Twenty-three – The Point of No Return
And so we stood at the neck of the tunnel. This was it, our wedding. Not two days hence had I even dared to dream that the vampire realm was a tangible entity. Like so many mere mortals believed, forty-eight hours hence I too upheld the conviction that the Undead were confined to either myth or that to acknowledge their existence was too unbearable a truth. Yet here I was, set to wed Perveen, who was to be my vampire bride and with it I would inherent her kingdom and affluence in this subterranean world.
The entrance to the chamber, which I presumed the church (if that’s what you could call it) where the ceremony was to be held, pulsated angry red, as if we stood in the throat of a prehistoric dragon afflicted by severe tonsillitis; yet we were to enter its belly by choice?
The phrase ‘The point of no return’ is banded about all too readily, but this truly felt that one step out of this throbbing tunnel and that was it – life as I never really knew it would be lost to me for all time. I have to admit there was apprehension in my step, as if my feet were weighted with lead, attached to the coarse pebble floor, as Perveen took my hand and led me into the chamber.
If I thought there were candles a-plenty in the bed chamber in which I had awoken after our first exchange on the winter bridge, they were but a flicker of a flame compared to the scene that spread before us within the chamber. Roughly hewn hollows in the very rock walls housed skulls burning outrageously from kerosene candles within, so that dancing light and sudden shadow blazed and belched through curious eyes, cavernous nasal passages and gaping jaws long since silenced. A shiver ran across my leatherette skin; two of those crumbling craniums were likely those of Perveen’s parents. I dared not look in her direction for fear of this conviction becoming too transparent upon my pale features.
Like the great hall at Hogwarts, candles festooned the ceiling. The overall intent was to highlight the main feature, which had not yet had cause to surface, though I knew from Perveen’s tale we were missing an altar. I questioned my eyes as to its non-existence given the abundant light afforded us in this otherwise dingy place, but there was no sign, even though the light waned and puddled in the centre where I believed it ought to rest.
To the right of the doorway stood one of the henchman whose bodily outline and mannerisms I thought I’d recognised on the long walk down the corridor at the top of the stairs a short while earlier on the level above. With the frantic flames casting fidgeting shadows it was hard to tell whether I still held that belief, especially as I was of the impression that he was looking directly at me, but beneath his hood, there was only eternal blackness. Impenetrable pitch obscured any features, which I though highly unlikely with the copious candlelight, but it was so. Yet still I perceived recognition, but what was certain any longer?
In his outstretched arms, like some Saville Row tailor, he proffered an exquisitely folded outfit, gesturing for me to take it. To the left, Perveen was being handed her own change of attire by a bridesmaid who I would later discover to be Marie, who had been one half of twins like Billy, ordained to be at Perveen’s beck and call by some higher power for the duration of their afterlife.
Perhaps, then, this was merely the fated Vestibule of Hell and the main event was to take place beyond, through either of the two passageways that led past the far wall like tailpipes from an engine. But surely not – this was the image of the room that Perveen had portrayed to me telepathically, yet our ceremony was to be better lit. I put that down to her status without making any cognitive conscious connection. But where was the altar?
As if in answer to my question, and how I would regret not learning to keep my temporal mouth shut, in the centre of the chamber the ground began to tremble, bouncing loose soil and small bricks as if they were laid on a drum-skin and an invisible hand was beating an inaudible rhythm beside them. Soon, that beat began shaking the very walls and ceiling causing a dusting of granite to add a mysterious cloud to proceedings, the whole room, flames and all, jumped to the command of the unseen drummer and his silent salvo.
Without warning, the very earth slid open to the hollow sound of gigantic slabs being dragged across concrete and made the most perfect circle in the very centre of the chamber.
The quaking stopped, dust settled and a shock of dirty yellow hair began to rise from the pit that had formed before us. That unmistakable birth scar of an orienteering flag followed the bald pate through the opening and those crazy, soulless eyes came next, catching the candlelight, glinting an even greater madness than I had ever witnessed in them before.
Flat across his chest lay the Gil Hibben throwing axe, crumpling the ridiculous, yet fitting, collar of his ruff and lace shirt front; the iridescent blade shone its keenness, twinkling intent, as did his fangs, bared beneath that insane Joker smile, primed for use. That same fawn jacket (no special tailoring for Billy) lay open across the expanse of his gut, which the ancient mustard cummerbund struggled to hold back. But it was what appeared in our eye line next that froze me rigid.
A white sheet draped over a body laid flat on that altar table that Perveen had described and portrayed to me oh so well when she had been bridesmaid at her mom’s own ill-fated wedding in this very chamber emerged with Billy. That outline I had seen somewhere only very recently – a part of my brain knew, yet another part was stopping me linking the two pieces of cranial information that would complete the chain of thought.
I looked at Perveen for help, but her return glance only served to hammer home the link on one side, as it said: ‘Oh, I did so try to warn you’.
Billy, his smile spread quite literally from ear-to-ear, conveyed the sentiment ‘I nearly had her last time, this time I shall not be denied’ enclosed the other link. The thought was complete. Beneath the sheet lay my sister; in what state of consciousness, I could only guess. I hoped and prayed that she was already dead, but feared that she lay awake in some hell of living rigor mortis.
My initial thought was: ‘God, I bet she’s pissed at me.’ The henchman by my side also seemed, for a moment, to flinch as the rising altar ground to a halt, eliciting one last shower of shrapnel, before all fell silent.
If I had never known the meaning of the word Petrified, I most certainly did now. The light from the candle-flame dimmed, the skulls’ rage abated, as Billy spread his arms, axe almost touching the low ceiling and the candles that hung there from. For the second time in as many hours, I questioned whether this was what I wanted, but the Point of no Return had long since been crossed.