Summer vacations can really bite, but this trip takes it to an entirely new level!
Bed and Breakfast and Zombies by Keith Tomlin
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Jake sighed loudly as he stared out the second-story window of the bed and breakfast that he and his father had been staying at for the last few days.
‘This sucks,’ he thought, ‘I should have gone to grandpa’s with mom.’
His family was on a rare vacation, taking a trip from Chicago to New York City to visit his mom’s parents. It was the four of them, Jake, his little sister, Sarah, his father, Edward, and his mother, Karen, all jammed into a 12-year-old Volvo wagon.
Jake remembered when his father, during breakfast a few days ago, could barely contain his excitement. “Kids, I was looking over my papers last night,” he said, pointing to a huge stack of papers that he poured over every moment that he wasn’t driving, “and I found something exciting!” He looked wide-eyed at both of his children. Sara was using all of her concentration to draw on a coloring page that doubled as the kid’s menu so Edward focused on his 11-year-old son. “Jake, how would you like to look for some witches!”
Jake was swept away with his dad’s excitement. They dropped the others off at his grandfather’s house and jumped back on the road to a small town in New York called Stones Creek. Jake wondered what they needed to hunt witches. Do we need garlic or maybe silver bullets? What Jake didn’t know, and soon found out, was the only things they needed was the local library and long walks in an old graveyard across the street from the Grinning Cat Inn, the bed and breakfast at which they would be staying.
Jake was bored. He sighed, louder this time.
“I heard you the first time.”, his dad said, without looking up from the papers he copied from the library. When he finished the page, he finally looked at Jake, removing his unlit pipe from his mouth and pointed at Jake with it.
“Why don’t you go outside and play?” he said, gesturing to the door with his pipe.
“But, dad, I’m bored… ” Jake said, his shoulders slumping forward. “Look, once I get through these pages, we can take a walk. You can either go outside and play until then or sit there quietly and read a book.” His dad gave him one last stern look before turning his attention back to his stack of papers.
‘Read a book?’ Jake thought. ‘Why is it always books with him?’
Jake didn’t want books, he wanted fun and adventure. Suppressing another sigh, he turned his attention back to the window. He was surprised to see a car on the road. He had only seen one other car all day. He was even more surprised, and excited, to see that car start to slow down.
“Dad, dad, dad,” Jake said quickly, as he had always done when he grew excited. “There is a car turning into the parking lot.”
“Really? That’s interesting,” his dad mumbled.
Jake watched intently as the car glided to a stop in front of the inn. The driver, a huge, bulky man, got out and opened the rear door. A well-dressed man stepped out of the backseat of the car, quickly followed by a young boy who looked around Jake’s age.
“Dad, dad, dad, dad…” Jake said getting louder with each word. “They have a kid. Can I go down and meet him? Come on, dad… Can I?” Jack started jumping back and forth from one foot to the other.
“Okay, hang on,” his dad said, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Alright, I guess I’m done here for now. I don’t want you scaring the poor child with your… enthusiasm.” Edward set the stack of papers aside, “Let’s go downstairs and greet the new arrivals.”
The door to the Grinning Cat Inn flew open and the large man entered. He scanned the room before stepping aside, allowing the well-dressed man to enter. The reception room was lined with cedar panels and had a counter that ran along one wall. A large staircase, leading up, was right across from the front door. Two other doorways lead to a dining room and a large den with a roaring fire in the fireplace. Upon hearing the door, the owner of the inn, Mr. Jarvison, a tall, thin elderly man, moved to the counter.
Good evening, how may I help you?” asked Mr. Jarvison. The well-dressed man walked over to the counter and, with a thick Slavic accent, said “I am Count Dmitry Romanova, I have reservation for two rooms.”
“Yes, of course, your rooms are ready, mister… How should I address you?” Mr. Jarvison’s asked.
