By: Mark J. Hadley
Nighttime. The only light for miles around was that of the moon, shining brightly in the sky and casting a dull, pale illumination across the landscape. The endless dusty terrain stretched out for miles, intersected by a single road, running off as far as the eye can see in either direction. The only outstanding features in the area, other than the road, were that of a single farmhouse, and a few other scattered landmarks. It was near the larger of these landmarks, the barn, that there was motion. A single shadow crept into the barn and vanished from sight. Afterwards, all was still once again.
* * *
Courage awoke with a scream. He tightly clutched the blankets at the end of the bed where he was laying, and shook with fear. After a few moments, he managed to calm himself down. "What a nightmare!" he said to himself. "That's the last time I eat mushrooms and garlic bread just before bed. And I mean it this time!"
He glanced behind him. Eustace and Muriel were still asleep, safe and sound. He breathed a sigh of relief, and settled back down. Slowly, he began to close his eyes, returning to sleep.
A sudden loud clunk from outside caused his eyes to fly open again. He sat still and listened for a moment. A second clunk. Courage got up, shaking fearfully again, "I didn't imagine it!" He shot another look over at Eustace and Muriel. They were still asleep, and hadn't heard anything.
A third clunk. Courage yelped and dove under the bed. After a few minutes, all remained calm once again. Courage peered out cautiously, listening carefully. No more noise. But he knew he heard something…and there was no way he was going back to sleep now. There was nothing to do but investigate. "Ooh," he whined softly, "I know I'm not going to like this…"
He slowly sneaked out of the room, and went downstairs. The house, despite its familiarity and relative comfort, was creepy during the night. Every step made a creaking noise that seemed to echo in the silence, and each creak sent more shivers down Courage's spine. He slowly descended the stairs, and went out the front door. He gazed around the farmland carefully. Everything was so quiet now.
Courage shrugged, and was about to turn around to head back inside, when he spotted something. A shadowy figure, barely visible in the light of the moon, darted quickly across the landscape, moving from the barn to the chicken coop.
Courage swallowed and moved as quietly as possible towards the coop, the only sound being the soft chatter of his teeth. He carefully moved around to the opening, and peered inside. What he saw almost made him shout, but he threw his hands over his mouth, stifling his shout at the last second.
A rather tall sheep stood upright in the center of the coop. It was wearing an elegant-looking dark blue outfit, with a black cape around his shoulders. The sheep was holding one of the chickens in its hands (or hooves), staring at it disdainfully. Courage stayed out of sight and listened, shivering.
The sheep sighed, "Am I to be reduced to this? A mere chicken? Would that I could return to the days of old. Things are no longer as they were. I once fed upon kings and royalty…" He smiled at the memory, then frowned suddenly. "But now…to be reduced to this? A common foul!" He shook a free hoof in the air angrily, "I, Count Wooliam, shall reclaim my past glory one day! As for now…ah well, when in Nowhere…" He raised up the chicken, and opened his mouth, a sharp set of fangs appearing.
Courage gasped, and pulled himself away from the door. A loud Bkawk came from the inside of the coop. With his back against the outside of the coop wall, Courage's heart nearly pounded out of his chest. "I knew it!" he exclaimed, "That…thing…is a vampire!" His eyes darted around the landscape, looking for something…anything…
His eyes finally rested on a patch of dirt near the pump. He quickly rushed over and started digging. After excavating a huge hole, he finally reached what he was looking for. He held it up in the moonlight…a set of wooden stakes and a hammer. "Yes!" he shouted, "I knew I would need these someday!"
Sneaking back towards the chicken coop, Courage held one of the stakes out in front of him, and held the hammer over his head, ready to pound it at a moment's notice. He could barely keep the hammer steady, though, shaking as he was. He hesitated just outside the door to the coop, and took a deep breath. Then, very quickly, he rushed through the door. "All right, sheep! I…huh?"
Count Wooliam was nowhere in sight. Not even any of the chickens were missing; they were all sitting quietly on their nests. Not a single thing was out of place. Courage scratched his head. "What's going on here?" he said to himself.
