. Her nose wrinkled, flattening back on itself, and her eyes burned as red as lanterns in the twilight room.
"Karen!" Harry heard himself attempting to cry--in the moment before the kaleidoscope scene changed, taking him forward again in time, but only a little way this time ...
... The Necroscope sat absolutely still, waiting ... (for what he didn't know, couldn't say, only that he felt tense as never before), in the deepest darkest shadows of the aerie. And eventually it came: Karen's vampire! By what route it had left her body, Harry neither knew nor wanted to know; sufficient that it was here, where he ... where he wanted it? It was a long leech, corrugated, cobra-headed, blind--and it had pointed udders, a great many.
Swaying its head this way and that, it inched forward ... then sensed him and commenced a hasty retreat! Curling back on itself, it wriggled like a blindworm; for now it must get back to safety, return itself to Karen's undead flesh. But the Necroscope wasn't about to let that happen.
Using his flamethrower, he burned it ... dying, it issued eggs, dozens ofthem, which spun and skittered, vibrating over the stone flags toward him. Sweating, but cold inside, Harry burned the eggs, too, every one of them. And as if from a million miles away--as if from someone else's dream--he heard the awful screaming, which he somehow knew was Karen's.
Then, abruptly, leaving him dizzy, disoriented, the scene changed yet again:
To a high balcony where he leaned out and looked down, and knew why he was dizzy: the terrible height! And way down there, crumpled on the scree, the Lady's white gown ... no longer entirely white but red, too.
Karen (or what he and the future-Harry thought was Karen), was inside it. And terribly, achingly, none of it made sense to him, or fleeting sense at best--there one minute and gone the next.
Cold liquid burned his face, got into his throat and stung him, caused him to cough. It was ... alcohol? Certainly it was volatile. It smoked, shimmering into vapour all around him. And ... he saw that he was lying in it!
He struggled to his hands and knees, tried not to breathe the fumes, which were rising up into some sort of flue directly overhead ... A blackened flue ... Fire-blackened? Harry kneeled in a basin or depression cut from solid rock, kneeled there in this pool of volatile liquid.
Impressions came quickly: he must be in the very bowels of the castle (but what castle?), down in the bedrock itself ... a huge cave. And against the opposite wall where rough-hewn steps climbed to unseen higher levels ... there stood Janos Ferenczy, Wamphyri, watching him! The monster held a burning brand aloft, its fire reflecting in his scarlet eyes.
Their eyes met, locked ... Janos's lips drew back from his unbelievable teeth in a hideous grin. He spoke ... but the Necroscope couldn't hear him, could only sense the threat. Janos's gaze transferred to the torch in his taloned hand, then to the floor. Harry looked, too: at a shallow trough or channel cut in the rock, which ran from Janos's feet, across the floor, to the lip of the basin where Harry kneeled. And Janos was slowly lowering his torch!
Jesus! Harry must use the Möbius Continuum--but couldn't! His power had been taken away from him! He was no longer master of Möbius space-time! Again Harry knew this without knowing how he knew. His deadspeak was still available to him, but ...
... Deadspeak? Since when had it been called that!? But no, he mustn't attempt to remember that which had not yet happened! Best if he simply accept it: that while the Möbius Continuum was no longer a viable proposition, still he had his deadspeak, his ability to talk to the dead. Wherefore, why not use it? Why not ask them--the teeming dead, the Great Majority--what all of this was about?
Too late! Janos's torch touched down and fire came racing in a blue-glaring blaze! Searing heat gouted up in a whooshing tongue of shimmering flame, roaring into the chimney overhead. Liquid fire singed the hair from Harry's head and face and set his clothes ablaze.
Leaping erect, he cavorted like a human torch!
Until yet again--perhaps mercifully this time--he felt himself snatched a little way into the future ...
... To where he stood in antique ruins as dark as night, yet clear as daylight to him! For while he was scarcely aware of it, the Necroscope was a changeling now; an alien Thing was inside him.
He waited warily, patiently in the ruins of Castle Ferenczy; waited there with ... with a dead man! With the resurrected Thracian warrior, Bodrogk.
