Check out our episode here! Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
In early morning on the Victoria Embankment in London an old mini pulls up to a row of terraced houses. Greta Van Helsing with her worn doctor's bag kicks the door shut and heads to one of those houses. Edmund Ruthven opens the door, he is an old fixture of London like Nelson’s column, except he is a Draculian vampire, his large silver-white eyes with a noticeable black ring around being a standout feature. Treating the Differently Alive was a family business, Greta is following in her father's footsteps and has taken over his medical practice.
Ruthven was your garden variety vamp, he did have bouts of ennui during the winter months but he filled his time, hence his 4am latte art and his angry letters to The Times. Over one of those splendid coffees Ruthven asks Greta if she has read any of the old Penny Dreadful, specifically Varney the Vampyre. She had, in fact, read most of the classic monster tales for entertainment purposes rather than research as they tend to be very wrong about the individuals they depicted. John Volidories The Vampyre was libel according to Ruthven. Taxonomy issues to one side, Ruthven points out that Varney was correctly a vampyre with a Y, a lunar sensitive. A rare species of vamp whose dietary requirement is the blood of virgins but conveniently could be resurrected by moonlight every month. And one has happened upon his doorstep and is in a very bad way, he has been attacked by a maniac with a knife.
Ruthven has cleaned and dressed the wound, given Varney some appropriate blood but it is still oozing and that’s not right for vamps. Varney wakes up with a start, snarling at Greta and then shrinks back ashamed at his reactions, he’s not at his best, sweating and has a sickly pallor. This is not good. Examining the wound, it’s a strange jagged cross shape. Three people had broken into the flat absolutely reeking of garlic which threw off his sensors and were chanting something about unclean, wicked, witches of darkness, and were dressed strangely like monks. After Varney passes out, Greta has a good look at the wound and extracts something metallic from it which has been coated in garlic too. The whole circumstance seems very strange and as she discusses it with Ruthven, they both conclude it could be the Rosary Ripper. A series of unsolved murder over London in the past month, all victims stabbed and left with cheap Rosary’s in their mouths.
As Greta resigns to groveling for one of her nurses to take an extra shift at the clinic and Ruthven makes more of his wonderful coffee, neither of them notice the figure watching them slip away and back across the river. That same morning the body of a naked woman with her eyes missing is found near a corner shop with a cheap plastic rosary stuffed in her mouth but it’s soon splattered across the news that the Ripper strikes again, 9 victims now. A few streets away from the corner shop there is an accounting service situated above Ackbar Kabab. Fastitocalon or Fass has been with the firm for countless years, enjoys his cigars, has a chronic cough and an oddly greyish complexion, oh yes! Will put boils on you if you don’t get on and can read minds. For example, he knows right now that his boss is bloody sick of that cough and frankly going home sounds good. He hadn’t gotten around to getting his medication from his doctor so it is particularly bad right now.
Ruthven is tidying his newly refurbished kitchen ruminating on the fact he hasn’t been bored for a good 10 hours. This isn’t good, he usually finds things to do but everything is working or has been refurbished recently. He’d considered going back to Scotland and having a good old mope about in somewhere scenically appropriate. Pulling himself out for this rumination, sheep aren’t particularly broody anyway, Ruthven calls August Cranswell, an acquaintance who works at the British Museum and who agrees to have a dig about for the cross-shaped dagger and into the manuscripts. Meanwhile, Greta is looking over the shoulder or her ex-boyfriend Harry. He’s going to run tests on the fragment extracted from Varney. There is a weirdly familiar smell to it and Greta can’t figure it out.
When Greta leaves London’s Royal Hospital she bumps into Fass. He’s not wearing appropriate November clothing and coughing up a mad fit. Pulling him into the nearest pharmacy, Greta she’s about getting his medication. Fass always finds it a wonder that the little girl who was sick on his priceless rug, who he bounced on his knee and who called him for help when her father and his very good friend died, boss him about so much and create such a scene. Greta doesn’t see it as making a scene then drags him to a pub for some food and a good telling off. Not far away, a naked man shaped thing knelt with its head bowed. It’s skin was an angry red and blistered. Within a glass vessel an eldritch-like creature glowed a blue light. Chanting and whispers of flames and purification echo the chamber. Footsteps can be heard above, but they don’t matter yet.
