Quincey Morris: Vampire
as related to
Much to my surprise, the story of the pursuit and execution of Dracula the vampire by my friends and myself that was published some three years after the event has remained in print and held its popularity with readers for over a hundred years. As it is so well known in the public mind, I shall not summarize it here, but will proceed straight into my own tale. At the time I wasn’t the dedicated diarist as were my friends, but have endeavored to make up for it with this volume.
For them the story was ended; for me it began.
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The numbing cold, the soft whine of dogs, the rough jostling, all tumbled together in my dulled brain like seeds in a rattle. I slipped to and fro between awareness and nothing until a sharp lurch and bump caught my attention, holding me awake for longer than a few seconds. It was enough that I dimly comprehending something was very wrong. The next moment of consciousness I managed to keep hold of; the moments to follow had me wishing I’d done otherwise.
Things were strongly tugging at my feet and legs, which seemed to be bound up. So was the rest of my body. I was wrapped snug and tight in a blanket from head to toe, unable to move or see. It was right over my face, which I never could abide. I groaned, trying to get free of the annoyance.
At this feeble sound and movement the tugging abruptly stopped, and the things—which I dazedly surmised to be several dogs—snuffled at me. I couldn’t tell how many, but to judge by their sounds several at the least seemed to hold me as the focus of their attention. It made no sense until with a raw shock tearing through my nerves I realized they weren’t dogs, but wolves.
In that instant full alertness returned, mind and body hurtling awake. I froze utterly, in the full expectation that the wolves would start ripping into me as I lay helpless before them. After a few truly terrible moments when nothing happened I tried to swallow my heart back into place, but there wasn’t spit enough in my mouth for the job.
With whines and growls, their strong jaws clamped firmly on my wrappings again, and they resumed dragging me along. I could only think that made bold by hunger they’d entered our camp and picked me to pull away to a safe distance where they could feed.
Panic would kill me. I dared not shout an alarm to my friends. The noise might spark the wolves to attack their prize. They’d held off—for the moment—so I gritted my teeth and waited and listened in the frail hope I might somehow find a way out of this alive.
There must have been dozens of them. I could hear their eager panting and the click of their claws against bare stone or crunching into the thick snow. Wolves usually shy away from men—such had been my experience when Art and I had been trailed by that pack in Siberia. Had they been more desperate they’d have made a real feast for themselves on us. Being normal wolves, they’d held off and we’d escaped. But this pack seemed anything but normal.
This was the wild deeps of Transylvania, a far different place, and I’d already seen grim proof that a tall tale in one part of the world was God’s own awful truth in another.
The wolves pulled me along another few yards. My weight, and I was aware of every solid pound of it going over those rocks, was nothing to them. Once they felt secure, they’d go through my all too thin blanket and clothes like taking the hide off a deer. I’d seen that happen once. The deer had been alive when they’d started in, and though quick enough, it hadn’t been an easy death.
But all men have a limit to their self-control and that dark thought was enough to finally break mine; fear surged in my throat like vomit. It choked off any cry for help I might have made. I thrashed around like one of the madmen in Seward’s asylum, fighting against my bindings. The wolves at my feet let go. One of them snarled, stirring up the others. They moved all around me, excited, nipping at the blanket as though in play, their efforts ironically helping my struggles as they shredded the cloth. Fresh air suddenly slapped my face as the damned thing finally came loose.
Bright-eyes catching the moonlight in green flashes, with lolling tongues and rows of white teeth, they scampered about like puppies. Some darted close to snap at me, wagging their tails at the sport of it. I wrested my hands free, but had no weapon to use. Some blurred memory told me I carried no knife or gun. I scrabbled in the inches-deep snow and found a piece of fist-sized rock. Better than nothing.
Then a big black fellow, one that was obviously the pack leader, lifted his head to the wild gray sky and howled. Ever an eerie sound, but to be so alone in the forest, to hear it so close and loud, to watch the very breath of it streaming from the animal’s muzzle—had the hair on my neck not already been raised to its limit, it would have gone that much higher. The other wolves instantly abandoned their game and crowded around him, tails tucked like fawning supplicants seeking a favor. One after another joined him, blending and weaving their many voices into a triumphant song only they could fully understand.
The leader broke off and focused his huge green eyes upon me as the others continued their hell’s chorus. It’s a mistake to ascribe human attributes to an animal, but I couldn’t help myself. The thing looked not just interested in what he saw, but curious, in the way that a human is curious.
He snarled and snapped at those nearest him. The pack stopped howling and obediently scattered. After a sharp, low bark from him they formed themselves into a wide circle like trained circus dogs. I was at its exact center. Some stood, others sat, but all watched me attentively. Though I’d had more contact with wolves than most men, I’d never seen or heard anything like this before.
A few of them growled, no doubt scenting my fear.
Clutching the nearly useless rock with one hand, I frantically tore at the bindings around my ankles with the other. It was desperate work, made slow by my reluctance to take my eyes from the pack. Despite the distraction of their presence, I saw that for some reason I’d been wrapped like a bundle for the mail, first in the blanket, then by ropes to hold it in place. Why? Who had tied me up so? I cursed whoever had done me such an ill turn, the burst of anger giving me the strength to get free.
I got clear of the blanket and staggered upright, half-expecting the wolves to close in. But they remained in their great circle, watching. There were no trees within it to climb to safety, and if I tried to break through the line at any point they’d be on me, so I kept still and stared back. One of the wolves sneezed; another shook himself. They knew they had me.
A gust of winter wind sent the dry ground snow flying. Flakes skittered and drifted over the discarded blanket. I slowly picked it up and looped it around my left arm. The leader stepped forward, growling. I angled to face him, my powerless fear turning to fury that I should be brought to such a base fate.
“Come on, you big bastard. I’ll take you first,” I whispered, growling right back. I would sell myself dearly to them.
The wolf lowered his head and rocked back on his haunches, like a dog about to do a begging trick. A roiling darkness that seemed to come from within the thing’s body blurred the details as bones and joints soundlessly shifted, muzzle and fur retreated, skin swelled. It rose on its hind legs and kept rising until it was a match for me in height. The crooked legs straightened, thickened, and became the legs of a man, a tall, lean man clothed all in black. Only his bright green eyes remained the same, and when his red lips thinned into a smile I clearly saw the hungry wolf lurking beneath the surface.
I knew his face. One can never forget such stern features. They were the stuff of nightmares, all the more so for my knowing, of my being absolutely certain, that he was dead—for I’d killed him myself.
Yet there he stood before me, stubbornly oblivious to the fact.
I was as afraid as I’d ever been in my life and could have expressed it, loudly, but there didn’t seem much point. In a few minutes I’d either be dead or worse than dead, and making a lot of noise about it wouldn’t help me one way or another.
“I can respect a brave man, Mr. Morris,” said Vlad Dracula, pitching his deep voice to be heard above the wind. In it was the harsh tone I’d heard when he’d taunted us from the stable yard of his Piccadilly house. Now he clasped his hands behind him and continued to regard me with the same mixture of interest and curiosity that had manifested itself in his wolf form.
The wind buffeted against his body with little effect other than to whip at his dark clothes and gray-streaked hair. Black on white was the mark Harker had left on the pallid flesh of his brow; he bore the scar with little sign of healing, yet nearly a month had passed from the last time I’d seen that face. But since then, I’d . . . I’d . . .