“Please, you may call me Count Romanova,” said the Count. “The title is largely symbolic at this point but,” he shrugged, “we do have our protocols.”
“Yes, sir, I will show you to your rooms,” Mr. Jarvison said, half bowing.
Count Romanova waved him off. “Ivan, my…. manservant, will look to the rooms and luggage. I wish to relax by the fire,” he said, pointing towards the den. He then looked at Ivan, who nodded and gestured at Mr. Jarvison to lead the way up the stairs.
The Count turned towards the door and called out, “Come, Nikolai, let’s rest before dinner.” A small-framed child, around ten years old, entered the inn. He silently followed his father into the den.
Edward and Jake had to press themselves against the wall to allow Ivan to pass them on the stairway. Jake stared at the large man, shocked at the sheer size of him. Ivan stopped and turned, glaring at Jake, who quickly turned and ran to catch up with his father.
Twenty minutes later, Jake was standing outside with Nikolai, trying to find a way to end the awkward silence that hung over them. It took his dad a few minutes to convince the Count to allow his son outside to play and now Jake was wishing that his father had failed.
“So, uh…” Jake said. “Do you like to play ball?”
“Sorry, I do not know this game, ball,” Nikolai replied, in broken English.
“No, ball is not a game… Well, it’s part of a game,” Jake thought that over for a few seconds. “Never mind, do you want to play… hide and seek?” Jake said, hopefully. “Hide and seek? What do we hide?” Nikolai asked.
“No,” Jake said, frustrated, “You go hide and I try to find you.”
Nikolai asked, “We are to be friends, correct?”
“Then why would I hide from you?” Nikolai asked. “Friends should trust each other and not need to hide.”
“Huh, I never thought of it that way,” Jake said. “Okay, well... uh… we could…” Jake was stumped. He racked his brain for something to do and his face lit up when he finally thought of something that no kid could resist.
“Do you want to see something scary?” Jake teased, with a big grin.
The young foreign boy nodded slowly.
Edward leaned forward on the overstuffed chair, tapping his pipe on the stone of the fireplace and sweeping the ashes into the fire.
“What brings you to this little corner of nowhere, Count?” Edward asked, leaning back and refilling his pipe. He looked apologetically at Mr. Jarvison, “Sorry, no offense.”
“None taken, this is a small town, very small,” Mr. Jarvison agreed.
The Count took another puff on his cigar and slowly let the smoke escape his mouth, “I came to America on a diplomatic trip but I wanted to take some time to visit relatives.”
Mr. Jarvison sat up, beaming, “You have relations living here?”
Count Romanova slowly shook his head, “Living? No, sorry, I used the wrong word. I have… ” he waved his hand in the air causing ash to fall onto the arm of his chair, “ancestors here, in cemetery.” He pointed toward the graveyard.
Jake led Nikolai across the street and into the old graveyard. They walked through the old gravestones, many of which were so weathered that you couldn’t read the words engraved upon them. Jake spent many hours here the last few days walking the overgrown paths between the graves with his father. This place held little interest for Jake except for an ancient crypt that they were now approaching. It was a small stone building with vines growing up the walls towards the tiled roof. The most striking feature of this building was that along each wall there were a pair of statues that looked like they were emerging out of the stone surface. Each statue was of a creature with a bald head, pointy ears, and a mouth with razor-sharp teeth. His dad said they were ghouls, undead creatures that feast on the flesh of the living.
“What do you think?” Jake asked as they approached the crypt. He snuck a sideways glance, hoping to have scared the other boy but, instead, he looked amazed. The smaller boy slowly walked around the building, admiring each statue in turn. He then walked along each wall, running his hand along the stone surface as he went.
Nikolai turned to Jake and asked, “Where is the door?”
“Yeah, my dad wondered the same thing, weird, huh?” Jake replied.
