Thirty five year old Julie Hall, owner and CEO of AIS Ltd., a hugely successful company in the Artificial Intelligence industry, was directed by her smart phone to turn off the main road. She squinted through the windscreen of her car while driving along the ink black road, a small rutted side road with grass growing down the middle. A stab of concern ran through her when her smart phone flashed “No GPS Signal” and the map disappeared from its screen, although she knew she was close to her destination; the screen had said ‘Two minutes to go’ before it died.
As her car was cutting a path between overgrown hedgerows, the charging warning light on the dashboard flashed red and the headlights slowly began to dim. Just as their light disappeared completely, she spotted a gap in the hedge to her left. Pulling over, her tyres crunching on loose gravel, she catches a glimpse of an ancient-looking wrought iron gate. Sitting now in total darkness, except for the faint glow from her smart phone, a rising nervousness created a tingling sensation in her arms and legs, the car engine stalled and died. Turning the ignition key produced the click, click, click, sound of a dead battery. In the distance the sky lights up with lightening followed thirty seconds later by the sound of rolling thunder. Counting the seconds between the flash and the sound, a habit from her days studying physics, she knew the storm was ten kilometres away, sound traveling at three kilometres per second. Resting her head on the steering wheel she thought, “Paul was right, what was I thinking!”
It had started the previous Saturday when she had swiped right for ‘Philippe De Silva’ on her Tinder App. She had been using Tinder for some months as her busy life as a senior executive made it difficult to meet men. They agreed to meet and for once a profile didn’t lie. Tall, lightly tanned, jet black hair, piercing blue eyes. Immaculately dressed in a light grey Italian suit, with dark tan shoes and blindingly white shirt open at the neck. His warm, firm handshake and double cheek kiss created a tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach.
Over a glass of wine and pleasant conversation, his voice low and smooth, she smiles to herself and thinks of the Dracula movie she had watched recently on Netflix. Dracula had mesmerised his victims before drinking their blood. In the movie, the vampire drank his victim’s blood by sucking it from their neck with his incisor teeth, but Julie knew from searching the internet after watching the movie, that in fact real vampires drink the blood of their victims by cutting into an artery and allowing the blood to flow into a drinking cup. Twenty minutes into their conversation she is disappointed when his phone rang and he took the call. He apologised and said he had to go and attend to some urgent family business, but perhaps she would like to come to a Halloween party he was organising the following Wednesday? His parting hug and kisses left and right created another tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach.
Still holding her hand, he said, “My house is difficult to find”. “it’s an old rectory in the countryside, I’ll text you the Satnav co- ordinates.” Bowing, he brushed the back of her hand with warm moist lips, a picture of Christopher Lee bending over Barbara Shelly in the nineteen sixty six version of Dracula, Prince of Darkness filled her mind as he smiled down at her and left.
The bubble of her excitement was punctured at brunch the following day when her brother Paul, a Special Tactics and Operations Command Police Officer, (the Irish Police version S.W.A.T.) shouted, “Are you nuts?” when she told him about Philippe. Her angry reaction about minding his own business got a curt “Right, but a least give me the Satnav co-ordinates and I’ll check it out.”
Now, sitting in her car and deciding the old gates must be the entry to Philippe’s house, she pulls the phone from its cradle and presses Paul’s speed dial number. “Service not available” lights up the screen. Sitting in ink black darkness. except for the light from the phone, her nervousness increases when the screen says, “Only five percent battery left please charge or switch to battery saving mode.” Another flash of lightening and twenty four seconds before the thunder tells her that the storm is eight kilometres away and travelling at one kilometre per minute and her bladder screams to be emptied.
Opening the car door, she risks precious battery time by shining the phone torch on the ground, revealing calf high grass and weeds, no nettles or other stinging plants. Getting out of the car, she squats and relieves herself, feeling very vulnerable, her heart thumping wildly.
She readjusts her short black party dress and standing in the pitch black darkness, risks more precious battery power to shine the light on the cast Iron gate, fixing the position in her mind. Her key fob doesn’t work because of the dead battery so she locks the car with the key and moves towards the gate, feeling her way through she risks another five seconds of phone battery to find the direction of an overgrown gravel driveway. Through the gate the temperature suddenly drops and her breath mists in the colder air. She puts this down to the rain that’s probably arriving in front of the approaching thunder storm.
She moves forward slowly, feet sliding along to make sure she is still on the gravel, happy that she had decided on low heels when she had dressed earlier, every minute feeling like an eternity, hearth thumping in her throat.
Using the phone light five more times, the battery goes to three percent just as the outline of a building appears directly ahead. She is about to use the phone light again when the clouds open and a silver moon briefly lights her surroundings presenting a scene that’s almost as bad a walking through the dark.