Something very like the wind whirled sickeningly inside my skull. The creature before me, the circle of wolves, the snow, the cold, all faded for an instant of nothingness before asserting themselves again. It was like the focus of a poorly made telescope shifting in and out.
“I killed you,” I said faintly. I recalled the impact of the strike going right up may arm when my Bowie knife slammed firmly into his chest.
“So you did,” he admitted. “With some help from Jonathan Harker do not forget.”
“Yes. . . .”
Harker had buried his Kukri knife in the monster’s throat. We’d fought our way through the Szgany to get to the leiter-wagon and the great box on top of it. The Szgany had drawn their knives to defend it, and one of them had . . .
I looked down, my hand going to my side. The clothes there were thick and stiff with dried and frozen blood.
My blood. It had fairly poured from me as our enemies fled into the growing dusk. Harker caught me as I fell and sank back in his arms, my strength abruptly spent. Jack Seward and Van Helsing had tried their best to stop the flow, but the wound was too deep, the damage beyond any skill to heal. Thank God it hadn’t been very painful. The last memory I had was of poor Mina Harker, her face twisted by bitter grief, but I’d been so happy, so at peace. The awful red mark on her own brow had vanished, and from that I knew I’d spared her soul from damnation. With such joy in my fast-beating heart did I slip contentedly away into what seemed like sleep.
Not sleep. Nothing so ordinary as that had taken me, changed me, turned me into . . .
“No need for such alarm, Mr. Morris,” Dracula said, reading my face. “What you have become is not so awful as you’ve been led to believe.”
Not knowing my own voice, a cry escaped me. Heedless of the wolves, I burst through their circle, running back down their trail. I crashed through snowdrifts, blundered against trees, and tripped on invisible snares, but kept going. Not far ahead would be the warm yellow light of our campfire. If I could just get there, if Van Helsing still had some of his Holy Wafer left, there might yet be some protection for us.
For them. At least for them.
I was close enough to make out their huddled forms far down in the clearing where they’d made camp: the Harkers lying together, Van Helsing and Seward each rolled up in their blankets, Art a little off from them by the horses, presumably taking his turn at watch. All were fast asleep, though, worn out by the hard travel and the chase, but just one shout from me would bring Art instantly awake—
A hand, colder and heavier than the ice, clapped over my mouth just as I drew breath. As though I were a child and not a grown man topping six feet, Dracula lifted me right from my feet, hauling me swiftly back into the cover of the forest. I lashed out with the rock still in my hand, but couldn’t connect solidly enough to slow him. He was quite indifferent to my struggles, though
I managed a few solid kicks that made him grunt. Then he spun me suddenly, and cracked my head against one of the trees.
Lights brighter than the sun blinded me. Ungodly pain robbed me of speech. I collapsed. Quite helpless to stop him, he easily hoisted me over one shoulder like an old sack and hurried back up the way I’d run. The wolves had tagged along for the brief hunt and now bounded playfully all around us. I couldn’t tell how far he went, only that it was beyond where I’d originally revived, and well out of the camp’s earshot.
He eventually dropped me flat on my face into the snow, and all I could do was lie there for a time nearly paralyzed and miserably ill from the shock. It passed too slowly to suit, but did pass. When I felt ready for it I pushed the ground away and propped myself against a tree. Dracula loomed over me, his white face twisted with fury.
“Fool,” he snarled. “Do you think they’ll show you mercy once they know about you?”
“I’m counting on it,” I snapped back. “I know what to expect and shall welcome it.”
“Well, I do not. Give yourself away to them if you must, but not me. I’ve been to enough trouble over this matter and want no more.”
“Go to hell.”
I didn’t think his eyes could hold more rage. I was wrong. He raised a hand as though to smash me like a fly. His anger beat against me, a physical thing like heat from a forge, but after a long and dreadful moment he lowered his arm, and visibly shook himself out of his threatening posture with a sneer.
“You’re but an infant,” he muttered with no little disgust. “You don’t understand anything yet.”
“I know enough.”
“I think not. Come with me and I shall be of some help to that end.”
“Stay behind and your friends will be food for my children.” He gestured meaningfully at the forest around us. No need for him to explain who his “children” were; I could still hear and occasionally see them well enough as they ghosted in and out of the surrounding trees. “Come and your friends will be safe.”
“For how long?”
“As long as you remain sensible. And that is entirely up to you.”
He stepped back and waited, watching as his wolves had watched. He offered no help as I found my feet, leaning hard on the tree. Though dizzy, I was able to think straight, but no idea running through my mind could be remotely mistaken for a way out of this spot. I did not trust him, was utterly repulsed by him and all that he represented, but he was well in control of things and we both knew it.
“Where?” I asked grimly.
He pointed behind me. We were to go even deeper into the timber, climbing away from the camp. I didn’t like that, but followed as he led the way along what looked like a deer trail. The wolves kept pace, panting and wagging their tails like dogs out for a walk. Glancing back, I saw more than a dozen of them padding almost at my heels and realized they were obliterating my tracks in the snow. Was it accidental or intentional? I made a step off to one side as a test and went on. The wolves sniffed the spot and blotted out my boot print as they swarmed over it, tongues hanging as if from laughter.
We began climbing in earnest. Rocks rose high on our left, forming a natural wall that cut the freezing wind. The snow underfoot thinned and vanished. Dracula waited until I was well upon this trackless surface and a little ahead. He turned toward the wolves, stretching his arms before him, then spreading them wide in a dismissive gesture. As though the pack were one animal and not many, his children silently retreated down the path into the trees below, and were lost to sight.
“Where are they going?” I demanded.
The question surprised him. “To hunt, to play, to run with the moon, whatever they desire. Your friends are quite from them, as are you. I have pledged my word.”
“What do you want of me?”
“Nothing more than the answers to a few questions.”
He pointed to a knee-high boulder. “Please seat yourself, Mr. Morris.”
He had a presence about him that could not be ignored. I sat. There was a similar rock not four feet away and he took it, facing me, and spent several minutes studying me intently.
“With your permission,” he said, and held his hand out, palm upward, looking for all the world like some Gypsy ready to read my fortune if I but mirrored him. I hesitated only a little, for my own curiosity was awake and on the move by now. He minutely inspected my hands, finally comparing them to his own, which were broad and blunt. “Your fingers are of different lengths,” he pronounced.
“What of it?”
“They are also quite bare, not at all like mine, as you see.”
From Harker’s journal I already knew about the thin hair on his palms and the sharp nails, so there was little need to gape in wonder.
“And when you speak, your teeth appear to be perfectly normal. The same may not be said for my own.” He let them show in an almost wry smile. Not a pleasant sight.
“Have you a purpose to this?”
“To confirm to myself and prove to you that we are similar, but not too very alike.”
“We are most certainly not alike!” I couldn’t control my rising voice.
“I am so glad that we are in agreement,” he said with a calm sarcasm that took all the wind out of me. “Such differences should reassure, rather than alarm you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know the truth of that well enough for yourself.”
Indeed, but the agonizing terror inside made me consciously obtuse. To finally face the truth, to actually speak about what I’d hidden for so long . . . .
“As I told you,” he said with a glimmer of sympathy I would have never otherwise ascribed to that hard, cruel face, “what we are is not as bad as you have been led to believe.”
A short laugh burst from me, a laugh that might have turned to a sob had I not forcibly swallowed it back.
“You are Nosferatu, Mr. Morris, nothing more. I am Nosferatu, but much more, hence the visible differences.” He opened his palms again, as though that explained everything. “I know how I became as I am, but I want to know your story. Who took your blood and gave it back? Who initiated the change in you? And when?”