Nikolai continued to walk around the building, examining each wall as he went. He finally stopped and waved at Jake, pointing at a brick in the wall. Jake walked over and bent close to discover that there were drawings etched into this brick, drawings his dad would have called runes. The more he looked, the more they seemed to shimmer. He began tracing them with his finger and he swore he felt them start to grow hot.
Jake took a step back to ask Nikolai if he had spotted any other bricks like this when his head started to buzz. The buzzing turned into a voice, deep inside his head. The voice began whispering six words over and over again. Six words that he did not understand. These words got louder and louder until they finally burst from his lips in a booming voice. “Custos secreta, praedo malum, aperire ostium,” Jake was unable to stop himself from chanting.
“Custos secreta, praedo malum, aperire ostium,” Jake heard a low hum coming from the wall in front of him.
“Custos secreta, praedo malum, aperire ostium,” The runes started to glow brightly.
“Custos secreta, praedo malum, aperire ostium!” Jake’s voice roared and the wall opened.
The Count tossed the remains of his cigar into the fireplace and looked over at Edward, “What brings you here?”
Edward leaned forward excitedly as if he has been waiting to answer that question all evening, “Well, in my day job, I am a history professor at the University of Chicago but my real passion is writing about the occult, magic, and the supernatural.” He took a puff off of his pipe and continued. “I was researching the Salem witch trials, trying to see if I could bring anything new to the table, when I uncovered a series of correspondence between two sisters, both witches. One, sadly, was convicted of witchcraft and perished in Salem,” he shook his head, “the other one wrote about her coven moving here to help protect witches against persecution.”
“Most intriguing,” said the Count. “Did they say how they would protect the witches?”
“I haven’t found many details on that,” Edward said, sounding annoyed, “except that it involved the undead.”
Mr. Jarvison looked around uneasily.
The secret door in the crypt’s wall swung open, revealing an empty room except for a steep staircase leading down. The air smelled stale and musty and there was an eerie silence. Jake looked at Nikolai who stared back, wide-eyed. Both boys both started forward, Jake in the lead.
The staircase ended in a stone door. Jake pushed against it until the door finally screeched open. The sound reverberated throughout the entire structure, sending chills down Jake’s spine. The room it revealed was dark, the light from outside barely penetrating several feet. Jake hesitantly stepped forward and flames shot around the room as a dozen torches flared to life. They revealed a large, circular room with a dozen stone doors around the perimeter. The floor was made of white marble with black marble inlays, creating a large pentagram. In the center of the pentagram stood an altar with a large leather-bound book sitting atop it.
“Wow… ” Jake exclaimed as he took in the sight. He looked back to check on Nikolai, who was a few steps behind him. Jake slowly moved forward, fascinated by the book. Almost without realizing it, he was standing in front of the altar, staring down at the large tome. He looked back and Nikolai was standing at the edge of the pentagram with one foot raised as if he was trying to decide if he wanted to cross over it or not. Jake turned back and reached out to touch the book.
The room exploded in white light and Jake was blinded as he heard Nikolai cry out in pain. A series of loud thumps shook the ground as the stone doors fell open. He looked up and saw black shapes moving behind each doorway. Jake turned and started to run toward the stairs. Nikolai was on the ground at the edge of the pentagram, withering in pain. As Jake paused to help Nikolai, he glanced around the room.
In each of the dozen doorways, a walking corpse emerged. Each dressed in filthy flowing white robes. Their skin was leathery and taunt across their face and hands. As they emerged from the darkness, they raised their heads as if they were searching for something, sniffing almost like dogs. Jake could hear the wet rattles of them inhaling deeply. The creatures didn’t look like the ones from the movies but he knew what they were, zombies.
Jake stood there, paralyzed with fear until the nearest zombie suddenly caught the scent of something in the air and whipped it heads around to stare at the two boys. A rune, carved into each of their foreheads, began to glow as they opened their mouths and moaned. Jake pulled Nikolai up and pushed him towards the stairs. Without taking another look behind him, he ran.
