“So everyone keeps telling me.” I automatically touched my chest and felt the silver key hanging by a cord around my neck. Most of the time I forgot it was there, like a distant dream. I had first used the key to open a dream gate beneath Copp’s Hill and I couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection between that event and what was happening now. Had I allowed ghouls an opening to enter the waking world and prey upon the innocent denizens of Boston?
The Volkswagen bus pulled up alongside the venerable burying ground, and one-by-one, we emerged into the misty night. I felt like we were some kind of supernatural posse. In a way, I suppose that’s just what we were. The clock tower in Old North Church chimed twelve times, reinforcing the feeling that this was an Old West shootout. Only instead of a high noon on the frontier, it was darkest midnight in the one of the oldest cemeteries in America. Tombstone, Massachusetts.
It occurred to me that I should have called Detective Striker. But it was too late now, and I doubted there was anything he could have done to help. Bullets had no effect on ghouls. It would have just led to a lot of cops getting killed—or worse. We were the authorities here. We were the Thursbane, all of us together. The guardians of the waking world.
Gretchen and I scaled the wrought-iron fence easily. But it was evident that the Reverend was going to need some extra help. Harriet gave him a piggyback ride as she bounded over the fence as easily as stepping over a threshold.
“Show off,” I said.
“Hey, somebody’s got to demonstrate a little physical prowess in this flabby bunch.”
We walked towards the center of the cemetery, which was literally as quiet as the grave. The silence was so deep I could hear myself breathing. But the moon provided ample light, filling the ancient boneyard with an eerie silver glow.
“So where are the ghouls?” Gretchen asked. “Not that I’m eager to find any.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Something’s not right. Harriet, can you hear anything with those vampire ears of yours?” There was no reply. I wheeled around. “Harriet?” She had vanished. I turned back to Gretchen, but she was gone too.
Something very blunt and very hard struck the back of my head.
I awoke inside a dank, fetid-smelling prison cell the size of a closet. My head pounded in protest at the abuse that had been inflicted upon it. I rattled the cold iron bars of my cage to no avail.
“Harriet?” I cried. “Gretchen?”
“Your friends cannot hear you,” replied a voice as devoid of feeling as a machine. I forced my eyes to focus. Standing outside my cell was a slight tall man with thinning blond hair and owlish, wire-rimmed glasses. He was wearing an old-fashioned white lab coat with buttons along the side. His calculating pale blue eyes appraised me like a butcher inspecting a choice cut of meat.
“How... how did you...?” I asked haltingly. I could barely string a sentence together, my head hurt so much. I felt as if I might puke at any moment.
“How did I overcome the vampire?” the man completed for me. He had the quasi-English accent of a Boston Brahmin, dripping with condescension for those less cultured than he. “It was quite simple. The old legend about vampires shrinking from a cross is not entirely without merit. Of course it has nothing to do with the power of some impotent deity. Any sufficiently charged sigil will do.”
I was able to focus enough to get a layout at the chamber outside my cell. It was some kind of underground vault, no doubt somewhere in catacombs that lay beneath Copp’s Hill and perhaps much of the old part of Boston. It looked as if some sort of laboratory had been set up down here. The chamber was filled with a peculiar hodge-podge of the scientific and the occult. The scientific equipment looked as if it dated from the 1920s and 30s: bubbling beakers on Bunsen burners, crackling Tesla coils and a warbling oscilloscope. And interspersed amongst them was an assortment of occult paraphernalia: a chalice, a ceremonial dagger, black candles, a human skull and an ancient tome bound in a most peculiar leather.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” my captor said. “My name is Dr. Archimedes Cabot Choate.” With a name like that, the man was probably cousin to every family on Beacon Hill several times over. But why wasn’t he at a lobster social at the Mayflower Club? What was he doing here in this charnel house reeking of putrefaction?
As if in answer to my silent question, Dr. Choate pulled back a curtain to reveal an operating table. Gretchen was on top of it, unconscious, and bound by leather straps that must have dated to the Victorian era. An IV was inserted into her arm, and a sickly dark green liquid was oozing down a long transparent tube to trickle into her bloodstream. I wanted to call out to her, but I restrained myself. It would be pointless, and besides, I needed to keep my cool with this madman.
“I am on the brink of unlocking the mystery to eternal life, sought by alchemists since the time of Hermes Trismegistus. The key to immortality lies in death itself.”