Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Olwick Slasher

   Inspector Daveign was renowned for his skills in solving crimes and ferreting out murderers and thieves. He was also known for his curious knowledge of things beyond the normal scope of science. He had studied the histories and cases of the arcane with Dr. Ivenburge at Grunwich Bridge College and had purportedly resolved several mysterious cases throughout the countryside; cases involving things which no one in the city dared speak about.
   So it only made sense that he was called upon by officials of Olwick village. There had been grisly murders in the town, and no trace of killer or possible motive. Without delay, Inspector Daveign packed his important articles and boarded the train to Olwick.
   The village was far out in the countryside, beyond Typpenham, nestled among the Orring hills along the Olrin River. These hills were extremely lush and green, abundant in oak and elm and covered in vibrant, but overgrown patchwork fields. Run-down stone walls bordered the little patches of wild grass and brambles and there next to no sheep in those pastures.
   Grey gloom covered the sky and wandering wisps of mist wended their way through the dark tree trunks or clung to the occasional dilapidated remains of a house. At last, the villages’ gambrel roofs came into view, rising over the misty river and steeply arched bridge.
   The train station was barely standing, riddled by worm and dark rot. Inspector Daveign hefted his worn suitcase and stepped out into the cavernous street, the roofs were close overhead and the rough cobbles were choked with mud. He had a map, scrawled on the back of an old notice, directing him to the old gaol, where the village’s lone constable kept office.
   It soon seemed apparent that the map had been drawn wrong. Daveign was hopelessly lost in the eerie, quiet streets. How, he could not imagine. Yet here he was on an abandoned street with dark, shuttered windows all around. No gaol to be seen.
   At last he spotted a window that was aglow with flickering red light. Adjusting his tie, Daveign approached the rickety house and tapped on the pitted door. He waited in the shadowy silence and knocked again. At last he heard shuffling sounds from inside. The door creaked open and blazing eyes greeted him through a black veil.
   Daveign drew back at the ferocity of those icy irises.
   “Pardon,” said the Inspector. “I’m looking for the gaol.”
   “What do you want with the gaol?” asked the veiled woman. “Or with this town altogether?”
   “I’m Inspector Daveign,” he said, switching his suitcase, so he could extend his hand. The veiled woman looked at his hand.
   “You’re here because of the deaths,” she said quietly. “Please come in, I’ll make you some tea and then walk you to the gaol. These labyrinthine streets are hard to get used to and it’s cold and damp out.”
   “I suppose I’m in no hurry,” the Inspector said, slowly, unsure if the woman with blazing eyes made him more nervous or curious.
   “Do come in,” the veiled woman entreated, opening the door wider. “The train ride must have been long. A little refreshment will prepare you better to meet with the constable and the monstrous details of our village’s plague.”
   “Thank you, very much,” Inspector Daveign said, stepping onto the threshold. The woman stepped aside and closed the door.
   “This way,” she said, leading him down the hall into a little parlor. It gave the overall impression of perfection, but threadbare, dark, and a little dusty. Old furniture was arranged aesthetically around an ornate plaster fireplace. Embers glowed lazily in the hearth and not a glass knickknack or lamp was out of place. There was a door leading off the parlor, open a crack and spilling a flickering red light onto the carpet.

   “Please sit down,” said the veiled woman. “I’ll start the tea. Make yourself at home.” She turned and vanished into the dark house. Daveign set his suitcase down on the couch and stretched. It had indeed been a long train ride. He sighed.
   The air was dusty and tinged with an odd smell…scented wax, perhaps. He glanced at the little side door, with the flickering red glow. Curiosity flared inside him and he slipped cautiously to the door. Now he detected a distinct odor of spices. He peered through the crack.
   “That’s my husband’s study,” the woman’s voice announced from behind him. He jumped and whirled around.
   “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—” he sputtered.
   “No, it’s all right,” she said. Her veil was thrown back and he could see she was a woman of perhaps forty, with crow’s feet and beautiful lips. Her eyes were startlingly bright and alive. She held a tray in one hand and a kettle in the other. “My husband has been dead for three years.” She carried the tray to a small table and set the kettle over the coals.
