Vulturu’s Ghastly Graveyard
Taïga usually hangs out with some English talking kids at school. First, there’s Leann Moreland from England. She’s kind, cute and caring but what she lacks in personality, she compensates with stubbornness. Her parents are some kind of historians, specializing in researching vampires and old Transylvanian folk tales, and their daughter is mostly left to fend for herself.
Then there’s Crina Elena Maria Ionescu, but she wants so badly to be considered American that she insists on being called Jennifer Doe. She tells anyone who listens the tragic story about her father who was an American marine killed in Iraq. Even if there’s some uncertainty as to the identity of her genitor, her mother is definitely a native. It’s quite handy, making Jennifer their translator as she’s fluent in both languages, but she’s very jealous and doesn’t like the attention Taïga is getting from her best friends Leann and Mitchell. Which brings us to the only boy in the group.
Mitchell Flynn came from Boston to Romania two years ago with his younger siblings to live with their uncle, Professor Varujan Torje, after their parents tragically died in a plane crash. He doesn’t speak Romanian very well, but he understands the language as his mother was born and raised in Bucharest. He is obsessed with the occult and firmly believes in vampires. He is the little group’s uncontested leader and tonight he has convinced them all to meet up at the cemetery for a very special ritual.
Jennifer is suspicious and as usual she doesn’t hold back her thoughts. ‘I’m sure she won’t come, and she’s probably convinced Leann, too. She’s a bad influence over Leann and-’
Mitchell nudges her, motioning towards two dark silhouettes advancing towards them.
‘She came,’ Jennifer says incredulously. ‘And she brought a cat!’
‘I told you so…’ Mitchell smiles to himself. He has finally succeeded in convincing a reticent Taïga to bring her black cat.
Leann waves to their friends, nudging Taïga. ‘They are over there!’
The sudden gesture frightens Miezul Nopţii and she leaps out of Taïga’s arms, disappearing among the tombstones.
Jen stomps over, looking accusingly at Taïga. ‘Where’s the cat?’
‘Err… I couldn’t hold on to her, she scratched me.’ Taïga tries to catch sight of Miezul Nopţii, but the scared cat is probably covering behind one of the tombstones. ‘I have to find her or my Aunt will totally lose it…’ She starts away but Leann’s words stops her.
‘But without a cat we can’t summon the demon. Or can we?’ Leann asks.
‘What demon?’ Taïga looks questioningly at the three others.
Mitchell doesn’t know what to say, he looks at his feet, shuffling some snow around. Leann looks accusingly at Jen, ‘Does that mean you haven’t told her?’
Jen raises her chin. ‘It wasn’t my idea anyway. Mitchell, you told her about the witches executed and buried here, and how the ground turns blood red when the moon is full, didn’t you? But-’
Leann interrupts Jen, turning towards Taïga with an excited expression on her round face. ‘We’re witches!’ she blurts out.
Taïga stares at her and Leann nods excitedly. ‘But you mustn’t tell anyone.’
‘You… You are witches?’ Taïga gapes, searching the three children’s faces. This is the most fantastic news she has ever heard of, and she can’t wait to tell Granny. Their mothers must also be witches and Missy probably knows them already…
‘Well, not exactly, not yet. That’s why we need to summon Alastor*…’ Mitchell says.
‘He’ll take over the spirit of the cat, and then he’ll make us witches…’ Jen adds.
‘Are you serious?’ The happy haze quickly vanishes as Jen’s words sink in and Taïga feels horribly betrayed by her friends. It’s not only the fact that they’re not witches at all, but, more important, they have lied to her about why they needed the black cat.
‘I thought you wanted the cat to signal if there were any ghosts around. I’ll NEVER let you hurt Miezul Nopţii so you can do this!’ She stops for breath, looking at them. She needs to ask Granny about this Alastor.
They don’t answer her, they don’t even meet her eyes. The only sound is the soft creaking from the trees. Taïga glances up at the full moon rising behind the dense, scraggly forest, lighting up the snow and the forbidding statue they are standing right under. She gasps at the sight of it, for a second destabilized by the perfect copy of the Reaper.