Back at Ruthven’s house, Fass is being welcomed to stay as his guest. Reluctantly Fass agrees, it would be nice not to fight with the heater for a change. In a very dramatic fashion Cranswell bangs on the front door. Sodden with the rain and carrying a bundle in plastic bags. Cranswell explains he maybe shouldn’t have borrowed the books he brought but they were just too interesting to leave behind at the museum. He also tells Fass and Ruthven that he thinks he has been followed. Even in the basement of the museum which is admittedly a very creepy place to begin with, it was like many eyes were watching, throughout his journey he has seen these little flashes of eyes and frankly it’s off putting and terrifying. Greta meanwhile is stuck in traffic, she’s just popping home to grab some fresh clothes before heading to Ruthven’s. When she gets back into her car, a sharp cold knife edge is pressed into her throat and a male voice says she succors evil and other terrible and inaccurate things. Managing to defend herself with pepper spray she makes a mad dash out of the car but then she notices him emanating a bright blue glow. That’s not right, that’s supernatural. Spraying him even further, Greta is able to snatch the weapon and makes run for it.
Cranswell meanwhile is on his third Scotch and feeling nicely relaxed. Fass and Ruthven have been looking through the manuscripts and found interesting references to the very weird order of monks, Order of the Holy Sword but it sounds cooler in Latin, Gladius Sancti. The sword is literal, but is in fact an X shaped spike or steak! Ah-ha! Varney is starting to wake up and wants to help with the research. Ruthven calls Greta to tell her Varney is awake, she’s out of breath and clearly upset. She’s on a bus (understandably would make me cry) and on her way, She is nearly at Blackfriar bus stop. Ruthven grabs his keys and heads out to meet her and walk her back to his home. Greta does a magnificent swoon in the entrance hall and 15 minutes later is awake, bandaged and in a very comfortable bed at Ruthven’s house. Her wound has an acrid smell, the blade was coated with something. Fass brings Greta up to speed. Varney is awake and confirms their suspicions that the Holy Order of the Sword seems to fit the bill. Scrambling for her bag, she pulls out the dagger, the one the Order uses that matches Varney’s description.
In London’s lost rivers, two points of light are moving steadily with a heavy sound of breathing and the splatter off footsteps. The creature doesn’t require light to see. It now stands and watches and waits. Another pair of lights appear, blue pinpoints at an intersection. These pinpoints have voices and mention an attack on the human monster-doctor that was unsuccessful. Their brother has failed to destroy her and will be excommunicated from their order. Back in Crouch End, Greta’s mini has died, it’s rear door lies open, it stinks of pepper spray. No one saw the scarred and burned man leaving it, his eyes the color of poached eggs and glowing slightly blue. Muttering prayers he escapes underground.
Cranswell is up early and sees in big bold type across the newspaper that there has been another killing, there are now 11 victims. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster is distancing themselves from the murders and denouncing the use of the Rosary. Plus they are really cheap and gauche. Ruminating about Ruthven, Cranswell sometimes finds it difficult to reconcile him with one of the differently alive. Having known him for a good portion of his life, he helped his mother out financially after the passing of his father, one of Ruthven’s old friends. Ruthven dispels the stereotype of vampires having to suck their victims dry, utter nonsense it would be far too gluttonous and messy! Cranswell and Greta have breakfast and Cranswell admits being really should return those manuscripts, though he’s convinced he’ll lose his job over it. Greta suggests he should be willing and able, taking Fass along. Unassuming middle aged accountant with coughing fits he may be, but he is also extremely good at altering people’s perceptions of reality and may be of assistance. Greta checks on Varney and finds him much better, still absolutely terrible, but on the mend.
Fass agreed to help Cranswell. It’s still not clear what kind of supernatural Fass is, a demon, but an accountant surely isn’t a type of demon? but when he can get you in and out of high security lockup it would be rude to inquire. The men folk left in the embankment townhouse aren’t keen on Greta leaving but she’s a grown woman with a job, and responsibilities and patients to think of. Taking public transport (shudder) she heads to her Harley Street surgery. After dealing with a couple of walk-ins and a call back consultation with a mummy, Kree-akh the ghoul comes by. He has run out of his medication and asking for more, this is strange, ghouls are hoarders and Kree-akh wouldn’t misplace his antidepressants. After some careful prodding, with questions not fingers as yuck, Kree-akh admits to losing them. In fact he lost them after some strange humans dressed as monks who smelled wrong and had glowing blue eyes came into their tunnels and attacked them. Some ghouls were killed including two young ones, they had to leave their bodies behind (ghouls eat their dead to honor them. Not judging, just giving facts). Greta offers Ruthven’s basement as a temporary sanctuary for the ghouls.
