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Authors: Midnight Mass (v2.1)

F Paul Wilson - Novel 10

 

 

Midnight
Mass

 

 
F Paul Wilson

 

 

 

 
          
 

 

 
          
 

 
          
F.
PAUL WILSON

 
          
 

 
          
MIDNIGHT
MASS

 
          
 

 
          
 

 
          
This
is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are
either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

 
          
MIDNIGHT
MASS

 
          
Copyright
© 2004 by F. Paul Wilson

 
          
All
rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions
thereof, in any form.

 
          
This
book is printed on acid-free paper.

 
          
Edited
by David H. Hartwell

 
          
Book
design by Milenda Nan Ok Lee

 
          
A
Tor Book

 
          
Published
by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

 
          
175
Fifth
Avenue

 
          
New York
,
NY
10010

 
          
www.tor.com

 
          
Tor®
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

 
          
Library
of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 
          
Wilson,
F. Paul (Francis Paul)

 
          
Midnight
Mass / F. Paul Wilson.—1st ed.

 
          
p.
cm. "A Tom Doherty Associates book." ISBN 0-765-30705-7 EAN
978-0765-30705-7

 
          
1.
Vampires—Fiction. 2. New Jersey—Fiction. 3. New York (N.Y)—Fiction. 4.
Clergy-Fiction. 5. Rabbis—Fiction. I. Title.

 
          
PS3573.I45695M53
2004 813'.54—dc22

 
          
2003065048

 
          
First
Edition: April 2004

 
          
Printed
in the United States of America

 
          
 

AUTHOR'S
NOTE

 
          
 

 
          
Midnight
Mass was born out of my dissatisfaction with the tortured romantic aesthetes
who have been passing lately for vampires. Stephen King gave us the real deal in
'Salem's Lot, but what gives since then? I wanted to get back to the roots—go
retro, if you will—and write about the soulless, merciless, parasitic creatures
we all knew and loved.

 
          
My
premise going in was that all the legends about the undead were true: they
feared crosses, were killed by sunlight (all right, I'm told that one
originated with F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu, so it's not really legend, but it has
become part of the lore), were burned by holy water and crucifixes, cast no
reflection, etcetera. You know them as well as I do.

 
          
I
also adopted the position that all the Catholic Church's mythology is true as
well. Vampire lore has been inextricably entwined with Catholic imagery. I was
raised a Catholic and, though now in recovery, I feel very much at home with
its icons.

 
          
Then
I took Ted Sturgeon's advice and started asking the next question. The mythic
power of the cross over the undead led me to a concept I'd touched on in The
Keep, and I decided to explore it further.

 
          
I've
known since I began writing in the early 1970s that some day I'd have to do
one, so here it is: my vampire novel. (No, The Keep was a pseudovampire novel.
This one's the real deal.)

 
          
 

 
        
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 
          
 

 
          
Thanks
to Kim Newman for allowing me to borrrow his usage of the word "get"
as it pertains to vampires and those they've transformed into their own kind
(though I've burdened the concept with more plot weight here). There are
equivalent terms in the language, but certainly none with such a perfect Old
World feel. If you haven't read Kim's wonderful Anno Dracula novels, you are
missing a rare treat.

 
          
And,
of course, a special nod to Richard Matheson, who first tilled this soil with I
Am Legend.

 
          
 

 
        
-
1 -

 
          
 

 
          
ZEV
. . .

 
          
 

 
          
Gasping
in horror and revulsion, Zev Wolpin stumbled away from St. Anthony's Church. He
stretched his arms before him, reaching into the dark for something, anything,
to support him before he fell.

 
          
Leaves
slapped his face, twigs tugged at his graying beard as he plowed into foliage.
His bike.. . where was his bike? He thought he'd left it in a clump of bushes,
but obviously not this clump. Had to find it, had to get away from this place.
But the dark made him disoriented ... the dark, and what he'd just witnessed.

 
          
He'd
heard whispers, stories he couldn't, wouldn't, believe, so he'd come to see for
himself, to prove them wrong. Instead .. .

 
          
Zev
bent at the waist and retched. Nothing but a bubble of bile and acid came up,
searing the back of his throat.

 
          
The
whispers were only partly true. The truth was worse. The truth was unspeakable.

