The mob of Shepherd’s Crook, 1680 edition, stormed the home of the demon, sorcerer, and suspected vampyr Yulric Bile. As mobs went, it was pretty good. No elder went untorched. No young man went unpitchforked. Women wept and gnashed their teeth. John Farthing brought his new gun. John Cross had smithed some chains. Benjamin Moss broke down the door to his 100th citadel of sin, with some assistance from his son, John. Cider was drunk, hymns were sung, and a fine time was had by all. The only blemish on the otherwise superb revelries of condemnation was the man who had arranged it all: the witchfinder, Erasmus Martin.
Little was, is, or will ever likely be known about one Mstr. Erasmus Martin, honorary reverendship given, stripped, given again, then stripped again, and now being reconsidered by the Shepherd’s Crook Community College (formerly the Mather Institute of Greater Theology, The Northern Massachusetts College of Science and the Arts, the Mather Institute of Revivalist Theology, and the All-Faith Universal University of Greater Enlightenment and Understanding). It was said that he had traveled to the Far East to learn ancient secrets in ancient temples before burning them to the ground for heathen practices. It was said he’d made a deal with the devil and now sought redemption for his damnéd soul. It was said he was a milliner’s son. Whatever the truth, it cannot be denied that he was very good at his job.
The villagers of Shepherd’s Crook didn’t know where (England), how (a ship), or why (to hunt the vampyr) Martin had come. He had simply appeared as a passing traveler one dark, dreary day a year ago, before the pink house—not yet pink—had been completed. He had asked a few questions, inspected the construction, and generally milled about, much to the chagrin of everyone who found him far too competent. It wasn’t until he had the gall to seek advice from the native savages that the elders asked him to leave. He had done as they asked and everyone had tried to forget about him. They’d even burnt the savages for good measure.
That was before six months ago. Before children went missing and old people died. Before the strange plague, the accidents, and the animal attacks in the far woods. Before some women’s husbands came home looking altogether too pleased with themselves.
Before Yulric Bile.
Letters had been sent, of course. Not to Martin, mind, for no one knew where he had gone, and honestly, no one cared. The letters had gone to nearby churches in Salem, Arkham, and even that den of sin and iniquity, Boston. They spoke of the evils faced and pleaded for aid in vanquishing the devil’s servants. The hope, ultimately, was to attract the famed preacher Increase Mather to town. He could sign copies of his books, give sermons, really put Shepherd’s Crook on the map. Oh, and also rid them of an evil vampyr.
That was what they had hoped. What they had received was Erasmus Martin riding back into town.
Wherever the witchfinder walked the mood of the crowd sobered. Conversations hushed. Children stopped playing. Cider was sipped more quietly. That season, the Puritans invented their own word for “buzzkill” and it was Erasmus Martin.
Still, there was no reason they couldn’t have a good time. So the Puritans continued with their grand displays of piousness and let Mstr. Martin get down to the business at hand, which, in the opinion of the gathered crowd, he was slow enough to do.
Martin stood before the maw of the house’s doorway, weighing his options. Inside, his quarry waited. Based on its history, the witchfinder assumed whatever followers the creature had were already dead. You never could count on this though, and he had no desire to face a room full of fanatics wielding axes.
Then, there was the house. Who knew what traps lay in wait for those not privy to their secrets? Rush headlong inside and you would not have a head for long. Martin chided himself for the joke and pledged to flagellate himself later.
The house, the followers, and the creature itself: all dangers to be considered. All reasons for Erasmus Martin to pause. He hadn’t lived into witchfinder old age by being reckless. Nor, though, had he earned his reputation by simply setting everything ablaze and hoping for the best.
He took a step forward. The crowd cheered. He looked at them and they stopped. Cheering was not the Puritan way. Contentment was not the Puritan way. Unnecessary hardship, unwavering resolve, and a detailed condemnation of any sexual act, that was the Puritan way, and if Martin was going to do this, by God, he was going to do this as a proper Puritan.
Into the darkness, across the threshold, alone but for God.
Once inside, he exchanged his bible for a stake. He may have been a man of faith, but he did feel better with a weapon in hand. The inside of the house was much like any other lair or den of unspeakable evil. It was dark, dimly lit by a few candles here and there to accommodate the eyes of mortal followers. There was very little furniture, a chair or two, but no paintings, no accoutrements. Nothing, in short, to show that anyone lived there. Just dust and darkness and papers.
Oh, the papers. Most were strewn about what should have been a dining room. Spells and arcane symbols abounded, some written in ink, others in fire, the worst in blood. There were excerpts and quotations from the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, the Vermis Mysteriis, The Book of Flies, The Sworn Book of Honorius, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and even a critical review of The King in Yellow—which the author found enjoyable, if a bit slow at the beginning. There was also a lot of nonsense: random shapes and scribbles, phrases in Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew that ranged from the foulest of insults to “Here is the butter. Would you like the jam as well?”
It may have been an immortal creature from Hell that fed on the blood of the innocent, but a sense of humor? That was one sin the witchfinder could never forgive.
On the second floor, he found what was left of the vampyr’s followers. Now he knew where the pastor had disappeared to, and why the magistrate and his brother were nowhere to be found. They would go down as mere victims of the creature. When towns finally recorded the aftermath of events, those with influence were always cleared of any wrong-doing, regardless of the truth. Martin didn’t like it. He abhorred necessary evils as he abhorred all evils and lying fell into that category. But then, liking it wasn’t his job. His job was to vanquish this abomination and that had become one step easier.
From outside, a noise rose up that was not righteous: self or otherwise. Martin went to the balcony window and saw the crowd outside gathered around three men who were holding, probably closer than was needed, a young woman.
“John Starling, what goes there?” Martin called down.
John Starling, one of the three, quickly removed an inappropriately placed hand and said, “Master Martin, we caught this girl coming out of the cellar. She says she has killed the vampyr.”
“Indeed,” replied a suspicious Martin. “Hold her there. I will be right down.”
It was only then, as he turned away from the window, that the witchfinder saw what he had missed during his initial scan of the room: a piece of paper pinned to the far wall. It may have been yellowed and worn with age, but for all that, its subject matter was no less clear. Seared upon this leaf was the image of some unknown tentacled monstrosity; its great mass undulating with evil as its glowing red eye peered out from beneath a throng of slimy feelers. It sat atop a mountain of human skulls, and, on either side, a pair of angels were depicted descending into gibbering madness. So horrible, so lasting, so utterly indelible was the image that Martin wondered why he had not noticed it before. He could only suppose that it was because then, unlike now, the picture had not been oozing toward him.
Partially material tendrils of ink and ectoplasm climbed their way out of the paper as if it were a tiny window and fell to the floor with as much squish as thud. The great red eye blinked and dilated; its gaze spinning frantically around the room before settling on Martin with what was, at best, malice and, at worst, hunger. It’s ropey "arms" inched forward as the rest of the beast’s great bulk unfurled from the drawing. When eventually the appendages came in contact with the bodies strewn about the ground, they convulsed excitedly, engulfed their food, and moved on, with the remains of the Puritan cultists clearly visible through the translucent skin.
When finally the last part of this ancient and unkillable creature, its sanguine eye, released itself from the paper prison, a shriek that had very little to do with vocal cords or ear canals roared inside the minds of every living thing within sixty miles. It was only then, as the semi-material horror from beyond slunk toward him to envelope him, that the witchfinder noticed the message written in blood above the paper.
You did not think I was going to make this easy, did you?