“Are there any of these… witches… still around?” the Count asked.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to find out. I believe that most of the original settlers were witches. I’ve been looking at genealogy records and, as far as I can tell, the last of their living relatives perished in a fire back in the late 1950s,” Edward said somberly.
“Yes, that was an awful thing,” Mr. Jarvison mused. “My family lived a few counties over when it happened. I was just a young child but I still remember the news accounts, very sad. Most of the town was attending some kind of meeting at the town hall when it caught on fire. Very few survived.”
All three men fell silent.
The two children burst from the crypt, sounds of heavy footsteps echoing from the darkness behind them. Jake paused a moment to try to get his bearings, the sun was going down and he was a bit confused on how to get back to the inn. Nikolai had kept running straight into the overgrown brush that had overtaken this part of the cemetery. Upon hearing footsteps at the top of the stairs behind him, Jake quickly followed.
‘Why did he have to run this way?’ Jake wondered as a sticker bush tugged at his clothes. He finally gave a great pull and fell back into a clearing. Getting up, he saw that he was the stone path that followed the 10-foot tall stone wall that surrounded the cemetery. Jake recognized some of the tall monuments and he knew where he was. Jake turned toward the right and ran along the path.
After a few minutes of running, Jake heard a scream coming from ahead of him. ‘They must have got Nikolai,’ Jake thought. He began to run faster.
The Count broke the silence suddenly, “Did you hear a noise? Something is not right.”
The other two men shook their heads, looking around the room.
“Ivan,” the count said quietly. The large man stepped forward out of the shadows, quiet as a mouse. “Go check on Nikolai”. Ivan nodded and glided off.
“Something is not right,” Count Romanova repeated himself, looking out the window into the growing darkness.
Jake ran faster than he had ever ran in his life. As the path turned toward the entrance, he tripped on a tree root and was sent flying. He hit the ground hard and rolled a few times before landing against a small tree. However, when he looked up, he realized that it wasn’t a tree, it was the legs of a large zombie. The undead creature looked down at him and, surprisingly, turned away and shambled on. Jake was stunned but flew back into action when he heard Nikolai cry out again, this time very close.
Jake looked around and saw Nikolai standing at the entrance to the cemetery, in the middle of a ring of five zombies. One had grabbed him by the arm and was lifting him up while the others reached out for him, the runes growing brightly on their forehead. Jake picked up a rotting tree branch for a weapon and started to move to help Nikolai. He stopped when he saw a huge shape come out of the darkness. He sighed with relief when he realized it was Ivan but the look of murderous rage on the big man’s face almost as scared him as the zombies did.
Ivan waded into the middle of the group of zombies with a ferocity that Jake had never seen before. Ivan tossed the zombies aside like they were rag dolls, striking them with thunderous blows that didn’t seem to do any real damage to them. When a creature was knocked down, they would rise back up and continue their assault. When three more zombies stumbled into view, Ivan pushed the two nearest ones down, picked up Nikolai, and ran back toward the inn.
Seeing the Ivan disappear back into the darkness jolted Jake into action and he ran after them.
The door to the inn crashed open and Ivan charged inside, still carrying Nikolai. Ivan’s suit was torn and his face and arms were covered with scratches. Jake ran in after them and slammed the door shut, locking it.
“Dad! Zombies!” Jake yelled.
“Uh, what?” Edward said leaping to his feet. Right then, the window behind Edward exploded inward. Undead hands clawed at the window sill, trying to pull themselves into the room. Another window was smashed and loud thumping shook the front door as the dead tried to break it down.
“Oh my! What is going on?” yelled a terrified Mr. Jarvison.
Ivan ran to hold the front door as Edward grabbed a lamp and started hitting at the arms reaching into the den. They could hear glass breaking in other rooms of the house.
Mr. Jarvison finally snapped and ran out of the den. He let out a terrified scream as a zombie lurched out of the dining room in the reception area. It ignored Mr. Jarvison as it shambled toward the Count, the rune on its forehead glowing brighter with each step.