The old rectory, windows in total darkness, was about one hundred metres away. Before it lay a cemetery packed with ancient headstones, a small path to the house winding through them. Her heart was beating like a drum in her ears as she picked her way among the graves. Julie tried to shake off the dread that was creeping through her like the mist between the graves, feeling that the headstones were turning to look at her as she passed, certain she could hear a murmur of conversation. She carried on, her rational mind telling her not to be silly, the voices must be carried on the wind from the party in house…
Finally, past the graves and taking the three steps to the front door she reached up to grab the bats head shaped heavy brass knocker but, before her hand could grasp it, the door opened and Philippe De Silva stood there, dressed in a black evening suit his face chalk white with a broad smile on his crimson lips. A huge flash of lightening lit up the sky followed in five seconds by the loudest thunder clap she had ever heard, rattling the loose old sash windows
“Come in, welcome”. His silky-voiced greeting calmed her nerves a little and she returned his smile as he took her elbow in a firm grip and steered her along the hall “The party is this way”. He threw open a door at the end of the hall and stepped aside.
Entering the room, her normally analytical brain refuses to take in the scene she is presented with.
A girl, about her own age, is hanging from a trapeze by the back of her knees, hands tied behind her back, ankles tied together and her long hair pulled back and tied to her feet creating a bow effect except for one thing; her throat is cut from ear to ear, the cut so deep her spine is visible and her head is pulled back hard displaying a wide macabre grin at her throat while her upper body is hanging straight down with her blood flowing into a large silver cauldron, around which are standing six other women, drinking the blood from the cauldron with silver soup ladles.
As the scene sinks in, a scream dies in her throat and she faints to the floor.
When she came to, she was lying on her side, naked, with a silver trapeze bar behind her knees, trussed up in the same way the as the girl hanging from the ceiling. Hands tied behind her back, ankles tied together, her hair pulled back and tied to her ankles creating a bow shape that exposed her throat. A dark grey silk handkerchief tied through her mouth turned her shouts of protest into barely audible croaks.
As she lies there, five men, dressed the same as Phillipe De Silva, walk into the room. The women lick their ladles, place them on the table and shuffle out the door, their dead eyes unseeing, skin waxy yellow, each of them with ear to ear train track scars around their necks.
Two of the men step up on the table and unhook the dead girl from the trapeze ropes. They carry her to the other end of the room, place her on a bed, untie all the ropes, lay her out in a supine corpse pose with her hands crossed over he breasts and cover her with a white sheet
Two more pick Julie up from the floor by the silver trapeze bar, another supports her shoulders and they carry her to the table. Inserting the bar into the trapeze ropes they pull a third rope and Julie slowly rises, swinging slightly above the silver cauldron. She struggles and throws her body left and right but the three men hold her tight as Philippe De Silva walks over.
Standing in front of her he smiled. “Don’t struggle Julie, it will be easier if you don’t struggle. There won’t be any pain, your brain will feel a mild sense of surprise for about ten seconds and that’s it.” Her eyes were frantic, filling with horror as she realised who Philippe De Silva really was. His smile was lascivious as he inserted a hypodermic needle into the side of her neck, the warmness of a pre-anaesthetic fluid flowed through her and her body relaxed. The stainless steel surgical scalpel glinted in the light as he placed it behind her left ear.
The room erupted with noise, the door smashed inwards off its hinges, the window shattered, glass flying in all directions. Two flash grenades explode in the room filling it with eardrum-bursting noise, blinding white light and smoke. Six S.W.A.T team members, two coming through the window and four through the door in full battle dress, fan out across the room screaming “GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR, DON’T MOVE, LIE ON YOUR FACE, HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK”, the red laser lights from their assault rifles traversing the room in a dancing matrix. They never noticed the six small black-winged creatures that flew out the door as they rushed in.
When the smoke cleared a total state of confusion reigned, the only things in the room apart from the S.W.A.T. team, was a covered body lying on a bed at the end of the room and Julie swinging gently to and fro on the trapeze bar, a small trickle of blood running down her left cheek into her hair.
Two weeks later, Paul Hall is driving a police rapid response people carrier van at high speed with the other five members of the Halloween night’s rapid response team to an armed robbery outside the city. As he takes a sharp corner, tyres screaming in protest, a bat lands on the windscreen in front of his face. Startled, his reaction causes him to lose control of the van as the road straightens and it crashes through the hedge at the side of the road, drops two metres onto the ground in front of a forest, flips over twice, smashes into a large tree and bursts into flames. There were no survivors……