Briefly, momentarily, flickeringly, Harry knew why they were here. His precognition told him that much, at least. And in a little while two women came up from below. One was Sofia, Bodrogk's wife of centuries, who flew into her husband's arms. Both Sofia and Bodrogk were dead; they had been called up from their ashes. But they were not as dead as the other woman! She was Sandra and was or had been Harry's woman--and later Janos Ferenczy's! The difference now was all too obvious.
For Sandra came ghosting in the way of vampire thralls, her yellow eyes alive in the night. But Harry knew in his way that she was less than Sandra now. Or more. Once she had loved, or lusted after him, for himself; now she would lust after all men--for their blood!
She flew into his arms, sobbed into his neck. And holding her tightly--as much to steady himself as to steady her--he looked over her sallow shoulder to where Bodrogk and Sofia embraced. If only their embrace could be the same. But of course, it couldn't. For Sandra's beautiful, near-naked body was cold as clay where it pressed against him, and Harry knew there was no way he could ever warm it.
She sensed his intention and drew back a little, but not far enough. Histhin sharp stake, a splinter of old oak, drove up under her breast and into her heart. She took a final gasping breath, a staggering step away from him, and fell.
Bodrogk, seeing Harry's anguish, did the rest.
And Harry jumped again ...
This time it was different, for the dream-Harry wasn't in it. Or he was, but stood apart from it, watching it happen to his future-self Which was probably just as well, for surely this had to be the end of him? Yet despite that in this instance he was merely an observer, still he was given to understand something of what was happening ... and wished that he wasn't.
For in Starside, close to the glaring hemisphere Gate, the Necroscope Harry Keogh was burning. A vampire, finally he paid a vampire's price for a fatal mistake: to have let himself get too close to the Wamphyri!
He burned inside and out: fire on the outside, and a burning, consuming hatred within. For Shaithis, who even now took the Lady Karen (but Karen ... ?) by force right there in front of Harry's cross. She seemed exhausted where Shaithis savaged and ravaged her; she resisted not at all as he tore at her.
The dream-Harry would go to their assistance ... except he was rooted to the spot. He was an observer, forbidden to interfere. And as the flames licked higher around the Necroscope's funeral pyre, so Shaithis taunted him--but all in silence, like some hideous form of mime--while the fire ate at Harry's lower trunk. It was perhaps the cruellest thing that the dream-Harry had ever seen or could ever have imagined.
Perhaps too cruel--for even as an observer he was beginning to feel his own future agony!
Events speeded up, became a blur--a Jury of fear, fire, and frenzied flesh!--and light! Blinding light!
The Gate was its source: a ball of silently expanding but all-consuming light. It ate Shaithis, Karen, the Necroscope--the entire scene--and it sent the dream-Harry ...
Again Harry and his future-self--the one a dreamer, and the other a physical if future reality--were in the metaphysical Möbius Continuum, hurtling down a past-timestream, rushing back through times that were long goneand forgotten, among the myriad blue, green and red life-threads of Sunside-Starside, into their remote beginnings.
And again the dream-Harry was the observer, who couldn't help but observe that his future self was dead. Neither asleep nor undead but dead, truly dead (in this manifestation anyway), and gone forever ... or going. Going where no one would ever be able to find him, into the far past of an alien, parallel vampire world. But being the Necroscope, the dream-Harry knew that it wasn't like that: the body of his future-self was dead, yes, but the mind would go on. Except this time ... well, who could say where it would go to? Or perhaps this was the very end of the road, albeit right back at the beginning. A paradox--but wasn't everything?
Horrified, because he knew that this was or would be him, the dream-Harry watched his own future-corpse where it tumbled head over heels into past time. Fire-blackened and smouldering--with its arms flung wide and its steaming head thrown back in the final agony of death--it was the one grim anomaly in a darkness shot through with the thin neon bars or ribbons of blue, green and red life-threads; for where they sped forwards in time, the dead Harry fell back. Then ...
... An astonishing thing! For as that burned caricature of himself fell away from him--in the space it left behind as it tumbled from view--a glorious bomb-burst of golden splinters, like sentient spears of sunlight, breaking up and speeding out of this place into ...
... Into a hundred different worlds and times!
Harry knew it without knowing how he knew: that while the Necroscope was gone, still he had gone on. Knew that he--the dream-Harry himself--would go on!
But as for now:
Still plunging headlong down the timestream--a dreamer, incorporeal--he went only into the past. But ... the future-Harry's past? Which of course could only lead to his own present! Even by a dream's standards, it was confusing ...