I was speechless for many long moments as he waited expectantly for an answer. “Why do you want to know?”
“Those of your kind are rare. I would know more about you. You are the first I have ever met both before and after dying. Our encounters in London and in Seward’s house were brief, but I sensed changes in you no one else could discern—not even yourself. For that I decided to spare you and consequently your friends. For that I planned a way to rid myself of their nuisance without killing them.”
“You spared us?”
“Look not so surprised, Mr. Morris. At any time of my choosing I could have destroyed the lot of you. Knowing what you do about me, could you doubt my ability?”
Van Helsing had been thorough in his lectures to us about the near-boundless powers of the Un-Dead, and of Dracula’s genius in particular. I’d held serious reservations about just how even the six of us together—three being experienced hunters—could defeat such a formidable creature. Van Helsing had assured us again and again that God was on our side, which is always a help. My faith on that never shook for a moment, for it struck me we’d need an Old Testament kind of miracle to succeed.
“Why forbear then?” I asked.
“Your deaths were unnecessary. I could likely disassociate myself from the demise of five respectable people in the heart of England and be safe enough, but Harker is quite the diarist. So are the others, I discovered. Despite my efforts on the one occasion in that asylum study I knew I could never be certain of destroying all evidence linking them to me. And then there was Van Helsing. His knowledge of the Nosferatu is thorough, if short on wisdom, and he is highly respected within his academic circles. His sudden and mysterious passing along with the others would not go unnoticed. I also considered your reaction. If I killed all your friends you’d not be of a mind to freely speak with me, quite the contrary. It was far better to have my hunters believe in my own destruction than for me to deal with the inconvenient consequences of theirs.”
“But I saw you die. We all did.”
“You saw me vanish into dust,” he corrected, “that was eventually whirled away by the wind into the darkness. A very excellent escape for me, was it not? It was a risk—things might not have gone so well had you used wood instead of metal weapons, but I am content with the results. Now you see why I had to stop you from waking your friends: to do so would have eventually meant their deaths and yours as well. You’d not let my actions pass, and I would defend myself from you. Larger parties have disappeared before in these mountains. Accidents are easily managed, and here I would not shirk the risk—but I chose to avoid such an extreme action lest you . . . take offense.”
“You set all this to going just for a talk with me?”
“Had I a choice and an opportunity, I’d have found some way to speak with you in England and then quietly departed. No such opportunity presented itself, so I left, thinking to return some years hence. What I did not expect was for any of you to follow me to the very threshold of my own castle. You and your friends were possessed with such a grim determination to kill me that it needed to be dealt with first before I could indulge my curiosity. You may believe or not, as you will.”
And I did believe him. He was the unopposed master of the night with the strength of ten, able to change shape or turn into mist at will, able to beguile anyone to do his bidding. Whatever gave us the idea we could fight anything like that? Van Helsing had been so confident, though, and had a way of instilling it in others. But seeing things from this direction put a whole new understanding in me. We’d been like children shaking our fists at a cyclone.
“You did all that, spared them, and yet caused my death?”
Now he had a turn at looking surprised, and a remarkable expression it was to be sure. “On the honor of all my sires, I swear that your being killed was not part of my plan of escape. I told the Szgany to resist but a little and then depart, to—to make it look well. Is that the phrase?”
I hung my head, staring at my snow-crusted boots. “Close enough.”
“As with the others, your death was unnecessary, and not what I desired at all. Should you die, how would I then be able to speak with you?”
“Because I’d be a vampire.” There. I managed to get the word out without choking on it.
He was silent long enough to make me look up. He shook his head. “Your ignorance again. You don’t know?”
“Know what?” I couldn’t keep the irritation from my voice.
“Though you carried the blood of change within you not all who have such rise from death.”
“Draw that out a little more slowly,” I said, giving him a narrow stare.
He understood my meaning if not the slang itself. “Those of your kind do not always transform after dying. They remain dead. To make the change is a rare thing. That is why I did not want you killed. What happened with the Szgany was . . . an unhappy accident.”
“Is that what you call it? My life cut off? Me turned into a devil on earth . . . .”
He assumed a look a vast patience and crossed his arms, apparently prepared to wait through a long tirade from me. I shut things down fast, scowling at him.
“You are not a devil, Mr. Morris,” he murmured. “You will eventually come to learn that—if not from me, then from your own experiences and actions.”
Which I did not care to consider just then. I was still mad as hell for what had happened to me, but there wasn’t much I could do with my anger except push it aside for the moment. If I’d judged things right, then we still had a mighty big piece of talking to get through.
“Now, as for your change . . .” Dracula prompted when he saw I’d mastered myself.
I gave a mental shrug, deciding no harm could come from telling him. “It was a few years back, in South America,” I said. “Arthur Holmwood—Lord Godalming now—and I were at an embassy ball. I met her there. I’ve traveled a fair part of this world and seen a thing or two, but hands down she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever clapped eyes on. She and I—”
“Nora Jones. By her accent she was English, I think, though she had dark hair and eyes and that wonderful olive skin. . . .”
Which I’d been on fire to touch the moment I saw her. I hadn’t been the only man trying to claim her attention at that gathering, but I was the one she picked as an escort for a walk in the embassy garden. I reveled in my good fortune and hoped to give her a favorable impression of myself in the short time we had, but it was she who took the lead in things. She’d made up her mind about me fast enough, though I wouldn’t call her fast, just almighty charming and irresistible. That night, holding to a promise and plan made in the garden, she found her way to my room, and we fulfilled one another’s expectations—exceeded them, I should say.
I’d been exhausted the next morning, of course, not from blood loss so much as the excess champagne and sheer physical activity. Her passionate biting into my throat had startled me only a little. It was different, but didn’t trouble me much. Young as I was, I’d known more than one woman in my travels and came to know that each had her own path to pleasure, and it was my privilege to assist her there. It was always to my own advantage to be ready to learn something new, and Nora was a enchanting teacher. My body’s explosive reaction to her lesson was like nothing I’d ever felt before or since.
I rested throughout the day, and the next night we resumed exploring mutual pleasures with one another. It was then, caught up in the lust of the moment, that she feverishly opened a vein in her own throat and invited me to drink in turn. Brain clouded and body trembling for release, I gladly did so, taking us to a climax that left us both unconscious. I woke a little before dawn in time to see her throw on a dressing gown and leave, then dropped back into my sweet oblivion.
The word vampire was not unfamiliar, but its context for me then had to do with a species of blood-drinking bat that plagued the livestock of the land. In our drowsy love talk during later encounters, the subject came up, but Nora told me not to worry about it, and, lost in the warmth of her dark eyes, I forgot any and all misgivings. . . until that day in the Westenra dining room when I volunteered my blood to save poor dear Lucy.
I had no mind for Nora then—she was years behind me, an exquisite and happy memory—and put myself forward without another thought. It was afterward, when I began to hear more from Jack and Van Helsing about Lucy’s alarming condition that the doubts crept in. The fact that her illness was so unique with her constant blood loss happening each night that gave me my first qualm. I feared Lucy had fallen victim to someone like Nora, but a rapist rather than a lover. From that point everything Van Helsing told us confirmed my growing fears. It was only after Lucy’s death and the hideous proof of her return that I realized what horror was in store for me when I died.
Dracula took that moment to interject. “If by that you mean being staked through the heart by your well-meaning friends, then you have every right to be horrified.”