   “I’m very sorry,” Inspector Daveign said.
   “Don’t be,” said the woman. “He was a good man. I remember him always, by his study. You may look, if you like.” She swept to the door before Daveign could defer. She flung it open and motioned for him to step in.
   “Captain Eric Ryver, of Her Majesty’s Cavalry,” she said. “Village benefactor and watchman after he returned from the War of ‘77. Died of a vicious fever.”
   Curiosity overcame Daveign and he stepped slowly into the room.
The widow had made a sort of shrine out of a side table, an assortment of picture frames depicted the Captain on horseback, receiving the Medal of Monezuela, and holding hands with a beaming Mrs. Ryver. The more recent pictures were daguerreotypes, but a painting depicted the young Mr. Ryver. His eyes were pale contemplative spheres of a sorrowful aspect, his brow wide and intelligent, his nose majestic, and his fine cheekbones were framed by dark wavy hair.
   Clustered around the picture frames were an assortment of scented candles, burning with oddly red flames. The desk had apparently been left untouched, covered in dust and a half written letter.
   “I am glad he did not live to see the horrors of today,” Mrs. Ryver said.
   “I’m sure he was a great man,” Daveign said. “I see he was awarded the Medal.”
   “Yes, it hangs there,” she replied, pointing to where the Medal hung in the shadows over the little shrine.
   “He looks very kind,” the Inspector added.
   “He was,” the widow sighed.
   “I’m sorry to remind you of more sadness in this dark time,” Daveign said, moving back towards the door. He hoped to remove his awkward presence from the old room, but the widow did not move.
   “It is not sadness to remember such a wonderful soul,” she said. “It is a comfort. And I never forget anyway. I remember always.” She looked at Daveign, her eyes brimming with life. She smiled and stepped out of the way. The Inspector exited the room and she shut the door behind him.
   “Would you tell me about the happenings in this village?” the Inspector asked. “It might help the case to hear it from another local besides the constable.”
   “Certainly,” Mrs. Ryver said. “I hope you can solve it with utmost haste. Please, sit.”
Daveign sat beside his suitcase and waited expectantly. The widow, sat opposite him in a great wingback chair and smoothed out the wrinkles in her black skirts.
   “The first incident occurred just across the street,” she said, looking the Inspector directly in the eye. “I heard a hideous shriek in the night, shrill enough to wake me in my upstairs room, though the window was closed. There was great commotion, and I met Mr. Murgusson outside his door. He was going to the constable. I went in to try and calm the hysterical Mrs. Murgusson. She implored me not to go upstairs, but I couldn’t calm her, so I went to look. Would to God I hadn’t. The eldest Murgusson daughter lay sprawled out on the tangled bedsheets, white as death.” Mrs. Ryver stopped, shuddering, and then continued. “It looked like an animal attack. Her throat…there was blood everywhere. The window was closed, locked, undisturbed. As were all the windows, Mrs. Murgusson assured me. And the doors had all been locked. How could an animal get in? And what animal would attempt an entry? Only madness or viciousness could have perpetrated the attack. There were no strangers in town. How could they have got in anyway? The Murgusson’s are neither mad nor vicious, I can vouch for that. Or were. They are mad with grief now, I fear.”
   She paused as the kettle began to whistle. She continued her tale as she poured the tea and passed a cup to the Inspector.
   “The second incident happened across town. Mrs. Colchester, in like manner was ravaged and left on her bedroom floor. Her husband remembered nothing. The constable put him in the gaol anyway, thinking he’d caught the perpetrator. But a few weeks later, while he was still securely locked away, another victim was found in the river.
   “Young Mary Ludwig, she’d been out with a youth that night. Henry swore he’d parted with her at the fence on the edge of town, as they live on opposite ends of town. Again, only madness or viciousness could have committed such an act; Henry is neither of those.”
   “There was a fourth?” enquired Daveign.
   “Yes,” said Mrs. Ryver. “Just last week. The cobbler’s apprentice from out of town. The only male victim.”