The chickens all turned to look at him with angry expressions. Their eyes started glowing green, and they all hissed at him, baring large fangs. Courage shrieked loudly, dropping the hammer and stakes. They were all vampires! He quickly spun around and ran screaming from the coop, back to the house. The chickens slowly emerged from the coop, cackling gleefully…
* * *
Upstairs, in the bedroom, Eustace and Muriel continued to sleep. Courage's sudden screaming entrance into the room quickly changed that, however. He slammed the door behind him, and leaned against it, panting.
Muriel rubbed her eyes, and said, "What's the matter?"
Courage ran over and started hopping up and down pointing like mad out at the door. He quickly mimed a monster with huge fangs to get his point across.
Muriel just yawned, "Courage, can it wait until morning?"
Even though Courage shook his head fiercely, Eustace climbed out of bed, grumbling, "That's it. It's the attic for you, tonight...stupid dog, wake us up in the middle of the night, will ya?"
He grabbed Courage and dragged him out of the door. Courage protested, "But...but..." just before the door closed behind him. Muriel yawned again and lay back down to sleep. Some of the moonlight was shining in through the window, but a moment later it was silhouetted by a dark shape that moved up into view.
Count Wooliam peered through the glass at Muriel. "That woman..." he said breathlessly, "She reminds me of someone I once knew...someone of royal blood, so very long ago." He pushed himself away from the window, doing a small twirling dance in the air, "She was one of the finest! A royalty amongst royalty!" He pressed his face against the glass once again, "I must have her! She will be mine before the night is over!"
With that, he stretched his hoof out, pointing it at the glass. The glass immediately shattered inward...
* * *
Eustace threw Courage into the attic, and slammed the door shut, locking it. Courage ran over to the door and pulled at the doorknob, but it wouldn't open. He slumped against the wall. "This can't be happening..."
He heard another sound, what sounded like a window being smashed. It was immediately followed by a cry of alarm from Muriel. Courage gasped, and ran over to the window. Looking out, he saw Count Wooliam floating out from the window a floor down, with Muriel over his shoulder.
"Oh no!" he cried out, "Muriel!" He watched the two fly off towards the barn. "I gotta save her!" He ran back towards the door and tried it...still locked.
Then he heard something on the other side of the door...it sounded like scratching. Shaking, he peeked through the keyhole. The chickens were on the other side of the door, clawing at the door with their feet and wings. Courage screamed and backed away, and then the door started going THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, as the chickens threw themselves against it. Courage's looked around desperately, "What do I do? What do I do?!"
He spotted his computer sitting over on the desk near the window, so he quickly leapt into the chair and started frantically typing, "Vampires...chickens...sheep...need help...search!"
The computer casually displayed, "Vampires. Really. Have you been eating mushrooms and garlic bread again?"
Courage typed back, "But this time they're real!"
"Very well. You can turn all the vampires back, if you get rid of the head vampire. What did you say his name was again?"
"Count Wooliam, I think."
"Oh. I wouldn't wager too much on your chances with that one. Still, good luck, kid."
The pounding got louder at the door. Courage yelped, and looked at the window, now the only way out. He looked back at the computer, which a moment later printed, "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?"
In the next moment, the computer went crashing through the window, landing on the ground below. The cord was still attached in the room, running the length all the way to the ground, and Courage slid down quickly. The computer's screen just printed, "Ow."
Courage was too busy to notice; he was already running off towards the barn, "Hold on, Muriel! I'm coming!"
* * *
Eustace didn't notice anything was going on. He was busy in the kitchen making himself a midnight snack, still mumbling, "...stupid dog, I hate that dog. Never does anything right..." He rummaged through the refrigerator, and pulled out a roast chicken leg. "Ahh...chicken!"
As he took a bite of the chicken leg, he heard some movement. Turning around, he saw all the chickens from the coop gathered together. "Eh? What the..."
In the next instant, the chickens' eyes glowed green, and they bared their fangs. Eustace shouted, "Aaaaugh!" dropping the chicken leg, and backed up, into a corner of the kitchen. The chickens moved closer...
* * *
Courage finally reached the barn. He heard Muriel inside, speaking, "Oh, you horrible thing! What are you going to do to me?"
"Patience, m'lady," came Count Wooliam's voice. "All in due time. We will, after all, have eternity to get to know each other."