 
          
He
straightened and looked around in the darkness. Wan light from the crescent
moon in the cloud-streaked sky made the shadows deeper, and Zev feared the
shadows. Then he spotted a curving glint of light from the chrome on his bike's
front wheel. He ran to it, yanked it by the handlebars from its hiding place,
and hopped on.

 
          
His
aging knees protested as he pedaled away along dark and silent streets lined
with dark and silent houses, heading south when he should have been going west,
but away was all that mattered now.

 
          
Lakewood
was a small town, maybe ten miles from the Atlantic Ocean; a place where the
Rockefeller family was said to have vacationed. So it didn't matter much if he
headed south or north, he wouldn't be far from the place he now called home.
The town was once home to fifty thousand or more before the undead came. Now
he'd be surprised if there were a thousand left. He'd heard it was the same all
up and down the East Coast.

 
          
The
exertion helped clear his mind. He had to be careful. Prudent he hadn't been.
In fact, he'd been downright reckless tonight, venturing out after sundown and
sneaking up on St. Anthony's. Schmuck! What had he been thinking? He prayed he
didn't pay for it with his life. Or worse.

 
          
He
shuddered at the thought of ending up the victim in a ceremony like the one
he'd witnessed tonight. He had to find temporary shelter until dawn. Even then
he wouldn't be safe, but at least there wouldn't be so many shadows.

 
          
The
blue serge suit coat that had once fit rather snugly now hung loose on his
half-starved frame and flapped behind him as he rode. He'd had to punch new
holes in his belt to hold up the pants. He'd complained so often about not
being able to lose weight. Nothing to it, really. Simply don't eat.

 
          
His
ever-hungry stomach rumbled. How could it think of food after what he'd just
seen?

 
          
A
shadow passed over him.

 
          
A
blast of cold dread banished any concern about his next meal. His aging neck
protested as he glanced up at the sky, praying to see a cloud near the moon.
But the glowing crescent sat alone in a clear patch of night.

 
          
No!
Please! He increased his speed, his legs working like pistons against the
pedals. Not a flying one!

 
          
Zev
heard something like a laugh above and behind him. He ducked, all but pressing
his face to the handlebars. Something swooped by, clawing at the back of his
coat as it passed. Its grip slipped but the glancing impact was enough to
disrupt Zev's balance. His front wheel wobbled, the bike tipped to the left and
hit the curb, sending him flying.

 
          
Zev
landed hard on his left shoulder, his lungs emptying with a grunt. His momentum
carried him onto his back. What he saw circling above him made him forget his
pain. He rolled over and struggled to his feet. He instinctively checked the
yarmulke clipped to his thinning gray hair, then gripped the cross dangling
from a string around his neck. That might save him in close quarters, but not
from a creature that could swoop down from any angle. He felt like a field
mouse under the cold gaze of a hawk.

 
          
He
started running. He didn't know where he was going but knew he had to move. The
bike was no good. He needed a tight space where his back was protected and he
could use the cross to keep his attacker at bay. One of these houses, maybe. A
basement, even a sewer drain—anyplace but out here in the open where—

 
          
"Here!
Over here!"

 
          
A
woman's voice, calling in a stage whisper to his left. Zev looked across an
overgrown lawn, saw only a large tree, a pine of some sort with branches almost
brushing the ground.

 
          
"Quick!
In the tree!"

 
          
A
trap maybe. A team this could be—a winged one driving prey into the arms of
another on the ground. He'd never heard of anything like it, but that meant nothing.

 
          
A
glance over his shoulder showed him that the creature had half folded its wings
and was diving his way from above. No choice now. Zev veered left for the tree
and whatever waited within its shadowed branches.

 
          
He
was almost there when the woman's voice shouted, "Down!"

 
          
Zev
obeyed, diving for the grass. He heard a hiss of rage, felt the wind from the
creature's wings as it hurtled past no more than a foot or two above him. He
lurched back to his feet and staggered forward. Pale hands reached from the
branches and pulled him into the shadows.

 
          
"Are
you all right?" the woman said.

 
          
He
couldn't see her—she was a shadow among the shadows—but her voice sounded
young.

 
          
"Yes.
No. If you mean am I hurt, no."

 
          
But
all right? No, he was not all right. Never again would he be all right.