“If it will free me to go to God, then so be it.”
“I doubt that He would welcome such an enthusiastic suicide,” he said dryly. “Do not look so amazed. You are still one of His children—yet another difference you may rejoice in.”
“How is that possible? I am . . . Nosferatu, one of the Un-Dead.”
“Exactly. Un-Dead and nothing more. Do you not see?” I didn’t, and he raised his hands in exasperation. “Your so-sweet Nora Jones has much to answer for. She should have told you all this and saved me the trouble and you your anguish. You do understand that she was, and probably still is, Nosferatu?”
“And you must know by now that she was not as I am. Her offspring, which includes you, will be like her. I have already had much proof that my offspring, no matter how lovingly taken, will never be so tame. Mine to hers are as the wolf to the hunting hound. Now do you see?”
“We’re two different kinds of vampire,” I whispered. “How is that possible?”
He gave an expressive shrug. “I know not, only that it is—for here you are and here I am, both hunters in the wide world. We have similar freedoms and strengths, but there are differences. Perhaps those will come to assure you that this life—or this Un-Death, if you will—is not so terrible as you’ve been told.”
“You will learn without doubt that your soul is still your own . . . and His,” he added, with a quirk of his heavy brows toward the sky. “You will find the truth of it when next you walk into a church, which is something you are still very much able to do.”
Well, time alone would tell on that one, if Dracula allowed me the freedom to test it.
“With some small changes you are free to live as before, but as you choose, for good or ill, as all things will be judged in the end. For me, it is not so simple.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can do that which you cannot. The wolf, the bat, the curling mist are natural forms to me, but not for you. I prefer the shadows, but may walk in the sun if necessary; you would die from it and must sleep in darkness while it rules the sky. You can influence people and to some extent certain animals to your will, which makes the hunting easier, but can no more command the weather now than you could as a human, but that is of no matter. I’ve read in your heart and by your manner that you are a man who would refuse to pay the price for such powers. Long ago I paid and still do. My body bears the signs of that payment, marking me as different from other men. And as for my soul . . . I think you would be more comfortable to remain ignorant of such fearful things.”
From the look that crossed his face I silently agreed with him. “And what of Lucy? Am I supposed to approve of what you did to her?”
“The matter of your approval is of no import to me. I did nothing with her that was not a part of my nature, a part of any man’s nature. She was beautiful and willing—no, do not gainsay me for you were not there and never knew her true heart. I loved her in the only way left to me.”
“Until she died.”
“We all die, but I will allow that her time had not yet come.”
“You kept taking her blood. I watched her weaken horribly with each passing day. You were killing her!”
“Her body was merely adjusting to what we shared. Another few nights and she would have gradually regained her strength with no harm done.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
He made a curt waving gesture, indication that my believing him on this was also of no import. “If you wish to fix a blame for her death, then you need look no farther than her attending physicians. Had they left her alone she would still be walking in the sun. ’Twas their ignorance that finished her, not my love. Doctors, bah!” His ruddy lips curled with contempt.
“And what about my own tainted blood going into her—?”
“I do not know. The seeds of becoming Un-Dead were within you, but you were not Un-Dead then. It may have helped or made no difference to her health or worsened things. That is beyond my knowledge. I have heard of such transfusion operations, though, and they fail more often than succeed. Some patients are not able to tolerate anything put into their veins and die from it. No one knows why as yet. In my own heart I believe that is what really happened to her.”
And were that to be true, then Jack Seward and Van Helsing by trying to help her had . . .
“The poor, sweet child never had a chance,” he said heavily.
A painful thing it was to hear him refer to her in that manner, for I had loved her myself as truly as a man could. I could not imagine a dark creature such as he being able to love anyone. It angered and sickened me to think of her giving herself to the likes of him, of his even touching her. He must have hypnotized or forced her, though it may have been as it had with me and Nora, with her surrendering from honest innocence, unaware of the consequences. Were that the case, then I certainly had not known Lucy’s true heart. With difficulty, I pushed all my emotions to one side for later reflection. Right now I needed still more information.
“So my blood might not have changed her?”
“It is barely possible, of course. I rather think it more likely that to create your own offspring you must first take blood from your lover, then return it, just as Nora did with you.”
“As you’ve done to Mrs. Harker.”
His face went hard.
“What is to happen to her?” I demanded.
“Nothing. The miracle she prayed for” —he touched the mark on his forehead, for it nearly mirrored the one she’d carried— “came to pass. Seward and Van Helsing will not bother her now. That alone should suffice to guarantee her a long and fruitful life.”
“But what you did to her—”
“As with Lucy, that which has passed between Mrs. Harker and myself is none of your business, Mr. Morris,” he rumbled, his brows lowering.
“But that poor woman—”
“Is quite capable of making her own decisions. If you live long enough, you may come to see that women are far more formidable than you think. Like the rest of you gentlemen, I found myself quite enchanted by Madam Harker’s grace, charm, heart, and mind. Unlike you, I decided to act upon my desires. I’ve lived long enough to have certain . . . perspectives on a few things, and so took the chance, knowing I’d regret passing it by. However, I came to see that what was once acceptable—or at least ignorable—behavior in my youth, was not so for an English lady in these times. All was sealed when the lot of you burst in on us, and I knew then it must end.”
For a seducing adulterer he sounded quite smooth.
“I have since tendered my admittedly inadequate apologies to her, mind-to-mind, and severed all links between us. I would have also apologized to her husband, but given the circumstances it struck me as being inappropriate. Besides, he thinks he has killed me. That should be sufficient recompense for his wounded honor.”
“What about the blood exchange you made with her?”
“That cannot be reversed.”
“Then when she dies, she’ll become like you.”
“And to you that is yet a bad thing. Worry not. When her time comes she will have a . . . decision before her.”
“It—it is not an easy thing to make into words. My own memory of it is clear, but to describe in a way that you may understand is difficult. Let it suffice that she will have the choice to live as I live or to go to God. At death, each similarly touched soul has a moment of decision. I have told her as much, so did I tell Lucy, whose choice was to tarry on the earth.”
“But I had no choice. I went to sleep and awoke to—” I spread my hands to indicate my situation.
“Another point of difference between us, between our kinds. And another question I have no adequate answer for. Why some of you rise and others do not is a mystery to me.”
“Van Helsing said nothing of this choice of yours, neither did Mrs. Harker.”
“He may not know of it, and you can hardly blame the lady for such an omission. It is a most personal thing. But she has a noble heart, a great spirit, and her faith is so strong as to have done such to her—” again he lightly touched the scar on his forehead. “I have no doubt when her time comes she will fly to the angels to seek her rest.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“Wait twenty or thirty years and see for yourself. For now, the subject of Mrs. Harker and myself is closed.” By the finality of his tone I knew that to pursue the matter would result in unhappy consequences to myself. And he was right. It was none of my business. Besides, to be sincerely selfish about it, I had problems of my own to face. To judge by the miraculous healing of her burn from the touch of the Host, Mina Harker was well recovered from her ordeal, and Dracula planned to leave her alone; I felt could move forward with a fairly clear conscience.
Now that my eyes were opened a little wider than before, I looked out into the night. Though all would have been murky blacks and grays to my friends, it was as day to me. The faint moonlight put a silver gleam upon everything it touched, beautiful, but marred in my perception by my many troubling questions.
“Must I do as you—as Nora—to . . . to . . .” The words refused to emerge.