“The runes!” Edward yelled, pointing at the glowing brand on a zombie’s forehead. “Some powerful magic created these things.”
“Can you stop them?” Jake said, fearing the answer.
“Not without knowing the spell used to animate them,” Edward yelled back, using the lamp he to push a zombie off the window sill.
“Jake, the book!” Nikolai yelled, trying to help his father who was struggling with the zombie from the dining room.
“Yeah, dad, there is some kind of spell book or something in that weird crypt in the graveyard,” Jake said to his father.
“That may be our only chance,” Edward shot back. “Count! We need to get to the crypt, now!” he yelled.
The Count, who was holding his own against the zombie, yelled out, “Ivan, to me! We need to get to the graveyard.” Ivan rushed over and toss the zombie attacking the Count outside, through a broken window. Just as Ivan turned back to the front door, it burst open and three more zombies began to stumble in. Ivan ran and leaped, knocking them back outside.
“Go, go!” yelled Edward as everyone ran toward the front door.
The next ten minutes seemed like a nightmare to Jake. Ivan was an unstoppable tank, running through the dark, knocking over any creature in his way. The rest of the group followed in his wake, trying to keep up. Once in the graveyard, Edward pointed the way to the crypt.
The small party entered the crypt and ran down the stairs to the large, marble room. Edward ran over to the book on the altar. Ivan stood with his back pressed up against the door, waiting for any sign of the undead creatures. The Count and his son stood just off to the side of Ivan, backs to the wall.
Something felt off to Jake but he didn’t know what it was. He watched his dad quickly flip through the book, struggling to understand the words on the pages. Jake tried to connect the pieces, there was something he couldn’t put together.
“Wait, I think I got it… ” Edward said, almost to himself. He began reading the words from the book in a loud, booming voice.
The undead began pounding on the door and Ivan, muscles bulging, struggled to keep the door shut.
The ground began to shake and a wind started to rip through the chamber. Howls of anger and pain roared from behind the door as the undead intensified their attack.
Something finally clicked in Jake’s mind. ‘The zombies ignored me and Mr. Jarvison. The runes grew brighter when they get closer to the Count and his son… ’
“Dad, stop! The zombies aren’t after us, they are after them!” Jake yelled, pointing at the Count, who looked back at Jake with a wide grin.
Edward showed no sign of hearing his son. He kept chanting and as he chanted, his voice grew even louder and the tremors became more powerful. When Edward reached the end of the spell, the black marble of the pentagram burst into flames. The pounding on the door ceased as a silence descended over the room.
Edward leaned against the altar, exhausted. Ivan opened the door and only empty robes littered the floor, no sign of the zombies. Jake started to run to his father when the ground began to vibrate. The white marble floor started to crack as clawed hands began digging their way out of the ground.
“What?” Jake exclaimed, “more zombies?”
“Oh no,” the Count remarked, “these are the relatives I spoke of earlier, my ancestors.”
The Count laughed as he began to change. His face elongated while his teeth grew sharp. His hair disappeared while his ears grew larger and more pointed. He became one of the creatures from the statues on the outside of the crypt, he became a ghoul. Ivan and Nikolai also began to revert to their true selves.
“Those meddling witches kept my family imprisoned for hundreds of years. When we discovered them, we took our revenge and burned them all but we needed someone pure of heart to open the crypt, someone like your son,” said the count, running his tongue over his razor-sharp teeth. “We also needed another fool to undue the spell of protection and destroy those pesky undead guardians of theirs,” he said, gesturing back towards the white robes. “It took a bit of planning but we were finally able to forge those letters to draw you here.”
Dozens of ghouls were slowly extracting themselves from the ground, their shinning eyes looking hungrily at Jake and Edward.
“I do hope you will join us for dinner,” the Count bellowed, laughing.
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