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Chapter 1

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

“Make way,” the Welshman shouted. “Make way for Clan MacLantis!” He took a swig and blew a long streamer of flame.

People scattered on all sides, yelling and cursing. But the path cleared, so they raced through the opening to the cart. The two men scrambled in.

“Good luck, mates!” Taff said. “Hey! Watch it!”

From a side street to their left, a black van, horn blaring, swerved as people scattered.

Meanwhile the brothers started the cart before the mob could close around them. Gus switched on the siren, joining the wavering wail of alarms filling the midnight air.

Rounding the Hermit Philosopher’s statue upon two wheels, Gus headed for the town gates.

“Yeeeee-haw!” Nigel howled a rebel yell, followed by a lusty, “Geronimo!”

“Must you?” Gus complained.

“Sorry, always wanted to,” Nigel laughed. “Step on it!”

Off they went at full speed. The whining electric motor didn’t have much power, but with flashing lights and wavering siren, people dodged out of the way as best they could. The black van ahead sped off into the night, honking madly.

Emerging from the old town gate, the cart swung around the roundabout past the Grieving Mother while three carts filled with gendarmes went the other way. Suddenly, shrieking whistles sounded behind them.

Gus glanced behind them. “Oh blast,” he said, “the flics spotted us!” Indeed, the last cart now followed close behind, cops blasting on their whistles and waving clubs. The van headed straight for the exit to Maureven. Blocked by a slow-moving band of revelers, the van went past them over the curb. Gus cursed, nearly hitting one, skidded sideways, and around the traffic circle they went again.

They had better luck the next orbit, but the roads were full of drunken revelers partying the night away. The police were still upon their tail. The next corner they nearly collided with a line of drunken dancers in the moonlight.

“Careful, you idiot!” Nigel screamed, Gus swerved left, bouncing over the curb. He raced along the stone wall towards the gates of the Gardens of Remembrance. The cop cart bounced the other way, and the partiers scattered.

“You lost one cart. Now where are we heading?” Nigel yelled.

“Overland to Maureven,” Gus barked. “It’ll be easier with the roads blocked. Hold on!”

The cart nearly rolled making the turn, but shuddered as Gus held it together. The vehicle bounced in through the gate and tore across the fields of the dead. One golf cart with police still followed close behind.

In the most modern section, most tombstones were flat slabs inset into the soil, presenting little challenge to navigation. Gus pulled out his phone. “Still can’t get Angelique.” He started to try Allie again, but the cart bounced off a gravestone. The phone flew from his hand. “Oh shit!”

They raced cross-country, bouncing eastward through time. Soon they passed through the fields of the most recently deceased, followed by the broad flatlands of the late Twentieth Century and on through the acres of crosses from the War set in precise soldierly rows. Beyond, the memorials to the famous of the previous era were much more imposing. They harbored more than those slumbering until their wake-up call at the trump of doom, but Gus did not slow.

“Whoa!” Nigel yelled. The cart swerved to avoid the stump of a Grecian pillar, knocking a bust of a wryly-smiling man with a laurel wreath off of a tall pedestal next to it. The head nearly struck a shrieking, half-undressed girl, who leaped from behind the gravestone, her creamy white flesh caught briefly in the headlights.

She was instantly followed by a boy clutching clothes to his chest, while other heads bobbed into view and ducked in various spots around them like a warren of startled prairie dogs.

Avoiding a fallen slab, the cart behind them crashed headlong into a weeping widow from the Second Empire. “That’s the last,” Nigel said, laughing. They continued through ever-older portions of the cemetery, close beneath the haunted hills of Maureven. Beneath the-swaying willows, crumbling moss-covered monuments drew close together in ragged lines.

Suddenly, the cart’s roof hit an outstretched angel’s wing. The vehicle spun sideways, a rear wheel clipping a marble mausoleum where upon a sleeping burgher and his goodwife were depicted. The cart hit a huge mound and slowly, inexorably flipped over, rolling upon its side. Silence grew as the wavering siren faded and a wheel slowly squeaked to a halt.

“Thank God, I’m still alive. You sure know how to have fun, chum,” Nigel complained as he climbed out, stiff and sore. “You okay?”

Groans greeted him as Gus crawled from beneath the wreck. Together they pushed the cart upright. But it was useless. One of the front wheels was bent inwards.

“Great,” Gus said, adjusting his glasses. “I guess we walk now.”

They crashed at the edge of the long low mounds covering the gathered remains of the victims of the Black Death. The most haunted part of Maureven lay beyond, past the graves, a line of poplars and a parking lot. There, the round beehive buildings of St. Horrig’s Hermitage huddled before a dark grove. Suddenly shots rent the night air.

Gus ran across the mounds, tore through the underbrush and clambered over a low stone wall. Veering to the left, his trot changed to a run.

“Gus, wait!” Nigel yelled, racing to catch him.

Heedless, Gus ran as fast as he could. The manor house of the caretakers sat surrounded by shade trees. It was a huge old rambling edifice, both farmhouse and fortress, but very familiar to Gus. His heart went into his throat for the thick wooden doors gaped wide, light flooding into the soft night. He bounded up the worn stone stairs two steps at a time.

“Angel?” he shouted between gasps. “Angelique? Benoit? Anyone?”

The silence was ominous. His frantic search revealed no one present. In the kitchen, a chair had fallen over, and the kitchen door hung open. He paused to call Sundog, Marcel, and Allie in turn, getting nothing but recordings.

He returned to the porch. Nigel stood below him with his hands upon his head before a man in black, with a submachine gun slung over his shoulder. Seeing Gus, the gunman summoned him with a crooked finger.

“Professor, the others will be relieved,” Jesús said. “We feared you were detained.”

“Where are the people who live here, the Montcélances? What have you done with them?” Gus demanded.

“I don’t know; we just arrived, Professor,” the Count’s henchman said. “If they haven’t fled with the rest, I believe they may be at the chapel. This way, please.”

No one spoke as they set off across the parking lot. Several black vans sat in front of the entrance to Horrig’s Compound. A few bodies lay sprawled upon the lawn next to the tarmac. A man in a white one-piece outfit labored to save one who twitched and moaned as they walked past. The two laying there wore black monk-like robes with red sashes, the uniform of Endurist Penitents. Another dressed like a chauffeur sat with a bandaged arm, rocking back and forth.



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“The dreamer believes the dream is real.
Dreams may die,
but illusions
never bleed:
only dreamers do.”

– Jean-Baptiste Beauregarde,
Betrayers of the Red Cap, 1839

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