“Sustain yourself? Hardly. To drink from a lover is one matter, but you’ll find that the blood of animals is your real food. One may live upon love alone for awhile, but sooner or later one must come down from the clouds and take more practical nourishment. This is as true for vampires as it is for humans.”
That was a great relief. If it was true.
“Do you hunger yet?”
I continued to stare out at nothing in particular, giving no reply.
He shrugged. “When you’re ready, then tell me. Your first feeding should be a pleasing experience.”
He’d have a hard task of proving that to me. Separated so far from memories of Nora by time and new knowledge, the idea of my drinking blood of any kind like downing a cup of coffee sickened me to the core. I tried to hide my grimace as my belly turned over and shifted the subject. “What about my friends? When they wake—”
“They will be shocked, of course. They will eventually conclude you have been dragged off in the night by a pack of ravenous wolves and will never recover your body. So very tidy, is it not?”
“Far better that than to see your footprints in the snow trailing away from the torn blanket that was your shroud. Then you would never be safe from them. I suspected you might revive and rise tonight, so I made sure my children and I were there to disguise your escape.”
“But they’re my friends. I cannot put them through such grief!”
His face went hard again, the change swift as lightning. “You will and must. It is part of my pledge of their safety to you. Leave them alone and they live.”
“You will leave them. Better that they suffer a little distress than for you to undo all I have done. I will not be moved on this. Accept it, or they will pay.”
There would be no return to my comrades, not for the present, anyway, certainly not while his wolves were within call. “Very well,” I murmured. Perhaps later I might be able to talk to Art or Jack and persuade them to reason as I had been persuaded, but in the meantime I was feeling very lost and miserable without them. And cold. The icy November air, something I’d been able to ignore because of my changed condition, had seeped well into my bones. It would take more than the long coat I wore to dispel it. I shook out the torn blanket I still had wrapped around my arm and threw it around my shoulders.
Dracula nodded. “Yes, it is time to go inside. My castle is not far from this place. Your friends thought to seal me from it, but there are entrances that they found not.”
“What about your friends?”
“Harker wrote of your three . . . companions.” I nearly said “mistresses” and diplomatically changed the word at the last moment. I wondered how they would receive me. “The ladies.”
His eyes flashed green, and his lips drew into a knife-cut of a line. He released a long hiss of breath. There was a strange blaze of madness in his stare that made me instinctively reach for my missing Colt revolver, for all the good it would have done.
Dracula rose tall and quickly turned away; one hand shot out against the stone side of the mountain as though to steady himself. I’d stabbed right into a nerve it seemed, and couldn’t guess what it might be.
With a terrible strength, his bare fingers curled right into the rock, ripping off a piece. I stood, readying myself in case he decided to make a problem, but he took no notice.
“Sir,” I ventured after some moments. “What is it?”
His shoulders sagged. He slowly turned back to me. Now his eyes had gone dark, hooded over by those heavy brows. “They are no more,” he said, his gaze dropping. “Van Helsing murdered them.”
“Murdered?” Here was a shock. I’d long known that the professor had the idea of visiting the castle during the day, but it was news to me to learn he’d actually done so. But murder—?
“He served them as he served poor Lucy,” Dracula said.
That told me all. Unbidden, the sight of her hideous second dying passed across my mind’s eye as it had every day since. I’d been told—and had been thoroughly convinced—that what we’d done had freed her sweet soul from enslavement to pure evil. Now I was not so certain. God in heaven, had I helped to murder her?
Dracula flexed his fingers enough to let the stone fall, his voice a bleak drone. “Their deaths happened because Van Helsing was more careful and they too careless. In their minds, in their dreams, I gave them warning of what I knew must be his intent, but they would not heed. They thought him to be yet only a simple peasant, easily cowed by fear or seduced by lust for their beauty. I . . . felt each of them go and could do nothing.” His face darkened, then cleared, like the shadow of a cloud running over the flanks of a mountain. He struck me as a man who felt things deep and felt things hard, but could hold control if he chose.
“What will you do to Van Helsing?”
“How can you—I mean, if you cared for them—”
“I am pledged.”
That simple statement took me aback.
He saw my disbelief. “My word, Mr. Morris, may be trusted.”
“There is more as well. You are not so old as I or you would understand the futility of certain kinds of retribution. To avenge my dear ones would put Van Helsing where he belongs—in hell!—but bring me no gain, and only reveal my deception to the others.” He gave another shrug, this time with his hands. “What’s done is done. I have pledged the lives of your friends to you on your sensible behavior. I will not recant.”
I kept quiet, relieved, but still dealing with inner doubt. I had the suspicion that should my friends make themselves a nuisance to him again he might find a way of getting around his pledge.
He straightened, standing tall. “Come then, Quincey Morris. I will show you any number of dark places for you to shelter from the day, places much safer than that which my dear ones had.”
“Won’t I need my home earth as you do?” I suddenly felt frail and weary and very, very alone.
He turned slightly and motioned toward where the wolves had vanished, taking in the vast forest. “This land has become your home, Mr. Morris. When a brave man’s blood strikes the ground where he fights he has purchased it for his own forever. You will find rest here and may carry away as much earth as you want when you are ready to depart.”
Another surprise. Me being free to leave? I’d no notion he’d even suggest the idea that I could ever leave this oppressive place. It wouldn’t be tonight. The hour was too late, to judge by the position of the stars. Dawn was coming, but on top of all that, I needed help, which Dracula seemed willing to give. I’d be a fool not to accept, since I was still trying to get my brain to take in what had happened to me and how to deal with it. Back in Texas when a tenderfoot turned up on the ranch we’d guide him through things until he learned how to survive on his own. I was the tenderfoot now.
“I’d appreciate that,” I said.
He grunted once and continued to stare away into the distance. His gaze and his mind must have been very much elsewhere, for he remained silent and unnaturally still for quite a long time.
I tried not to shiver, waiting, reluctant to intrude on whatever dark thoughts possessed him.
“But perhaps,” he finally whispered, his voice so soft I barely heard, “perhaps you will tarry awhile? The wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements of my castle, but you will find more comfort there than in these wastes. We two have many griefs to settle in our hearts, and though I would be alone with my thoughts, in such a time of mourning it is better to have company.”
My answer was to follow him. As we picked our way over the rocks and up the narrow path, his children began to sing again.
“There,” he said, touching it delicately, then withdrawing his hand.
I was supposed to bite deep into the flesh and drink, just like that, and I absolutely could not bring myself to do so.
“There,” he firmly repeated.
Terrible hunger possessed me, hunger such as I’d never known could exist. My limbs trembled from it. Weakness fluttered throughout my whole body. I had to hold hard to the animal’s leg to keep from falling over.
Hovering inches from this new source of life, aching for want of it, sickened by the thought of it, I stifled my overwhelming urge to vomit.
“Drink, Mr. Morris,” he told me. “Drink . . . or die.”
# # #
My appetite had come very much awake on my second night’s stay in the castle, but I said nothing about it to Dracula. I had the frail hope that if I could avoid blood, then I wouldn’t be a vampire after all. My plan was put things off long enough so my craving might transmute itself to the point where I’d become so famished as eat regular food instead.
If Dracula suspected what was on my mind, he never let on, and only politely inquired if I desired refreshment, abandoning the subject when I just as politely replied I did not. We passed the evening in conversation, he plying me with many eager questions about my life and time. I did my best to answer, all the while hiding the constant pain within.