   “You think that’s significant?” Daveign asked.
   “I don’t know,” Mrs. Ryver replied. “Perhaps.”
   The Inspector finished his tea as he waited for Mrs. Ryver to put on her boots and re-drape her veil. She led him out into the darkening street.
   “Have you arranged lodgings?” Mrs. Ryver asked.
   “I was told Constable Murray would have something available,” Daveign said.
   “I hope the bumbling fellow has not neglected that detail,” she said. “I will put you up in my spare room if he has.”
   “Thank you, Mrs. Ryver,” Daveign said gratefully.
   They curled through the winding streets, passing a few people, none of whom hailed Mrs. Ryver. The villagers eyed Daveign with mild curiosity and even fear, but none attempted to greet him, either. They darted furtively past, glancing down the narrow alleys and fingering their rosaries and charms. Several pointed their index and little finger at him, to ward off the evil eye.
   “This is the Inspector from Bamberg,” the widow called after one of the gesturers. “He’s come to help us.”
   “No earthly power can help us,” replied the villager without looking back.
   Mrs. Ryver sighed. “They cling to their superstitions so tightly.” She laughed humorlessly.
   “Superstitions are not always something to laugh at,” Daveign said softly. Mrs. Ryver looked at him sharply through her veil. Then she nodded.
   “Perhaps so,” she said. “There it is.” She pointed down the street to a crumbling stone block of a building with dilapidated shutters and a flaking black door.
   “Thank you, Mrs. Ryver,” Inspector Daveign said. “You have been most hospitable.”
   “Civic duty, Inspector,” she replied, smiling and inclining her veiled head.
   The Inspector watched her turn and head back into the deepening shadows. He thought it a bit odd that she still wore her mourning garb three years after her husband’s death, especially the veil. He shrugged and turned towards the worn gaol.
   Inspector Daveign found the interior no more promising, and the Constable even less so. Constable Murray was a very slow individual. It would have been no surprise to Daveign had the murderer been completely natural and still uncaptured by this lumpy intellect.
   The Constable had fewer details to offer than the widow, but they all corroborated her tale. Daveign resolved to interview more of the village’s inhabitants, as well as the suspects.
   “Suspects?” enquired the Constable.
   “Yes, the husband of the second victim and the lover of the third,” Daveign said patiently.
   “Ah…yes,” said the Constable. “They’re not guilty.”
   Daveign was taken aback by the answer, because it implied more wits behind the Constable’s tiny forehead than had previously seemed apparent. It wasn’t blind faith in his fellow villagers that prompted the reply, but a fear of something else.
   “Where are they now?” Daveign asked.
   “Here,” replied the Constable. “I knew you’d want them brought in. So I kept ‘em here. There weren’t no other possible suspects. Tangible ones. But they’re as innocent as you or me.”
   “None of us is innocent,” Daveign replied. “May I speak to them now? Then you can release them.”
   “Release them?”
   “Yes, don’t you want to?”
   “Well, yes, but I thought…”
   “You thought I’d barge in here with my city license and condemn an innocent man for lack of a palpable murderer.” Daveign said. “Bring them in one at a time: I’ll speak to Mr. Colchester first.”
The Constable was flabbergasted. He stuttered for a bit, then marched out to the cells, leading back a tall man with translucent orange hair and haunted eyes.
   “Hello,” said Daveign. “I’m Inspector Daveign. I know this is going to be difficult, but I want you to tell me about the night your wife died. I want you to leave nothing out.”
   “I didn’t kill her,” Mr. Colchester said. “I loved her more than my own life.”
   “Just tell me what happened. I want every detail, no matter how painful it is to relive.”
Mr. Colchester sighed and closed his eyes. “Must I?”
   “If your story satisfies me, I’ll let you go,” Daveign said. Mr. Colchester opened his eyes.
   “What’s the use in that? There’s nothing out there for me, now that she’s…she’s…” Mr. Colchester trailed off and tears bloomed along his colorless lashes.
   “What of vengeance?” asked Daveign. “You could help me catch the killer.”