The present, the now, his now. (Or if not now, then the immediate future. For of course his dream was precognitive.) And this time Harry was himself. Not merely part of--or an observer of himself--but actually himself. And the action was happening to him.
The immediacy of the thing stood his hair on end, caused a cold sweat tobreak out on his face and neck. This was real, and he was ... the victim? So far, in almost everything he had been allowed to see--in each phase of it--there had been a victim. And Harry suspected that the same general theme would apply here, too. Or more than suspected; it was just the feel of everything, enough in itself to bring on these symptoms of extreme anxiety.
Very well: a victim. Probably. But of what? He could only wait and see.
As to his location:
It was subterranean, a great cave, but not too far underground. Beams or curtains of light, however dim, filtered down from several diverse sources, setting disturbed clouds of dust glowing like small silver galaxies in their faint searchlight rays.
Harry was in motion; he moved with purpose if a little uncertainly through the gloom of the cavern, to a spot where the light was stronger. Looking up, he saw a rough-contoured ceiling of unusual stratification, as if the pressured bedrock had been tilted almost on end. Up there, like rows of jagged teeth set in the closed jaws of the ceiling, several harder, impervious layers projected downwards where softer strata had fallen away. Higher still, where even more loose stone had weathered out, narrow, uneven gaps reached up to daylight--or as Harry now saw, to starlight. These crevasses, filled with mainly unwinking stars on a backdrop of diamond-sprinkled sky, were the light-source. The lack of scintillation could be caused by the Necroscope's subterranean viewpoint, or by a thin atmosphere, or both. He was loath to hazard a guess.
Still sweating (despite that he sensed the coldness of the place), Harry looked around on his own level. And now that his eyes were more accustomed to the smoky gloom, he could make out massively slanting columns, walls and chimneys of rock that climbed from floor to ceiling, and slabs of fallen rock tumbled into tiers and tangles in every direction. The cave was a veritable labyrinth of upended, mainly fractured strata; a geological freak whose ceiling seemed held aloft only by those mighty columns formed of harder layers. While around and through this Giant's Causeway of natural, angular supports--glooming over the rubble of shattered rock like empty, stony eye-sockets--a network of fissures, leaning lintels and gaping crevices formed doorways to uninviting, unknown routes through a forbidding and probably treacherous maze of doubtful extent. In a nutshell, it would be an easy place to get lost in.
Except ... Harry seemed to know where he was going. Certainly he did; for if this was a precognitive glimpse, then he had already been here--but insome near-distant future time. Not so strange; for time, as the Necroscope was well aware, is relative. But in any event he had no time to ponder it, for he was moving on. On through the jumble, seeming to drift in his dream-state over the debris of fallen ceiling stones which had been deliberately rearranged, laid in a rough-and-ready crazy-paving style to form a pathway or ways through the great maze. And because it seemed the safest way to go, Harry followed the main pathway.
And suddenly he was there, at his destination ... his rendezvous? A place where the tiers of fallen slabs and columns of rock formed a natural if jumbled stairway up the inwards-curving wall of the cavern to a level area some eighteen feet wide by twelve deep, where stood--a table? An altar? Some kind of neolithic sarcophagus?
But Harry knew that his last "guess" was right, and that it hadn't been a guess; knew that he had been here before, and that indeed this solid-seeming block of stone standing central in the levelled, paved area under the alcove in the rough rock wall was ... a massive stone coffin!
Now his sweat ran colder still; it stood out in droplets on his brow, and stuck his shirt to his back between his shoulder-blades. He paused to look around, to hold his breath, listen, absorb something of the atmosphere of the place. He had a feeling that he wasn't alone, and was offered evidence to confirm his suspicion; evidence, at least, that someone else had been here, and recently.
As dreams (even precognitive dreams) are wont to do, this one was unfolding itself sequentially, adding details along the way. Now Harry saw the torches--or became aware of them--in their brackets in the walls, and especially at the base of the great stone coffin. Oil or resin-soaked faggots, bedded in gaps in the flags of the floor, and burning so close to the sarcophagus that their flames were blackening its base.