Varney is up and out of bed despite Greta’s instructions. Varney is weary, the stereotypical brooding vampyre. He’s also fascinated by Greta and thinking about her a lot. He doesn’t want to repeat the Flora incident (so embarrassing) one of the maidens he pursued with single-minded devotion. In fact he sees this desire as unseemly. Ruthven interrupts his melancholy, offers him more appropriate clothing and invites him downstairs. They talk about the Rosary Ripper attacks and plot them on an old London map releasing that the killers must be using underground sewage tunnels to move unseen. This vexes Ruthven who should have realized sooner, who hasn’t read Hugo? When Greta returns later she brings appropriate blood for the vamps and danishes for everyone else. Yum! Cranswell is fascinated by Fass and keeps asking him questions, which is good because we don’t know much about him at this point. Fass sets the record straight about a few matters. Heaven and Hell both exist but are not in active competition, and demons don’t go after souls though Fass is sure Sam (interesting, who is Sam please?) left the perception that way on purpose. Really, Hell just provides the torments, boredom, etc. There should always be balance, no “side” wants to outweigh the other. After this grilling, Greta sends Fass to rest as he is still looking peaky, the strain of the day adding to already low reserves. Greta and Cranswell are looking over the lab results from the piece removed from Varney. It’s an entire cocktail but the main active ingredient is garlic. Vampires are highly allergic to the stuff.
In another part of London, underground, two monks strip the robes off another who is crumpled on the floor. They constantly hum as they strip him. He is not worthy of the light of god. They whip him, burn him and excommunicate him. They leave him in the streets, hurt, naked and alone. The next morning Varney walks into the kitchen to find Greta and Ruthven up. His wounds are healing slowly, much slower than his supernatural healing abilities should take, but at least they are getting better. As the household wanders in, Greta reveals that ghouls have temporarily taken shelter in Ruthven’s basement. Which is a surprise but fair enough especially after Greta tells of the attack and murders of the ghouls by the monks. So long as they keep hidden from the furnace repairman all should be well.
Fass and Greta are on the bus to sort out Greta’s car and having a public transport moment of self doubt and recrimination with a dash of what the hell mixed in. Fass can feel the otherness of the monks, that they are neither beings of heaven or hell which is super creepy, and what is Fass?! Greta, just ask him!! FFS. Plus he’s on first name terms with Sam, or Samael aka The Devil. Capital T, capital D! Anywho, the mini is sorted, the rain is starting to come down and Fass has picked up the trail of Greta’s attacker. Following it, it takes them across the city. The trail causes them to think that the monks are using the underground to travel and at one point more than one trail converge but they aren’t friendly. Eventually the trail leads them to St Michael’s Church near Camden Road. They entered the church to find what at first seemed like a heap of rags on the floor but turned out to be her attacker, a strong unpleasant smell was coming off him, he is naked and bloody, his eyes were wrong, his whole body covered in burns and signs of being flogged, the injuries weeping. He rasps his name as anathema and excommunicate. Under all that damage he must only be mid-twenties, he mutters about a voice in his head. Greta and Fass get him to her Harley Street clinic by Fass flipping them, essentially using his powers to translocate them. It works, makes Fass weaker but Greta has supplies now and the help of her assistant Anna. As they work on the monk they notice the light in his eyes is generated deep in the socket and he has vampire level healing abilities… What is he?
Ruthven is pissed off that Greta in all the hours she spent trucking London’s streets she didn’t think to call him and tell him she was ok, or answer her damn phone. He’s equally unimpressed they picked up one of the monks without any backup but glad they can get answers now. Ruthven is on his way to pick them up. Later that evening Greta informs the group the man is covered in radiation burns. Ruthven suggests, since they theories the monks use the underground, that the radiation is from mercury arc rectifier used in old electric railways. It emits a blue light and UV radiation, they were standard until the 60s/70s. It would fit too, they are strangely shaped and they could be considered supernatural or fitting the description of a deity. Somewhere in underground London, inside the blue glow an entity watches. It has only recently taken up residence in this contraption, before that it was formless and overlooked. Now it is awake and hungry.
Greta wakes up in a bed not passed out at the dinner table where she thought she fell asleep which is both nice and off putting. Off to check on her latest patient, Ruthven is in his room watching him. The menfolk are taking turns watching, except Varney who fears he may go all murderous. Ruthven tells Greta his theory that something is using the rectifier to influence poor unfortunates like the newest patient. There is a very blurry line between science and magic. Not long later he wakes up, preaching about wickedness etc etc. Greta challenges his belief and he relents though still not giving a name. He does say that they know where the monsters live and will kill them, that they are in danger. Cranswell pops in for his watch and suggests asking Varney to hypnotize him to get information and if Greta asks he’ll likely not say no because he has an obvious thing for her. And Cranswell is right (and he does) and Varney will help. Huzzah!