   “The killer cannot be killed,” snarled Mr. Colchester. “You city people with all your learning and science will never understand: some things are not of this world.”
   “And some of us have come to understand that, through our learning,” said Daveign. “Even things not of this world must have connections to this world. Now tell me, what happened that night?”
   “I was asleep,” said Mr. Colchester. “I started to dream. Horrifying, nameless things. There was something sitting on me, crushing me. Something dark and wicked and laughing. I tried to struggle, but I just sank deeper into horror, pushed down by the laughing thing. Hideous it was. And there was a smell: the smell of death, of open graves and rotting corpses. I tried to scream and at last the sound forced its way out and I jolted awake.
   “But it was too late. Gertrude wasn’t beside me. I scrambled to light the lamp and then I saw her on the floor. Twisted into a funny shape, a look of horror mixed with bliss scrawled across her white cheeks. Her throat…it was all mangled, the skin all ripped apart…and peeling…there was blood all over the floor. I tend sheep. Sometimes a wolf will come around these parts, and it’ll get a few sheep. My wife looked like one of those sheep. No human could have done that, and I least of all.”
   “And the date?” the Inspector asked.
   “It were the third. Of September.”
   “Thank you,” the Inspector said. “You may go home.”
   “Did you hear me?” Mr. Colchester asked. “I said it wasn’t a human that did it! I’m crazy, you’ve got to hang me for…for killing my own wife.”
   “I agree,” said Daveign. “It was certainly no longer human. Constable, please take Mr. Colchester home. I’ll talk to Henry while you’re gone.”
   Inspector Daveign found the three cells, all now empty, save one. A tow-headed youth sat hunched in the far corner, hugging his knees.

   “Henry?” asked the Inspector.
   “Where’s Mr. Colchester?” Henry asked, still without looking up. “He didn’t do it!”
   “He’s going home.”
   “So you’re going to hang me then?” Henry asked, almost hopefully. “I’m to take the fall for the monster?” The Inspector said nothing. Suddenly Henry jerked his head up. His eyes were swimming with tears. “I want to die,” he said, blinking furiously. “But it won’t do any good. And you can’t kill it.”
   “Why not?”
   “It’s already dead.”
   “I know.”
   “You do?”
   “Yes, unless you and Mr. Colchester and the Constable and Mrs. Ryver are in collusion to perpetrate some scheme with unimaginable purpose.”
   “Mrs. Ryver?” asked the youth. “Who would scheme with her? No one talks to her if they can help it.”
   “Yes, she’s peculiar. Always wears that veil.”
   “So her grief turns people away?” asked the Inspector. “She seemed cheery enough to me.”
   “I guess,” Henry said. “I dunno. She’s got some weird air about her. People say she’s got the evil eye; that she’s bound to the devil. Stuff like that. But you wouldn’t believe that any more than the truth about the killer. The killer that butchered Mary…” Henry swallowed a few times, choking back sudden sobs that sent a tear tracking through the grime on his face.
   “Tell me about her death,” the Inspector said gently. “Then you can go home. Leave nothing out. Start with the date.”
   Henry sniffled than began slowly. “It was the thirteenth of September, I think. We met out by the old hay barn, like we did almost every night since I told her I loved her. We had to sneak out, see, her parents didn’t like it. I don’t think mine would’ve either, but I never let ‘em catch on. Anyway, we met like usual and when we went home, I kissed her by the fence on the edge of town and told her…I said…I told her we’d never be parted, not by our folks, not fortune, fate or God. I never shoulda said that! It’s my fault she died. I tempted fate, tempted God! You may as well hang me. I just as good as killed her with those words as if I’d a used my own hands!”
   “What happened then?” the Inspector interrupted.
   “I went home, and I dreamed…terrible dreams. I dreamed at first I was with Mary in the field behind the barn. Then…she turned into a…a…a thing. A dark thing…I don’t know, a demon? Smelled like rotting things and death and it was crushing me, squeezing the air out of my lungs. My eyeballs felt like they’d pop out. And the…thing, it laughed. It laughed and called my name mockingly. I tried to scream. But I couldn’t, I kept sinking into…something. A wriggling, squirming, laughing darkness. And the thing kept laughing too.