And there was this sweet smell in the air. A scent remembered from ... Zante? Or Samos? From the Greek Islands, definitely. It was in the smoke: a smell of ... pine forests? Well, at least the torches accounted for the smoky atmosphere. As to who had set them burning: that would soon be made clear, Harry was certain. They would be back, those ... worshipers? Those acolytes, anyway. Back to witness the "Great Return."
What? A Great Return?! The Necroscope grimaced and felt a strengthening of his resolve. Hah! The reanimation of an alien abomination, more like--the resurgence of an ancient evil. And that was why he was here: to prevent it! Moving more naturally now, but sweating still, and anxious, hecommenced climbing the jumble of stone to the dais and sarcophagus--and was arrested by a mournful sound echoing in the confines of the great cave. Mournful, yes ... a sobbing ululation ... a howling! At which he felt the short hairs at the back of his neck stiffening in spontaneous recognition.
Time was short and Harry forced himself to climb faster. The steps leaned this way and that, some of them almost as tall as himself, so that he must actually and physically climb them, and at each level adjust his stance and balance. But forty feet up the log jam of fallen blocks and toppled columns, finally he stood at the corner of the ominous mausoleum.
Where the high dais backed up to the side of the cave the wall was formed of a series of black, near-vertical stacks compressed together into the almost crystalline forms of hexagonal columns. A horizontal fault had caused weak sections to topple, creating zig-zagging chimneys and, deeper still, cracks or windows passing right through the rock to the open air of the outside world. The rims of these vents or fissures were lined in pallid starlight, so that Harry imagined the entire cavern complex as located at the edge of a crumbling ravine. Except ... he more than merely imagined it, he knew--
--That he was in fact in Scotland, somewhere in the high Grampians, the Cairngorms east of Kingussie!
The knowledge came ... and was gone again, as quickly as that. But the Necroscope's urgency--those sensations of nameless anxiety--remained the same. And as a second bout of howling sounded, he gave a start, ran his tongue over dry lips and approached the great stone coffin. The heady smell of resin was much stronger here, curling up in the smoke from the torches at the base of the sarcophagus.
It was then, for the first time, that Harry noticed the "decorations" of two-inch diameter holes bored through the bottom edges of the four slabs that made up the coffin's sides. He saw them, and at once recognized their function: not merely as a crude decoration, but as outlets for the contents of the sarcophagus. There were six of them along the nine-foot-long coffin's front edge, and three along each of its almost five-foot-long end panels. Warmed to a thick fluidity by the heat of the torches, a glutinous yellow substance was oozing from the rows of holes, dripping down the base of the sarcophagus, gradually filling the cracks in the paving and forming gluey puddles on the floor of the dais. And this substance was the true source of the evocative "scent"--warm resin, of course.
The sarcophagus was almost five feet high; the Necroscope took up one of the central torches from its niche at the front of the great box, and leaned overto look inside. What with the gloom, the smoke, the heady reek and all, his eyes were watering badly; it was hard to make out the contents of the coffin. But the very terms he'd applied--"sarcophagus," and "coffin"--had in themselves been sufficient of a clue or forewarning. For what else would one expect to find in a tomb, but a corpse or corpses? Except, and as Harry Keogh was only too well aware, there are corpses and corpses.
The scattering of torches in the walls cast their flickering light down; the brand in Harry's hand set the surface of the translucent, semi-solid resin in the coffin glowing like burnished bronze; the vague outline of ... of something, but something grotesque almost beyond belief, suddenly became visible. Which was when what had started as a dream--a precognitive glimpse--turned into sheerest nightmare!
The figure trapped in the resin was at least seven feet long, two and a half broad at the shoulders, and narrow at the waist and hip. Still only half-discernible but obviously a huge man, still there was that about it that smacked of the un-, the in-human. It lay on its back, arms folded across its chest, and despite its dimensions Harry felt that it was somehow shriveled, reduced, as if time had taken its toll on it. As to the precise nature of the thing:
Quite apart from the earlier phases of his dream, Harry was acquainted with the Wamphyri. Indeed the Necroscope knew more about vampires--real vampires--than any other man in the world. He had seen Dragosani at the end of their bloodfeud, in the fullness of his Wamphyri change, and he'd also been face to face with Yulian Bodescu, in the very flux of metamorphosis. He knew exactly what a fully-fledged vampire looked like; that in fact it looked something like ... like this! And yet this was like nothing he'd ever seen before. But one thing for certain: it exuded evil as surely as its great sarcophagus exuded pungent resin.