‘It’s the Grim Reaper,’ Leann whispers. ‘No one knows why there’s a statue of him here.’
‘Because he’s reaping the dead souls, of course,’ Jen adds snarkily, snorting.
‘There should be angels represented, not demons.’
‘He’s an angel.’
‘He’s not. My parents say-’
‘The angel of death,’ Taïga murmurs. She can’t look away from the figure. Someone else must have seen him to be able to make such an accurate statue.
Her thoughts and the girl’s bickering are interrupted by Mitchell who has to make a decision. ‘Well… It’s Taïga’s cat after all… So let’s find it, before Alastor does.’ He tries to get his authority back by scaring the girls a little. ‘Leann, you search that area, Jen, you go that way. Me and Taïga, we’ll look over there- Taïga? Wait!’
Taïga is too worried about her cat to wait for Mitchell to finish ordering them around. She has already set off really fast towards where Miezul Nopţii leapt out of her arms.
Suddenly Mitchell finds himself all alone, the three girls disappearing in the gloom of the old cemetery. ‘Hey, wait for me!’ he calls after Taïga, trudging through the snow-covered brambles after her vanishing figure.
‘Get a move on! I have to find my cat-’ Taïga yells back at Mitchell, ‘-or my Aunt will kill me!’ Somehow Taïga knows Alastar can’t be around if he hasn’t been summoned yet… No, something more worldly is upsetting her. What if Miezul Nopţii can’t find her way back to the house? She had carried the cat under her sweater, and it took at least twenty minutes on her bike to get here. Pedaling fast.
They look behind the tombstones and under the bushes. Nothing.
‘Minuit? Miezul Nopţii? Tsk-tsk-tsk…’ Taïga calls softly, wondering why the cat doesn’t meow back. Suddenly she thinks she sees something in the snow. She squats, pushing the brambles aside.
‘There are some prints here… Look!’ She motions Mitchell over.
‘Yeah… they’re going that way.’ He points towards the looming Mausoleum.
‘Are you sure? It could be another animal. Or another cat’s traces.’ Jen looks over her shoulder. She doesn’t want to go near the mausoleum. Not that she’s scared or anything. But Taïga, followed by Mitchell, is already moving away, her eyes fixed on on the faint traces in the snow.
Jen doesn’t like it a bit. Her mother has told her terrifying stories about vampires and how the only thing that stands between themselves and a bloodbath, is the spell some witches cast on the mausoleum and the surrounding fence more than a century ago and that needs to be “upgraded” every hundred years to hold the presumed vampire. She watches Taïga and Mitchell following the dwindling trace of tiny paws. The prints are leading them straight to the Mausoleum. Oh, shit. She has to tell them-
‘What if she’s hidden in the Mausoleum? Or somewhere else we can’t reach her?’ Leann inquires, jogging after Jen.
‘Shut up, Leann.’ Jen mutters, schlepping through the deep snow in Mitchell’s wake. ‘It’s locked.’
The little group stops in the shadow of the gloomy building.
‘How do you know for sure? That it’s locked.’ Leann grasps Jen’s arm, looking at her with a worried frown.
‘See the chains?’
‘What chains?’ Taïga asks over her shoulder. She has stopped in front of a huge iron wrought gate.
Leann looks accusingly at Jen who tries to look cool, even though she can feel the blood rush faster in her veins. She scans the intimidating fence, but it is topped with spear like points, effectively dissuading all thoughts of escalating. Good.
Taïga rattles the handle, but it’s locked. ‘Funny, it doesn’t seem to be locked with a key…’ She scrutinizes the old corroded mechanism. ‘… but there’s a simple hook up there.’
‘Yeah. But it’s out of reach,’ Mitchell points out. ‘Maybe we-’
‘-maybe we should go home?’ Leann whimpers, but Mitchell doesn’t listen. He’s watching Taïga who is already escalating the ornate gate.
‘You promised we wouldn’t go near the Mausoleum, Mitchell. It’s haunted…’ Leann continues.
‘It is not,’ Jen whispers, but without much conviction.
‘My parents say that it is,’ Leann whispers back.
‘Your parents believe the pizza place is haunted,’ Jen mutters, a flippant attitude making herself feel better.