After Varney returns from Sainsbury’s he tries his hypnosis on the new patient. They find out stuff they already know about the underground and the rectifier but also that there are two points of light in the bulb forever moving. The order isn’t new to this mystical bulb, it was started above ground at Allen Hall, a seminary in Chelsea. But one day Brother Johann found a cross blade and things changed and they were given a different purpose. Stripped of their names and identity they went below ground as puppets for this thing. Greta pushes and pushes, finally they have his name, Stephen Halethorpe before he falls unconscious. The group decides they must investigate this seminary, it may hold answers. They, not being police with warrants and stuff, don’t get far even though they say please, but Ruthven does manage to get the name of an old room mate, Eric Whitlow. They track him down and Whitlow is weird. He seems to have given up bathing, shaving or any personal hygiene, he emanated anxiety and being hunted. He knew Stephen but they didn't talk about them anymore. At the seminary they were part of a group, sort of a frat club for wannabe priests. One day it changed and got super serious. John led the group and one day found a cross blade, the rhetoric changed to smite-the-infidel stuff, his eye went blue and gave off a light, he started to call himself Legion. Scripture was cherry-picked, it got dangerous. Eric got out, Stephen didn’t.
They now know the thing’s approximate location is in the deep-level shelters under St Paul’s tube station. It is decided that Fass, Varney who isn’t as sensitive to UV light and Ruthven, who is not as much as the stories would have you believe, and Cranswell will go down into the tunnel system, find the contraption and break it or kill it or whatever the hell needs doing to stop it, Fass will act as the necessary distraction. This would leave Greta behind, she is a doctor and has the responsibility of looking after Halethorpe and her other patients. Shortly after the menfolk leave Greta receives a phone call, Nedezhda, her other nurse, tells her Anna has been attacked by a knife wielding maniac and is in hospital, it’s the cult.
Fass can feel the disruption of the rectifier contraption and the creature inhabiting it deep underground near St Paul’s. Ruthven, Varney and Cranswell enter through ventilations shafts, Fass goes off to give them a surprise. Meanwhile Greta is watching Halethorpe when his eyes snap open and he rasps a warning, they are coming to kill you! They have the house surrounded and are throwing flaming bottles through smashed windows. The only place to go is down. Kree-akh and his people are in the basement, taking hold of Greta he gets his son Mewleep to take Greta, the youngling ghoul and it’s mother Akha, to safety while the rest hold the house. Fleeing through the dark tunnels, something suddenly sparks in Greta’s mind about the ghouls mentioning a blue flame. Mewleep had been hunting and found tunnels with people in them when they shouldn’t have been. Curious he had listened to them and seen a blue flame with them, like electricity in a bottle. Greta begs Mewleep and Akha to take her there, she needs to break that bottle.
On Newgate Street Fass is following some of the cultists into the tunnel system. Once inside and with great effort he peels off his unremarkable guise of a middle aged grey-pale accountant and unfurls his great white wings. The cultists are startled (I’d say!) and whisper angel. Fass bellows NOW! In another chamber Ruthven, Varney and Cranswell hear the signal which spurs them into action running into the blue light chamber. The light catches Cranswell stopping him in his tracks losing himself in its blue. Varney wrenches Cranswell aside, teeth bared. Varney brings some sense back to Cranswell, he can’t get any closer and Ruthven is stuck in the doorway, the light is too strong he must break the glass. Meanwhile Fass’s distraction isn’t the thrall he had hoped, he could not feel them sneaking up behind him or shooting a crossbow bolt into his back until it was too late. Cranswell is also being surrounded by the monks (seriously, how many are there?!) and Varney’s thrall is losing strength, the blue light is too strong.
Mewleep carting Greta on his back to St Paul’s tube station. Greta finds the electrical housing box and the entrance to the blue light chamber. Akha opens the lock to the housing box with practiced skill, then she throws the switchgear to OFF. Total blackness feels the chamber as the electricity is cut off, this snaps Cranswell out of the blue light thrall but the voice is still trying to entice him. Bringing the sabre he borrowed from Ruthven’s dining room wall, Cranswell smashes through the glass bulb. Something distinctly not human comes out of it when suddenly a very beautiful golden-haired young man wearing a white robe and irritated look appears. This is Samael.
Greta can feel a void in her mind where Fass’s presence once was she hurries to find him. She is crying over his body when the others with Samael turn up. Samael leans down to Fass kisses his forehead, the figuratively rolls his sleeves up to lay a web of light over Fass. Fastitocalon opens his eyes. There is no rest for the wicked, or in this case demon as Samael lays into Fass for letting his suit get into such a state. Samael is able to tell our intrepid group that the entity was a remnant from the inception of the universe that gained awareness and is quite under control now.
Fass returns with Sameal to be healed properly by his physician Dr. Faust in the Erebus Health System and to spend some time in the Spa. The rest end up in Greece by way of The Savoy since Ruthven’s townhouse is ash. Ruthven decides he will help Greta with her practice in any way he can, financially predominantly. It’s his city, his home to protect and by helping her he will reach more of the monsters. During this much needed R&R, Ruthven is very clearly matchmaking between Varney and Greta. Both vamps relate that the melancholy they tend to experience in such a long life and that it has receded the past few weeks with Dr. Helsing.