On the third night he cocked one eyebrow at my disallowance and pursed his lips for some time before giving a mild challenge.
“My Szgany cook informs me that you sampled some of her soup earlier,” he said.
Which was true. And yes, Dracula had servants about the place, just as he had when Jonathan Harker stayed with him, but now as then they kept themselves well out of sight. Harker had been unaware of them, thinking them completely absent, though he could have inferred their presence by his countless meals and clean bed linens. I’d known of their being about from the first moment I’d entered the castle. With my sharp new senses I could hear their subdued movements and voices echoing up along the stone corridors. I could hear the rats scuttling in the pantry, for God’s sake. Little wonder Dracula sought solitude in the remote upper floors of his home if they offered isolation from such annoying distractions.
This third night, waking with the hunger burning with such intense pain that I could think of nothing else, I’d followed the sounds and soon the smells to a wide, low-raftered kitchen, startling the inhabitants there to silence by walking in. They were watchful, and certainly fearful. The men stood, their hands resting on the hilts of the great knives thrust in their wide belts; the women backed away a step or two from their washing and cookery to stare. There was no doubting that they were well aware I was like their master. Perhaps they saw my raw need stamped plain upon my face and thought I’d come to feed from them.
The place reeked of food smells. Boiling vegetables, roasting fowls, baking bread, and a vast cauldron of soup accounted for the moist stench. I wanted to run gagging from it, but made myself hold my ground and slowly come forward. Identifying an older and very solidly built woman as the most likely head of the pecking order I addressed her.
“I’ve a powerful appetite, ma’am. Would you oblige me with some of your fine soup?”
It was obvious that she didn’t understand a word of it, but since I put a questioning tone to my voice and gestured at a stack of bowls and toward the cauldron, she eventually caught my meaning. She spoke rapidly at the others, probably making a translation to judge by their reaction. They eased up a bit, looking puzzled, and one of the men emitted a brief grunt that could have been a laugh. He said something back to her that I took to mean she should go ahead with my request.
A minute later and I was seated at a large and very old oaken table with a filled and steaming bowl before me and all their eyes fixed on my every move. I was skittish and didn’t welcome an audience, but there was no helping it; I didn’t have enough of the language yet to tell them to mind their own business. It would have been better for my peace of mind if they’d left. I could hear their very hearts drumming away, could scent the blood beneath their flesh.
Ignoring those, I picked up a spoon with shaking fingers and dipped a small swallow of liquid. I blew, then slowly forced it to my mouth. The smell of the stuff should have been toothsome and probably was, but to me it was like trying to sup off kerosene. I made myself take it in, though. It ran down my gullet like hot slime and hit my belly like a gunshot. I had to hold tight to the table to keep from doubling over from cramp. The others watched me close. From their murmurs I got the idea they thought my eating to be a most remarkable thing, indeed.
I tried a second spoonful, again taking in only the liquid. I couldn’t bring myself to try chewing on any of the pieces floating in it. One thing at a time. It was still bad, but I got it down and kept it there. The same again for the next and the next. My poor belly roiled and twisted. Half a cup was about all it could manage. I put aside the spoon and stood, still holding to the table to keep upright. I bowed and thanked the cook in her own language, which pleased her mightily, gave a genial nod to the others, and made my way out, walking about as steady as a drunkard trying to hide his condition.
Mixed in with my nausea was grim triumph, the kind that goes with the accomplishment of a difficult and noxious task. I’d managed to consume normal food and get away with it. I’d been told otherwise. Dracula had been pretty resolute on that point; he’d said there was no way around it, but I wasn’t ready to believe him. My nature is such that I generally like to see things for myself first if it seems a reasonable way to go.
It all seemed very reasonable indeed as I made my way along the empty passages, climbing toward my host’s living area. Seemed, until I came to a window and the clean scent of fresh snow hit me. I’d found I had no need to breathe regularly, but wanted to clear my lungs of what they’d picked up in the kitchen. I opened the ancient shutters and leaned over the wide, bare stone sill. That was all it took. The soup I’d struggled so hard to consume now violently left me, those few feeble mouthfuls splattering on the cracked flags of the courtyard some twenty feet below.
How I hated it. Hated my body’s betrayal of me, its rejection of such basic, normal nourishment. Most of all I hated the fact, that as I sat collapsed against the wall beneath the window and sweated out my recovery, I still desperately hungered.
It wasn’t going to go away.
Groaning at the unfairness of it I gave in to true despair for a full five minutes, letting my tears flow, cursing the world, and feeling as sorry for myself as anyone has a right to be. None of which did me a damned bit of good at changing things. I finally woke out of it, not feeling better, but certain I could feel no worse.
I was half-blind from the craving. My legs trembled, and my head ached from having been sick, but I forced myself to totter up to the library and take a chair by the fire. It was well fueled and bright, filling the room with a warmth that had no effect at all on my shivering.
The only thing I’d gnawed on in all this time was my pride, my wish not to give in to what had happened to me. It kept me going, but did not satisfy or ease the pain. I determined that I would rest a few moments and warm up, then make myself try yet again. Next time I would take in simple water. Having had nothing in three nights I knew I’d need at least that to stay alive. I would not let this change take me over.
Dracula came in some little while later, though I didn’t notice. Sharp as my hearing was the man could move quiet when he wanted to, though I wasn’t paying mind to anything in my present state of misery.
“I said good evening, Mr. Morris,” he intoned in such a way as to catch my attention.
I slowly crept up from the pit I’d dropped into and refrained at the last moment from pressing a protective hand across my always-hurting stomach. “G-good evening.”
He’d paused by his work table, which was littered with many papers and books, then walked over to put his back to the fire, as though to seek its heat. He peered closely at me. “Do you desire some refreshment?”
“No, thank you,” I replied.
Then did he make his statement about his cook.
“Yes, I was down to the kitchen just a little bit ago.” No point in denying it.
“This was just after sunset?”
“Might I draw your attention to the mantel clock?” He nodded in its direction.
Finding difficulty focusing my eyes, I stared long at its face and finally worked out that it was nearly three in the morning. “It hasn’t been wound,” I said.
“The clock is quite correct, the problem is with yourself.” He turned and got busy with building up the fire, which was now very low.
“I must have fallen asleep.” It seemed the most natural way to account for the lost hours.
“Sleeping as others do is not something you may indulge in when the sun is down. You know that.” He straightened and looked at me again.
“I’m sure I dozed off.”
“You were in the thrall of a trance. When food is scarce in the winter certain animals do much the same thing. So it is with us.”
That made a kind of sense, though it wasn’t anything I wanted to hear.
“Mr. Morris, a good host allows his guest freedom, but also looks after his welfare. When I see someone under my protection trying to walk off a cliff, then it is my solemn duty to prevent him from harming himself.”
“I’m all right,” I muttered.
“I will risk giving offense and say to you that that is a complete lie.”
I hadn’t the strength to argue.
“Of course, you yourself are giving me much offense by your refusal to deal with a very simple matter. This denial of your need puts me in a position where I must either let you continue to injure yourself or force you to take action. Both would be unmannerly.”
“This is not something I want,” I whispered.
“Which is very obvious. You’ve shown a great will in fighting against it. A great will. Few would be capable of such and still be sane. But no matter how much you desire to have things back the way they were, it will never be so. You are what you are. You must face that.”
“But to drink . . .” I trailed off, shaking my head.
“Blood. Say it.”
Damned if I will.