   “At last I managed to scream and I woke up. I didn’t sleep any more that night. Later that morning I heard them yelling that another victim had been found. I didn’t know who it was. I just followed the crowd. Then I saw who they’d dragged out of the water, all pale and purple lipped. God, those lips used to be so soft! And her throat…it was all ripped up, splayed open and pale, bloodless, waterlogged. I see her every night now. Every night, and I know it’s my fault!”
   “It’s not your fault,” the Inspector said. “You said yourself, the thing that killed her is already dead.”
   Henry sprang at the bars and yelled in Daveign’s face, “And that means I’m crazy. Just kill me, I deserve it!”
   Daveign reached through the bars and grabbed the boy’s wrist. “Calm down,” he commanded. “It’s not your fault. The demon that did this is responsible. Your youthful promises were naïve, but they did not kill Mary. Something else did that. And I’m going to find it and destroy it.”
   At last the boy sank to the straw covered floor.
   When the Constable returned, Daveign asked the Constable to take Henry home in the morning and tell his mother to keep an eye on him, as he might try to do himself harm. Before the Constable led Daveign out, the Inspector elicited reluctant promises from Henry not to hurt himself.
   The Constable lit an old lamp and led the Inspector out into the murky black streets. Daveign glanced about at the gloomy gables and decaying walls, dripping with moisture from the mist. They came to a worn and yellowed inn and the Inspector was shown to a tiny, but comfortable room. There was one other guest, he was told, across the hall: a collector who had come out to examine some rare stone brooches that the insolvent Winston family was trying to sell.
   In spite of his fatigue, Inspector Daveign interviewed the innkeeper before he went to bed. The innkeeper’s version of events did not dispute with any of the details the others had told him. He too, had dreamed strangely, though much less vividly on the night of the apprentice’s death.
   “Their shop’s just across the road,” he said. “Good shoes, too; it’s a shame.”
   Daveign thanked him and retired. It was past midnight and so after going over his notes, the Inspector placed his necklace on the bedpost by the pillow and blew out his candle. His sleep was disturbed by vague and horrifying dreams.
   The darkness heaved and convalesced, then dissolved. It was breathing and alive, churning around him like a viscous glob of terror. A heavy, vile breath of rot assailed him and caressed him in shivers. Something pressed on his chest, a weight of darkness, exhaling vapors from the tomb. And a hideous, vibrating chuckle emanated from the thing on his chest as it pressed him down…ever down into the living night.
   An inhuman scream jolted him from sleep. He blinked and clutched his blankets in white hands as the shrill sounds scraped his tingling ears. The screams came from the room across the hall. The collector. Inspector Daveign staggered from his bed, scrambled into his dressing gown, grabbed his necklace from the bedpost and snatched a few of his special implements from his suitcase.
   By the time he’d fumbled his door open, the shrieks had stopped. Steps rang on the stairway: the innkeeper had been aroused by the sounds. Daveign tried the door across from his, but it was locked. He slammed his shoulder against it, but it held. It would be too late! He slammed it again. He hammered on the door and yelled for the collector to answer. Nothing.
   The innkeeper lumbered up. “Do you have the key?” demanded Daveign.
   “No,” panted the innkeeper.
   “Go get it!”
   The innkeeper turned around and clumped back to the stairs. Daveign pounded helplessly on the door and then listened at the crack. All was silent. At last the innkeeper returned with the keys and they opened the room. They were much too late. All was as the widow had described. Untouched window, mangled corpse, bloodstained floor.
   The next morning, the Inspector stood in the main room of the inn with the small group of villagers surrounding the corpse, carefully sheeted on a table.
   “Here’s his personal effects,” said the innkeeper, handing a suitcase to the Inspector. “You should find his address and whatnot, for the family and such.”
   “Yes, thank you,” said the Inspector. “Constable, would you see to the official things? I’ll sign any papers later.”
   “What are you going to do?” asked Constable Murray.
   “I’m going to find the killer,” said the Inspector.
   The Constable said nothing, but all of the villagers’ eyes held despair and pity.