"Ohhh..." Muriel sounded woozy.
Courage ran into the barn. Muriel was tied up on a chair, and had apparently fainted. Wooliam was poised over her, fangs at the ready. He stared over at the dog as he entered, and rose a single eyebrow. "What do you want?"
He shouted, "Hey! You let her go, or else!"
"Or else, what?"
Courage swallowed, "Uh..." He sweated, trying to think, "Or else...or else...what's that?" He pointed behind the vampire.
Wooliam spun around, "Where?" Then he blinked a few times when he didn't see anything interesting, and looked back. Muriel was gone, as was the dog.
Courage was well out of the barn now, carrying Muriel over his head, and running as fast as he could back to the house. Behind him, the barn suddenly exploded outwards, leaving Wooliam floating above the wreckage, his eyes glowing fiercely green. "FOOLISH MORTAL!" his voice boomed, "YOU WON'T ESCAPE ME THAT EASILY!"
Courage ran like mad, heading full speed back to the house, but then skidded to a halt. Gathered between him and the house were the vampire chickens, and standing behind them was...Eustace...his eyes also glowing bright green through his glasses. Eustace cackled evilly, baring a set of fangs.
Courage shrieked, and snapped his head back and forth, looking between the chickens, and the approaching Count Wooliam. "Now what do I do?!" he exclaimed. One of the chickens suddenly leapt towards him...Courage shut his eyes, and screamed...
When he didn't feel the chicken hit him, he slowly opened an eye to see what had happened. The chicken was lying on the ground in front of him, reeling dizzily. Courage looked at him and said, "Huh?" When he did, the chicken backed off further.
Courage suddenly remembered..."The garlic bread!" He took in a lungful of air, and breathed towards the other chickens...they squawked, and moved aside. He made his way slowly back to the house with Muriel, keeping the vampires at bay with his breaths. They all cowered back, including Eustace, who coughed and yelled, "Stupid garlic-eating dog!"
Wooliam facepalmed. "If you want to do something right," he muttered, "you've got to do it yourself." With that, he landed and pushed his way past the other vampires. "Out of my way, all of you."
By now, Courage had reached the front door. Unfortunately, as he tried it, he found it to be locked. He looked back towards the vampires in horror, and saw Eustace holding up the key, laughing. "Oh no!" Courage exclaimed.
Wooliam slowly stepped closer and closer, "There's no where to run to now, dog! Prepare to meet your fate!" He suddenly stopped, and gazed off to the east, "What? No!"
The sun was rising over the eastern horizon. All of the vampires shielded their faces. Wooliam started moving towards the house, but Courage shouted, "Oh no, you don't!" and quickly breathed in his direction. Smelling the garlic, Wooliam coughed, and quickly turned around to make a break for the barn.
As he neared it, the sun's rays spilled out across the ground. With no place to hide, Wooliam hung his head dejectedly, and said, "Oh, rats." The sunlight crossed him, and in a fiery puff of smoke, he disintegrated, leaving behind nothing but a small pile of wool.
Eustace shook his head, the green glow fading from his eyes, "Wha...?"
The chickens also looked like they were snapping out of it. Courage shouted, "Yes!" and set Muriel down so he could watch the sun rise. Muriel woke up, stretching and yawning.
"Oh my...what a strange dream I had last night, Eustace." Muriel said. She looked around, "How did we get out here?"
"I dunno," Eustace said, scratching his head. "The dog probably dragged us out here."
"Well, nevermind. Let's go in and have some tea." She noticed he was holding the house key, took it from him, and unlocked the door. "Come on, you two."
Eustace walked through the door, glancing down at Courage and muttering under his breath, "Eh...stupid dog...bringing us outside this early in the morning..." Courage was about to follow him, when he paused and looked back at the pile of wool left behind from Count Wooliam. He stared thoughtfully at it for a moment, and an idea crossed his mind.
* * *
Later, Eustace was busy reading the newspaper on the couch. Nearby, Muriel sat in her favorite rocking chair, knitting, with Courage on her lap. "My, but this was a good idea, Courage!" She lifted and examined the dog sweater, which she had knitted with a picture of a clove of garlic.
Courage shrugged, "You can never be too careful."