“You attach much importance to it, which can be a good thing, for blood is life to us. Attaching a negative importance is . . . destructive. To you. To anyone who crosses your path.”
“When your appetite finally exceeds your self-command you could kill. I’m sure you would not wish to murder.”
I rallied enough to glare at him. “That will never happen.”
“Never? You have not lived long enough to know the word has a most . . . flexible meaning.” He clasped his hands behind his back and paced slowly up and down the room. “Does your head hurt? Is your vision clouded? Perhaps a decided weakness plagues your limbs?”
“Why? You got patent medicines to sell?”
His eyes narrowed. “These are serious manifestations, Mr. Morris, and jests are out of place. A Nosferatu of my breed may go without blood for long periods of time and not suffer. One of your kind cannot.” He paused before me. “There is no point resisting this. It is only blood.”
“Blood, Mr. Morris, not soul. And animal blood at that. A nourishing food they produce with their bodies. Like milk. If you think of it in such terms perhaps it will be easier for you.”
“Only in your mind. You must find your way past it.”
“I will not give in.”
“That is something outside your power. I’ve a responsibility toward you as my guest, but also toward those who serve me. I will not allow them to be endangered.”
“I won’t touch them. I swear it.”
“You will come to a point where you won’t be able to help yourself.”
“It is an inevitability. You will lose control. I would prefer you sate yourself on an animal than on one of my servants. Would this not be preferable to you as well?”
“I’d rather try the cook’s soup again.”
“This is your broth now.” He pushed back the sleeve on his arm, and turned up his wrist. The skin was whiter than bone. Beneath its thin surface the blue lines of his blood vessels were clearly visible. With the sharp nail of his index finger he dug deeply into the flesh, breaking it. His blood welled up, bright as a ruby.
“Don’t,” I whispered.
“You can smell it, can you not?”
I turned my head away, stopped my breath, but the insidious scent was already within me, ripping my self-mastery to shreds.
“You may wish to refuse it, but with good reason your body tells you otherwise.”
Yes, its betrayal was well begun. I felt my corner teeth descending to their full extent. I could see nothing but the blood. Lurching from the chair, I stumbled toward the door, trying to escape the overwhelming temptation being offered. I made it halfway before my legs gave out.
Dracula stalked over, looking down from a great height it seemed. With me watching, he put his wrist to his mouth, sucking on the wound he’d made as one does to close a simple cut. He did it quite deliberately, his gaze on me the whole time.
Again, I smelled the blood. Cramp took me. I doubled over on my side, wishing for a knife so I could cut out the pain. A long time later it eased. Slightly. I could see again. Dracula was still there.
“Enough of this foolishness,” he said, pushing his sleeve down. “I’ve better things to do with my time than look after your troubles.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
“Then you will look after them yourself? Excellent. I’m most delighted. Come, and I’ll show you the way to the stables.”
It wasn’t as though I accompanied him by my own choice. He clapped one of his lean arms about me and hauled me up, walking slow so I more or less stayed on my feet. If I fell again he’d just carry me. That would have been too humiliating.
The journey seemed to take forever and at the same time pass in an instant, such was the befuddled state of my mind. I was no stranger to hunger and knew it could do odd things to your thinking, but I’d never experienced anything like this waking nightmare.
Dracula paused before one of the big black horses in its stall. The animal was calm enough, probably well used to its master’s needs. It didn’t budge a muscle as I all but dropped at its feet. I managed to pull myself up a bit, and there I was, in close proximity to the vein on its leg.
I could hear the deep, regular thumping of its heart. Smell the blood.
“This you must do to live,” said Dracula, an edge of impatience in his tone as I continued to hesitate. “Take it now, before madness takes you.”
Slumping, I finally gave in to the inevitable.
It was as bad as I’d anticipated, worse even. The touching of the tough hide with my lips, my sharp teeth working to cut the skin, finally breaking through. I made a mess of it with the stuff flowing onto my face, staining my hands and clothes—
Then the first taste of it struck my tongue.
My realization that I’d been a fool would come later, when I could think again. For now all was sensation as the blood welled into my mouth and I swallowed again and again. It was different from all the other pleasures I’d ever known before, intense as any and comparable to none. I was aware of the living heat flooding through me, erasing the awful cold within. It was better than a shot of the finest whiskey and far more intoxicating. There seemed an unending supply, and I drew on it greedily, a starved child whose hunger is at long last appeased.
I had no judgment over how long it took, having lost all accounting of time, nor did I care. It mattered not. I drank my fill and more.
When I finally took command of myself and drew away, I was quite alone except for the horse, which seemed none the worse for what I’d done. My host had departed, probably back to his library and whatever concerns he’d left there while dealing with me. I was glad of the privacy. It would give me the chance to organize my thoughts before seeing him again.
I owed him a profound apology.
# # #
He accepted it graciously enough, showing the sort of manners that would please even an Englishman.
“You had to discover for yourself,” he said with a slight wave of his blunt fingers. He was seated at his table before a drift of papers, pots of ink, and several goose quill pens. To see him, a deadly Nosferatu, amid such prosaic articles lent a bizarre note to my changing perception of what life was like for him. One moment he’s urging me to drink blood, and the next he’s working away at some dull-looking business task.
“I’ll allow the truth of that, sir. You’ve been uncommonly patient.”
“It is an acquired virtue for me, I fear. Happily you did not exhaust it before coming to your senses. May I now safely conclude that you’ve achieved an acceptance of your condition?”
I eased into the chair by the fire, opening my palms to its heat out of habit rather than need. Prior to coming up I’d washed away the blood from my hands and face and donned a clean shirt from a supply of clothing my host had provided. All proved to be of English make, and I could guess that it had been the stuff left behind by Harker when he’d made his escape from his prison of a room last summer.
“I accept that I must drink blood to live,” I said.
Something like disappointment shimmered in his eyes. “Ah. Well. It is a beginning. Small steps are best when one is mastering a new thing.”
“Providing one is willing to master it.”
Dracula folded a sheet of paper up and sealed it, impressing the soft wax with a ring on his left forefinger. He added the finished document to a growing stack of similar items in an ornate metal box. “Until another dilemma makes a fever in your brain?”
He did have a point. “This takes some getting used to; I’m sorry to cause you inconvenience.”
“Bah. You’ve done better than others I’ve seen. Some have gone mad from the change, but then they were of my breed. I was uncertain if you would adjust yourself, but this little progress is good.”
“And if I’d gone mad?”
His heavy brows quirked and his mouth twitched. “Then I’d have dealt with you as with them. You may take some comfort in the knowledge that you would have not suffered.”
His matter-of-fact manner on the subject of killing me almost riled me, but I could see his side of things too well. If I’d gone mad, especially with my formidable new strengths and abilities, then I’d need killing. Best to leave that dog lie. Or wolf, as he might have referred to it.
I understood that I’d probably come up with other aspects of my change to object to, but feeding on blood had been the real cork in the bottle. It worried me now how quickly I’d changed my mind so quick after such determination to starve. One taste of blood and suddenly I’m feeling right as rain, all my misgivings faded to nothing. Having seen how a syringe full of morphine could quiet the most violent lunatic in Jack Seward’s asylum I wondered if the blood had done something similar to me, effecting my very thoughts. If I made myself go without again, would I return to the kind of thinking I’d had before?