   “Were there any deaths directly prior to the first victim?” the Inspector enquired of the haunted assembly. “Deaths from sickness, violence, suicides?”
   He was met with thoughtful stares.
   “There was old McGuffrey,” said the doctor. “He died of natural causes a week before the poor Murgusson girl.”
   “And Dalia Nyllis,” added the cobbler. “She drowned the month before.” The Inspector raised an eyebrow.
   “Are they both buried in the local graveyard?” asked the Inspector. Nods. “And you’re sure there were no other recent deaths?” More nods. “Very well. Thank you gentlemen. Let me know if you need me, or think of anything else of importance. Two of you come with me, bring spades, we’re going to the cemetery.” He hefted his bag and marched out the door.
   The graveyard was on the edge of the village, just beyond the last sagging house, choked with shrubbery and watched over by the tilting church with its grey steeple. The green fields sloped away from the vine-tangled cemetery fence and ambled away to the thick trees and foggy hills beyond. The air was damp and slightly sour.
   The headstones were worn and moss covered. He found the recent ones quickly. Only wooden crosses marked the four graves of the killer’s victims. Their dirt was freshly turned. And the grave of Dalia Nyllis had a fresh little headstone, clumsily carved with her name. It had grass freshly sprouting across its little mound. And the grave of McGuffrey was not far away, surrounded by weeds.
   He settled on Dalia being the most likely suspect. “Dig her up,” he ordered the cobbler and innkeeper, who had followed him there reluctantly. They both drew back, their faces contorted with repulsion. “You know what blight has come to your village, do you not?” the Inspector insisted. The two men met his eye with trepidation. “Dig her up, that we may ascertain whether her death is final or not.”
   Silently, the two men set to work. The Inspector set to making sure his tools were in readiness for the task ahead. At last they heaved the coffin out of the earth and broke it open.
   Dalia had begun the degradation of the grave. She was not unnaturally fresh. She was not bloated or coated in fresh blood from the meal the night before. She was not the Olwick Slasher. Inspector Daveign placed certain articles into her coffin with her before closing her up, just to be sure. “Put her back in.”
   They refilled her grave and dug up the old man. After he had been replaced in his final rest the Inspector surveyed the graveyard. He wiped his forehead with his kerchief and turned to the cobbler.
   “Are you sure there was no one else who died before this all started?”
   “Not recent…” said the cobbler.
   “There was Sarah James,” said the innkeeper. “Remember? She was old, fell down the stairs, year before.”
   “And Barry!” said the cobbler. “More a year before. Crushed by a tree.”
   So they dug them both up. And still nothing. The two villagers shook their heads sadly and wandered off, dragging their shovels behind them. The Inspector sat on a mound and thought. There must have been another, a recent one somehow forgotten or not spoken of, buried perhaps in some secret place. Had there been a visitor to the village that had met a violent end unbeknownst to most of the town? He would have to make inquiries.
   Daveign stood and collected his things back into his case and set off. He would speak to the families of the victims first.
   After interviewing the parents of Mary and chasing down the cobbler for some questions, he arrived at the curtained home of the Murgussons. The first to be struck, they were still in shock, it seemed.        They could add little to Mrs. Ryver’s story, other than touching odes to their eldest daughter. They could also tell him nothing of visitors to the village. They were sure that they would have remembered any, as the village received so few. They knew nothing of any hushed up deaths. No suicides, no disappearances. All they knew for certain was grief, harsh and enveloping.
   Inspector Daveign could not find words of any use, and so he left them at last, in their cocoon of sorrow and stepped out into the darkening street. He glanced over at Mrs. Ryver’s house, thinking perhaps she might have more information, but the windows were all dark; there was no red glow from her husband’s study.
   He turned back towards the graveyard, thinking to search the whole cemetery for disturbed graves.     Perhaps it was entirely possible that the monster was not a recent death, but an older one awakened by some sinister force. He borrowed a lantern at the inn and continued on into the solidifying dusk.       There were few people out by now and mist curled around the edges of the buildings. There were almost no streetlamps, just a random spluttering oil flame here and there, hanging from a corner.
