As Misha leaned over the prone form, the screaming searing pressure in his skull seemed to abate in anticipation. A thread from the loose hood’s rough hem tickled his cheek irritatingly: something was wrong. The form was cold, pale, and too still: bloodless.

A trap.

Just then, eight large men grabbed him — four to each scrawny arm. His cloak was thrown off and his naked moonlit body thrust against a post behind him, feet picking up splinters as they dragged. He had been staked before (to a stout tree in France for the eighty or ninety years it took to wriggle himself out) and the ninth man had to adjust the placement of the iron railroad spike so that it would hold, and not fall right through the existing hole.

When this was done, a smaller nail was driven through both his wrists and into the back of the pole, which was then hoisted up and brought to a cobbled square. He was laid vertically, and a rusty hacksaw was produced.

“Please,” Misha said, foolishly. “Some blood. Just a drop.” His teeth itched.

The man replied by roughly yanking his long, dirty hair toward the beam, holding his head flat with it. He began to saw.

The man did not saw through the beam, and instead merely removed Misha’s head, holding it by the hair. Misha looked on curiously as two men hauled his body away. Something was happening but he was too hungry to think clearly.

He was tied by the hair to a rack with several other heads that seemed to be dormant, or possibly just more hunger-mad than he. The rack was lifted and carried to a small, flat wooden boat, and as it bobbed, they banged into each other, briefly waking and nipping with their teeth in reflexive defense.

Several burly men — probably not the men from before, but humans all looked alike — rowed the boat out into the bay and to a larger vessel equipped with sails. The rack of nipping heads was carried onto the deck, and there, Misha saw that his torso had joined hundreds of others, similarly mounted on poles, on a high platform at the top of a seaside cliff. The big boat rolled out to sea, and his view of his body — which he already missed — was clouded by the thickening fog rising off the water.

Just then, a cock crowed somewhere below decks and a beam of sunlight spidered its way around the edge of the land behind the cliff. A second burst of light cut through the fog, and Misha squinted. It was the bodies: burning but not consumed, they formed an eternal light-house! Clever, he thought, in the moment before the delayed sensations reached him and his mind was again plunged into desperate pain.

The big boat sailed out of the bay and into deeper, choppier waters. He wondered (now that he had grown used to the screaming flame of his receding body) if his head would be sold in some distant land. What would they use it for? Vampires were common enough pests on every continent, so while they might be a novel toy, mounted to a mantelpiece and fed the blood of rodents to keep them lucid enough to recite poetry and other such tricks for visitors, it paid to buy local. But as the sailors began to untie heads from the rack, with no land in sight, he realized what they had in mind.

“No,” he squeaked. “No, no.” He put all of his superhuman strength into squeezing his severed windpipe fast enough to produce an audible voice, but without lungs, all he could manage was a wheeze. “I’ll do anything.”

One after another, the heads were untied, and thrown overboard. The tiny lick of flame that moved over their skin like saint elmo’s fire as they made neat arcs into the water was the last light they’d see for a thousand years.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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