I slashed through the top right hand corner of the sachet and slipped the knife back into my pocket. The powder fell, creamy and almost luminescent white in the sepulchral half-light, a circle on the flagstones as I walked slowly around. I had no real idea as to whether this would truly work; after all, it was just instant mashed potato, and I could think of no good reason why it should have any effect where other substances might prove useless; but then nothing about these creatures made sense.
I turned as I heard the cry, as the iron-handle of the door smashed into the thick stone surround of the wall. It was the Englishman - Farquarson, or whatever his overly-elaborate and fussy name had been. 'Did you not hear a word of what I said?'
I had, but I'd failed to see the sense in whatever point he'd been attempting to communicate. I began to speak, spluttering in protest before my words were cut short as he raged forward, brandishing a wooden stake as though to illustrate some obscure hypothesis.
'Other worlds, other dimensions,' - he glared ahead at the coruscating ellipse of light at the centre of this dark, old space beneath the mausoleum. 'We cannot fight them with the same weapons.'
He thrust a battered paperback book into my hands, causing me to lose hold of the packet of instant mashed potato. The packet fell to the floor, apparently redundant. I had seen the book before, one of many forming a tower at the corner of the Englishman's desk back in his study at the university library. Bram Stoker's classic Dracula the Potato Vampire, except it wasn't. This was different somehow, same author but with the name alone serving for its title. I tried to make sense of it. 'This must be an earlier—'
'Well, it isn't.' Farquarson pulled a glass bottle from his pocket. There was a crude handmade label pasted to one side adorned with just a crucifix as though it were some corporate logo. 'They belong to an older reality, more visceral you might say, at a few stages removed from ourselves in terms of the law of diminishing returns; and that is the origin of that novel,' - he nodded to indicate the book held in my trembling hand - 'from which you may glean a more accurate description of what we will soon find ourselves up against.'
I flipped to my favourite chapter, noting the presence of familiar names. I had read the book when I was in school. It was a simple story, the tale of a potato vampire who arranges to have himself transported to the Emerald Isle, whereupon he embarks upon a terrible rampage of the arable farms of the area. Dracula had been based on the folk legend of some early Romanian farmer, apparently. The passage which had always chilled me to the greatest degree was that in which a delirious Mina Harker believes she has witnessed a terrible spectral figure eating potatoes straight from the earth of the field opposite her room. Instead, I found:
As I approached the house, I explained to him, I was startled to hear the word 'vampire' called out by a passer and looked up to see a huge bat making an ingress of the Count's window. Dracula chuckled in Romanian, his red eyes aglow from that medical condition which he had earlier described to me, telling me that he had just recently returned from a cricket match at which he had served as umpire and therefore that cry in the night would almost have certainly been a colleague attempting to draw his attention to the bat at his window. Of course he had himself been quite aware of the flapping beast, and it had startled him so as to cause him to drop his hot dog and indeed I saw there upon his lapels and around his mouth the tomato ketchup which had been so unceremoniously distributed by his startlement. My mind duly set at ease, I wished him well and took my leave.
It took a moment for the implication to sink in.
'Blood?' I regarded the Englishman, terror and disbelief vying for the upper hand as I heard myself ask, 'am I to understand that they drink human blood?' My eyes went to the ellipse as I realised what horrors may be perched upon its far side waiting to swoop through.
'Once that much was correct.' The Englishman busily pulled wooden stakes and further bottles of what seemed to be water from his great leather bag. 'They were true creatures of the night, the Victorian response to the notion of what becomes of the post-mortem soul following the industrial revolution and the death of God. They consumed the life force.'
I looked down at where I had stepped across the magic circle of powdered mashed potato. Had it ever meant anything, I wondered? Had it ever been more than some ridiculous piece of folklore?
The Englishman handed me a wreath made up from bulbs of garlic. 'In subsequent versions they are watered down, further and further, losing all former potency as they become diluted.'
'What are you talking about?'
'Soon, it is no longer the light of day they fear, but only sun, and they are able to survive if they remain in the shade, and garlic doesn't really kill them so much as give them indigestion. Eventually they have their own pop bands, and they avoid sunlight only because it makes them sparkle; until we arrive at what you and I have previously understood to be a vampire, an off-white creature of the early evening who loves potatoes but wouldn't otherwise hurt a fly, excepting a potato fly, I suppose.'
It was as though a window had opened in my mind; as though I had recalled some great central fact of my life without properly having known it beforehand. Why did we even call them potato vampires specifically? Why did we so fear a creature which rose from the dead to consume nothing but the potatoes of the living? Before I could formulate any answer within my mind, the room exploded with a terrible light as a figure came through from beyond, a girl in Victorian dress. I could hear the Englishman screaming, and I clawed at my own eyes, struggling to return them to sight.
The woman stared, wide-eyed, a half-smile formed upon her face. She tilted her head to an odd angle and spoke with an exaggerated English accent. 'Oh look! Who are these interesting people that mummy has found for me to play with?'
Oh Drossalulu, you're just so weird.
She stepped forward, eyes bulging with the strain of mannered eccentricity, her body undulating needlessly. 'Do you want to play with me?'
Too weird for me, Drossalulu. I mean just look at you!
She smiled, running the tip of her tongue across the sharp points of extended canines, then a sad face. 'Mummy broke all her dolls!'
Oh wow - an adult talking with affected childlike mannerisms so as to suggest a sort of romantic lunacy - I mean that particular brand of tired old bollocks has never before been seen in every other shit vampire film ever made, has it?
How could I know the name of this monster before me, and how could this have become so post-modern so soon I wondered, somehow aware of the unlikely possibility of actually having time in which to formulate such puzzles; and it was in that moment that I wished to God himself that we had never seen fit to peer so foolishly beyond the legend of our once charming potato vampire, our dear deathless Count so harmlessly steeling into the moonlit fields to avail himself of a few spuds, returning to the tomb before dawn to sleep off that terrible carbohydrate hangover.
What madness have we wrought?