   As the Inspector passed one of these guttering, putrid lights, he drew up short, staring down a dark alley. For a moment he’d thought he’d seen someone, standing at the edge of the light. His heart tapped out a quick march and his breaths clouded on the chilly air.
   The face he’d seen but for a moment had borne a look of sorrowful intelligence, it’s pale eyes boring into him as if they recognized him. The Inspector had certainly recognized it’s majestic nose and fine cheekbones framed by dark wavy locks.
   Inspector Daveign shivered and set down his case. He fingered his necklace and stepped towards the alley, raising his lantern high. Blackness gave way to blackness and silence was supreme. The Inspector held out the pendant on his necklace and stepped into the quiet dark.
   The shuddering lantern revealed only emptiness.
   Had he seen what he’d thought?

   Perhaps a creature could be drawn from the grave by a loving relative unwilling to let them go…he returned to his case and continued towards the graveyard at a clipped pace. Perhaps the widow had unknowingly raised her husband with her obsessive remembrances, mourning and candles.
   He searched the graveyard frantically in the dark, looking for Captain Ryver’s resting place. At last he found it, a modest little grave tucked away in the corner, nearly hidden by a flowerless rose bush.     The earth was old, but certainly not three years. It had been disturbed since then.
   He could dig it up now, to be sure, but if the Captain was the creature, then he would not be here. Daveign turned and made for the village. It might already be too late. But there was no way to tell where it might strike next.
   He ran to the widow’s house, shadows leaping and chasing him all the way. The fog was thick as a shroud now and where the rare streetlamps burned, all was soft, white, and murky. No sound echoed through the empty streets, even the Inspector’s footfalls seemed strangely mute on the muddy stones.
Daveign was afraid he would become hopelessly lost, but before long, he came to where he thought the widow’s street was, and saw a faint red flicker. A breeze stirred the thickening fog and Daveign caught a whiff of cloying rot. He hurried to the widow’s door and banged upon it furiously. The fog rolled past the dim glow of his lantern, curling and whispering…his lamp flickered, sputtered, and died. Darkness swarmed around him, the ruddy glow of the widow’s window all but choked off by the mist that seemed to caress Daveign’s cheeks, chuckling sinisterly.
   He held his breath, trembling.
   The door creaked open.
   “Who is it?” asked Mrs. Ryver. “Is that you, Inspector?”
   “Yes. I know it’s late, but may I come in?”
   Mrs. Ryver let him in and led him to the parlor. There was a fire roaring in the grate but the lamps were all dark. The door to Captain Ryver’s study was open, the candles and incense blazing bright and red. Inspector Daveign closed the parlor’s door and locked it, hanging his necklace on the knob.
   “Mrs. Ryver,” he said, moving to the window and taking another crucifix out of his case. “No attacks have yet occurred two nights in a row, correct?”
   “Correct,” agreed the widow.
   “I think I saw the monster,” the Inspector said, hanging the second crucifix over the window.              “Tonight, on the street. I think I know who it is.”
   “Who?” asked the widow. Her veil still hung over her face and he couldn’t see her face. Just the twinkle of her eyes through the black lace. He strode into the Captain’s study and picked up the small framed painting of the young Ryver. The spicy, mysterious odor of incense wafted around him. Those were definitely the same eyes. He glanced over the little shrine, noting the incense burner tucked away behind the picture frames. He set down the picture frame and exited the study, closing the door behind him.
   “That’s incense you’re burning in there,” he said.
   “Yes, Eric loved the smell of incense.”
   “Did you think what such practices might perpetrate?” the Inspector asked, pulling another crucifix from his bag and looping it around the doorknob. “There, we should be safe in here until morning.”
   “Inspector,” said the veiled widow. “Who is the monster?”
   “You mean who was the monster, before death? I’m afraid you won’t like the answer. How long have you held your little services in his study?”
   “I beg your pardon?” said Mrs. Ryver, her voice rising. “I only keep his memory alive, you cannot know how much I miss him, or what little comfort I derive even from my collection of pictures, medals, and favorite scents!”