 
          
"Good."
She grabbed his hands and pressed them against a tree limb. "Hold on to
this branch. Steady it while I try to break it. Quick, before it makes another
pass."

 
          
The
dead branch sat chest high and felt about half an inch in diameter. With Zev
steadying it, the woman threw her weight hard against it. The wood snapped with
a loud crack.

 
          
"What
are you—?"

 
          
She
shushed him. "It's coming back."

 
          
She
moved to the edge of the trees, carrying the branch with her. Zev watched her,
silhouetted against the moonlit lawn. Average height, short dark hair were all
he gained about her looks. He saw her crouch, then hurl her branch like a spear
at the creature as it swooped by on another pass. She missed and high-pitched
derisive laughter trailed into the sky.

 
          
She
returned to Zev, stopped on the other side of the broken branch, and patted the
front of his shirt. She pulled him close and whispered in his ear.

 
          
"Your
cross—tuck it away."

 
          
"No!
It will—"

 
          
"Do
as I say. They can see in the dark. And try to look frightened."

 
          
Try?
Who had to try?

 
          
She
put an arm around him to hold him close, keeping the branch between them.

 
          
Another
whisper: "Pull out that cross when I tell you."

 
          
Zev
had no idea what she was up to but had nowhere else to turn, so . . .

 
          
Her
grip on him tightened. "Here it comes. Ready ..."

 
          
Zev
could see it now, a dark splotch among the shadows of the branches, wings
spread, gliding in low, arms stretched out before it.

 
          
".
. . ready . . ."

 
          
Suddenly
it folded its wings and shot at them like a missile.

 
          
"Now!"

 
          
As
Zev pulled out the cross he felt the woman shove him away. He lost his balance
and tumbled back, saw her fall in the other direction, felt a clawed hand grip
his shoulder, heard the creature's screech of triumph rise into a wail of shock
and agony as it slammed against the trunk of the tree.

 
          
Zev
regained his feet amid the frantic and furious struggling of the hissing
creature. Its charging attack had opened a passage through the branches,
lightening the shadows. As he ducked its thrashing wings he realized it had
impaled itself on the broken branch. It flopped back and forth like a speared
fish, then pushed away from the trunk, trying to dislodge itself from the wood
that had pierced its chest.

 
          
Zev
turned to run. Now was his chance to get away from this thing. But what of the
woman? He couldn't abandon her.

 
          
He
spotted her standing behind the creature. She'd hiked up her already short
skirt and kicked at the thing's back, shoving it further onto the branch. The
creature howled and thrashed, and in its struggles broke the branch off the
trunk with a gunshot crack.

 
          
Free
now, it whirled and staggered out into the moonlight. Its wings flapped but
couldn't seem to lift it. Perhaps ten feet beyond the branches it dropped to
its knees. The woman was right behind it, giving it another kick. It rolled
onto its back, clawing at the wooden shaft that jutted two or three feet from
its chest. Its movements were weaker now, its wings lay crumpled beneath it.
Howling and writhing in agony, it gripped the branch and started to slide it
out of its chest.

 
          
"No,
you don't!" the woman cried.

 
          
She
gripped the upper end, shoving it back down and leaning on it to hold it in
place.

 
          
"This
is for
Bern
!" she screamed, naked fury rawing her
voice. "This is what you made me do to her! How does it feel? How does it
feel?"

 
          
For
an instant Zev wondered who was more frightening, this screeching woman or the
struggling monster she held pinned to the earth.

 
          
The
creature clawed and kicked at her, almost knocking her over. He had to help. If
that thing got free ...

 
          
Mouth
dry, heart pounding, Zev forced himself from the shadows and added his own
weight to the branch. He felt it punch deeper into the thing's chest. Then a
sickening scrape as it thrust past ribs and into the ground beneath.

 
          
The
creature's struggles became abruptly feebler. He saw now that it was a female.
It might have been beautiful once, but the sickly pallor and the bared fangs
robbed it of any attractiveness.

 
          
Finally
it shuddered and lay still. Zev watched in amazement as its wings shriveled and
disappeared.

 
          
"Gevalt!"
he whispered, although he didn't know why. "You did it! You killed
one!"

 
          
He'd
heard they could be killed—all the old folk tales said they could be - but he'd
never actually seen one die, never even met anyone who had.

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