‘Who’s buried here?’ Taïga asks, fumbling with the rusty hook.
‘The founders of Vulturu – the old Duke and his ancestors,’ Jen answers.
‘My dad once told me the coffins are empty, and that the Duke is now a vampire,’ Leann adds.
‘Oh, c’mon. You’ve never said anything about it. Tell us!’ Mitchell musters up some interest, turning towards Leann after having craned his neck trying to see how Taïga progresses with opening the gate.
A sudden movement in the thorn bushes clinging to the Mausoleum walls catches Taïga’s eye. ‘Minuit? Tsk-tsk-tsk…’ Something is definitely moving and she squints into the darkness to see better. ‘Miezul Nopţii?’
A raspy voice answers, ‘Open the gate.’
She freezes. Slowly she turns her head towards the gaping blackness of the door… A pale silhouette breaks away from the shadows. How come she hadn’t seen it? Where did it come from?
Hesitantly Taïga lets go off the hook which clanks against the gate, the sound reverberating through the silence.
Jen’s terrified scream makes Taïga lose her grip on the gate which swings open, making her tumble onto the ground. The heavy snow absorbs her fall and she scrambles backwards, unable to tear her eyes away from the sight in front of her.
Something is materializing before her unbelieving eyes. It takes the shape of a woman, hovering above her and partially obstructing the view of the creature behind. Taïga watches the pale man advance towards the clanking gate as if seen through rippling water.
‘Ruuunn… uuun… unnn…’ A hollow female voice whispers, echoing in Taïga’s head.
She doesn’t know how she gets back onto her feet, but she’s soon running away, screaming like the others and trying to get her bearings in the old churchyard. She jumps over a low fence, stumbles on an old gravestone and regains her balance thanks to another, bigger one, only to fall again.
Spluttering she gets back onto her feet only to realize that she now is completely disoriented. Where are her friends? She adventures a glance over her shoulder, but the Mausoleum lays silent.
‘Where are you!?! Help!’ She looks frantically around her, trying to see through the increasing snowfall where the exit lays. What if she runs the wrong way? She starts to run down the alley in the opposite direction of the forbidding Mausoleum. The wall must be on her left, she reasons and jumps over the little fence that seem to border the main alleys. She can see something purple disappear behind a stone setting. Jen.
‘Over here, Taïga! Hurry!’ Mitchell’s voice guides her through the greyness and she runs faster but her three friends vanish in the haze.
She slips on a patch of ice, but scrambles up again, continuing her frenzied rush towards security.
She realizes they have reached the old wall, a medieval vestige from when Vulturu was walled in. Jen and Mitchell’s bikes are inside the ruins of the immensely large wall and her friends are soon scrambling onto them and heading for the main exit. She had left hers outside, on the parking lot, but when she scans the surroundings, she can’t see it. Leann jumps onto Jen’s luggage holder, pushing with her feet to help her friend gain speed faster.
Panicked, she scans the surroundings for her bike.
‘Over there! Hurry!’ Leann gesticulates towards a snow-covered mound and Taïga brushes away the snow in a panic. Suddenly she freezes. Slowly she looks up and the creepy figure is right there, high up on the high wall. He’s casually leaning over the banister looking at the vanishing children. He can’t see her if he doesn’t look straight down. But if he does, she won’t stand a chance.
She withdraws into the shadows, gasping for breath. Who- or what is that? But she thinks that she knows. Not Alastar, but something more terrifying. A vampire. But Granny said that they don’t exist. So maybe he’s just some ordinary serial killer. She swallows. Her friends are already too far away to hear her if she screams, so she better decide now.
Taïga jumps onto her bike and pedals as fast as she can out into the night. But the road is icy, and she skids and almost falls, hardly keeping her balance.
A high pitched screech she recognizes as Miezul Nopţii, followed by another bloodcurdling unworldly scream echo in her head all the way home, giving birth to horrible visions – all of them involving the creature killing the cat. She sneaks inside and hides under her bedcovers, too afraid to fall asleep.
Never again. If only Miezul Nopţii comes home unscarred, she will never again set foot in a graveyard…
Part I – End of Chapter 21