And now it seemed the precognitive nature of the Necroscope's dream was over, and that purest nightmare was taking full sway. At least he hoped so; for if the rest of it was a glimpse into his future, then he wanted none of it!
Suddenly aware that shadows were creeping where no shadow had been, Harry stepped back from the sarcophagus, fell into a crouch and looked all about. There had been furtive movement, he was sure, there on the paved causeway where it passed under crazily tilting lintels ... and in the shadows along the walls ... and among the countless jumbles of fallen rock. Gray shadows, flowing, fleet-footed ...
... And a renewed burst of howling, near-distant at first, but then answered from close at hand. Very close at hand!
Harry's left hand held up the flaring torch; his right was on the rim of the sarcophagus. And even as he looked again into the coffin, at the barely discernible yet unmistakable outline there, something came bubbling up out of the gluey mess to grab his wrist!
It wasn't a hand, or barely. Clawed, black, trembling and shriveled, yet strong with some inner fever, it was half-hand, half-paw, all horror! And it drew on Harry with an irresistible strength until in a moment he found himself half-over the stone side of the coffin and into the resin. But at the last his wits were returned to him, and drawing back with every ounce of his strength, finally he broke free of the thing that held him. Or rather, it broke free of its arm!
How Harry danced then, with the alien hand still clasped around his wrist, as he tried to disengage, free himself from that unearthly grip. But he'd hauled so hard that he'd dragged the owner of the shriveled claw erect in its great coffin. And, God help him, the triangular eyes in its resin-dripping, half-mummified head were slowly opening ... and its dog's jaws were splitting apart in a monstrous grin!
"Jesus! Jesus!" Harry yelped as the Thing reached for him. And:
"Jesus?" it replied, its awful voice a surprised cough, a snarl, a bubbling-up of centuries-trapped phlegm and mucus. And tilting its head sardonically on one side: "Ah, no, not Jesus!" it told him. "If you would call me anything, call me Lykan ... Lord Lykan, of the Wamphyri! Or perhaps, in your case--" (its great arms were folding him in, while its eyes blazed like yellow lanterns, branding his soul as it growled), "--in your case I shall make an exception. Aye, for it were best if you call me ... father?"
Harry did no such thing. Starting awake he called out for his Ma, all mud and bones and weeds in her watery grave nearly four hundred miles away in Scotland. For cold and terrible as she might seem (to anyone else), she was the warmest, safest thing in Harry's world.
But as has often been stated, the future is a most devious, difficult thing, and not much given to displaying itself to common curiosity. Even the Necroscope, the least common of men, could not be allowed to know or remember too much. And as is frequently the way of it with dreams, this one was already fadingfrom the eye of memory. In a moment all that remained of it was the fear of it, whatever it had been. That and the cold sweat, and Harry's tumbled bedclothes.
And his sweet mother's anxious query, sighing in his metaphysical mind across all the miles between: What is it, son?
Harry stopped panting, took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and told her, Nothing, Ma. Just a dream, that's all. A nightmare.
And: Well, she said after a little while, and isn't it to be expected? (He could picture her troubled frown.) After all, you've known some strange times, Harry. Oh, yes, she was right there! And there were also times when the Necroscope's Ma was the very master (or mistress) of understatement. But:
Strange times, yes, Harry answered quietly, wryly.
Then, in a moment, seeing her son was all right, she was lighter at heart. When will you come to see me, Harry? You've always a home here with me, you know. Her words might easily have chilled another man to the bone, but Harry felt only her warmth.
Soon, I think, he told her. Pretty soon. But right now ... He sighed and shivered a little, for the sweat of fear was beginning to dry on him. Oh, you know ... there are problems.
He sensed her nod of understanding. There always will be problems, Harry, among the living. And, as you know well enough, even among the dead! But whenever, I'll be waiting here, knowing that soon you'll be close to me ...
Her incorporeal voice faded slowly away.
Problems among the living, and among the Great Majority. And all too often their problems were Harry's. His nightmare had disappeared completely now, forgotten, sunk back into the depths of his subconscious mind ... but however briefly, his mother's words had struck a chord there.
Problems among the living and the dead.
And ... the undead?
Copyright © 1995 by Brian Lumley Necroscope® is a registered trademark of Brian Lumley