   “Indeed, Mrs. Ryver,” interrupted Daveign. “Indeed. But I fear you may be keeping his memory alive to a much greater degree than you had thought. I fear you need to let him go, now.”
Mrs. Ryver trembled, her veil rippling about her black clad form. She clutched at her chest. “You do not imply,” she said, “that I have caused the deaths of my friends and neighbors merely by mourning my dear husband. Three years is not too long to weep! It is not long enough! No tears can heal his passing.”
   “And he has come back!” said the Inspector. “I will need your permission to do the necessary cleansing of his body. I will need your blessing, your release.”
   The widow’s veiled head sagged. She nodded imperceptibly.
   “Now, do you wear a crucifix?” asked the Inspector.
    A sudden noise at the window made him turn. He approached the window cautiously.
   “No, but I leave Eric’s in his desk drawer,” replied Mrs. Ryver.
   “Please put it on,” Daveign said, peering out the dark glass. The widow took the crucifix away from the study door.
   “I will never wear such a thing,” said Mrs. Ryver bitterly, seizing Inspector Daveign’s case from the floor. “I will never allow such things to come between us!” She made for the roaring fire. Daveign leapt after her, knocking over a lamp in his haste, but it was too late, she’d heaved them into the fire.      The lamp shattered on the floor. Mrs. Ryver laughed, a mad, dark laugh and ran for the door. Daveign caught her veil, but it ripped from her bonnet and fell like a shadow to the floor.
   “My friends!” guffawed the widow, her eyes alight with glee. “My neighbors! Why shouldn’t they suffer and die?” she ripped the crucifix from the parlor door and ran to the window. Daveign charged across the room. “They ostracize me and call me a witch,” Mrs. Ryver chortled, snatching the last cross from the window. “Maybe they’re right. But it’s a damned unfortunate thing to be right about.”
   “Mrs. Ryver,” said the Inspector, stalking towards her and the window. “Give me those.”
   “What?” asked the widow. “These little things? These trinkets of holiness?” She opened the window. “I won’t let anything come between me and Eric.” She threw the crucifixes out into the street.
   Daveign stopped in the center of the room.
   “It’s not Eric,” he said. “It’s not Eric anymore. It’s a demon and it will destroy you.”
   “Maybe I want destruction, Inspector,” said Mrs. Ryver, her eyes blazing with madness. “Maybe I want to flame with glorious love, with life, with fire, one last time. Whatever the cost: I want Eric!”
   The study door opened.
   Daveign froze. Mrs. Ryver’s shining eyes, dancing with the reflected flames in the hearth, were fixed upon the figure in the study doorway. Her lips formed silent praises.
   Daveign turned slowly to face the terror.
   The creature’s eyes shone with hellish imitation of the deceased. Its hands were curled at its sides, obfuscating its terrible demon claws. It’s red lips curled into a sneering smile, revealing the vicious teeth that now sprouted from the regenerate jaw of the late Captain Ryver.
   “Destroy him, my love,” Mrs. Ryver squeaked, and the monster stepped towards Inspector Daveign. Dirt from the grave crumbled from his trouser-leg and speckled the carpet. Daveign backed towards the door as the creature advanced.
   “Mrs. Ryver,” he rasped, “please, get the crosses, save yourself!”
   The creature lunged.
   Daveign slammed into the door, scrambling for the knob. It was locked. By the time he’d twisted the key, the creature was there, it’s claws enfolding him, throwing him to the floor. The Persian carpet met his face and he caught a whiff of dust and old pastry crumbs. The creature rolled him over and pinned him down as he struggled, kicking, punching, screaming.
   But it was no good. The thing was astride his chest, pressing down, choking off his breath. The fire seemed to dim, darkness flooded around him, breathing, sentient, malicious. He tried to scream. He tried to fight. His limbs fell limp and his lungs were bursting. The thing on his chest crushed him, pushing him down, down into the pastry crumbs and the burbling darkness and the sinister laughter.  
   Only now he realized it wasn’t the thing on his chest that laughed.
   It was the widow.

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