Looking at the situation, with my head clear and the grinding pain in my belly vanished, I deemed it unlikely that I’d even try. Pure stubbornness had kept me going down that road. Since it hadn’t led to anyplace good, I’d have to admit I could do nothing constructive for myself there and strike out in another direction. It just rankled me that Dracula had been right about it all. At least he wasn’t being smug.
“You’re apparently well revived now, which is all that matters,” he said. “Your color is better and your eyes are not so dull. What of your spirits?”
“Yes, a good meal is always a help there. You did enjoy it?”
What an inadequate word, enjoy. “Once I’d started. Yes.”
“No more revulsion? Ah. So excellent. But for the future I must advise you not to become too lost in the pleasure of it as to be unaware of what is around you.”
“What do you mean?”
“The time will come when you wish to leave my home, and the wide world is not so understanding of these things as are the people here. Should some stable lackey chance upon you while you are engaged in refreshing yourself his reaction may not be—ah—convenient to you.”
“So I must take care not to get caught.”
“Exactly. A little caution will save you much trouble and probably your life.”
His quill scratched over a fresh sheet of paper at irregular intervals as he made notes from an old book. I wondered why he did not avail himself of a modern steel pen, or even a typing machine like the one I’d gotten Mrs. Harker, but perhaps such items were scarce this far into Transylvania. Certainly I’d seen plenty of evidence that the advantages of living in the 19th century had not progressed far into this corner of the world. These days even in the wildest parts of Texas you could unexpectedly come upon a well-to-do household with a piano on proud display in the parlor, the whole family and the hired help having enough schooling to be able to read from their Bible. Not so here. From the look of things the land and people hadn’t changed much since the Dark Ages.
That was clearly in Dracula’s favor. With everyone in the strong grasp of fear and superstition he had little need to worry about the peasants making trouble for him. He was fairly safe from any local sneaking up to the castle during the day with a stake and hammer.
Of course the same went for me, which was something to rejoice in, for I was far more vulnerable. Dracula could be up and about with the day if he chose or if necessity dictated. No such luxury for what I’d become. As soon as the sun made its first lance of light over the horizon I ceased to be aware of anything until it set again. Had I gone mad from my change, then that would have been the best time for Dracula to deal with the problem. At least then I’d have been oblivious, and as he’d said, I’d not suffer.
My thoughtful host had given me a secure enough place to retire. He’d provided me with the key to a windowless chamber high up in an otherwise abandoned tower. The oak door was a stout thing nearly a foot thick, and if the lock was very old then it was also quite formidably huge. There was also a heavy iron bar I could slip between two massive rings set in the stone on either side of the door. Even if someone got past the lock they’d still have to break through that obstacle, which would take hours, and the noise might draw attention from the other inhabitants of the castle.
I’d been rather curious on how Van Helsing had been able to enter this fortress so easily to make his executions of the three vampire women, until I got a look at their resting place on my first night. Dracula had led the way into his castle through a series of passages that he assured me Van Helsing had quite missed. Finally, he pushed through a ponderous door that opened onto his family crypt.
The vault was so dismal and hideous, the air so fetid with the smell of sulfur, rot, and death that only a vampire with no need to breathe would dare penetrate such dreadful depths. Little wonder the Szgany servants avoided it even in the day, and little wonder they’d heard nothing of the violence that had taken place there.
We passed on to the old chapel. Dracula looked turn-on-turn into three empty tombs, but found naught there but dust.
And drying blood. The smell of it permeated the chamber. Butcher’s work had been done here, brutal, audacious butcher’s work. Even knowing the implacability of his nature, I could hardly attribute this horror to Van Helsing, but there were the man’s own square-toed boot prints scuffed into the grime on the floor next to each resting place.
Dracula offered no comment, and apparently no prayer. He’d only heaved a great sigh, put his back to his sorrows, then guided me up into the castle proper and eventually to the tower room. After a brief discussion where he determined that I had absolutely no desire to lie in anything resembling a coffin, he saw to it that a supply of earth was brought up along with a simple pallet for a bed. As I still possessed the blanket that had wrapped my body, I lay it upon the dirt to spare my clothing.
Without irony he bade me goodnight and departed, pulling the door shut with a solid bump. The room became too silent and lonely for my peace of soul. I dropped to my knees and prayed as I’d not done since a child, pouring out my misgivings and terrors to a hopefully kind deity. Not knowing if I was heard or not did nothing to ease my low spirits. I remained on my knees until an awful sluggishness abruptly stole over me. Through the thick stones of the wall my body had sensed the risen sun. I crawled onto the pallet and for the first time assumed my portion of death for the day, unmindful of the discomfort of the hard floor.
My spirits were no better when I woke in pitch darkness. For a few moments panic overcame my hunger until I blundered my way to the door and hauled it open. The faint light that shone up the spiral passage helped steady me. I was ashamed of my fear, but did not know what to do about it, so I pushed it away for the time being.
Dracula had promised more agreeable amenities, and on the second night my room had a proper bed (with the earth spread between the linens and a fine feather mattress), a table, chair, oil lamp, and candles. No fire was possible, but that was of little concern to me since I now seemed to be fairly indifferent to the cold so long as I was out of the wind.
After inquiring, I learned that in ancient times the room was meant for use as a sort of final bolt hole should the castle be overrun by enemies. There would the women lock themselves away until they either greeted their triumphant defenders, surrendered to their conquerors, or killed themselves. Dracula made no mention which of those events might have happened in the castle’s long history, only saying that I would be perfectly safe there. Certainly it was proof against anyone but my host, who could change himself into mist and slip through the cracks if he chose.
Of course, I could do pretty much the same, or so he maintained.
Though of different breeds, he vouched I could dematerialize and float about where I liked, except past running water. During our initial confrontation in the forest he said I’d lapsed into an incorporeal state for a few seconds without even knowing. At the time I thought I’d been about to give in to shock and collapse, when all along it had been my body responding to my heartfelt wish to escape.
I’d not attempted a repetition of because of the distraction and weariness of my self-imposed fast, but now made an inner promise to try to rediscover this new ability. It struck me that a proficiency for easy vanishing would spare me from being troubled by stray stable hands while dining.
“Why are you so concerned for my welfare?” I now asked Dracula after a good long study of the fire.
He paused with his writing. “Because the customs binding host and guest are sacred in this land.”
“I accept that, but not many days past I was doing my all out best to kill you.”
“Such is the nature of war. As I have won, there is no reason for me to continue the fight. Besides, I had questions for you.”
“Which I’ve long answered.”
He let the quill drop. “I have heard of how direct Americans can be. It is a most stimulating change from the so-polite British circumspection. Very well, my concern for you is tied to concern for me, for all others who share this life. I deem it a duty to see that you are able to look after yourself so that you may not draw attention to the fact we Nosferatu even exist. Our chief protection in these enlightened times of science is that most believe us to be a myth. It has not always been so, but now that it is, you will be wise to preserve the sham, to safeguard yourself and always keep others from being discovered.”
“But I know no others of our kind. Except for Nora."
“That you are aware of. Recall that your lovely Miss Jones seemed a normal woman in all ways. Perhaps now that you know what to look for, you will find more than you would think.”
“You make it seem like a secret society.”
“Some may view it as such, though I find the idea of Nosferatu gathering themselves together quite absurd and dangerous. Such foolishness would only call attention to us. Those whom I’ve encountered had little in common with one another save their changed state. As with other people we each have our separate needs to look after.”
“And maybe it’s better for the predators to have plenty of hunting room.”
“There’s that,” he admitted, apparently missing my sarcasm.
“So you do feed on people as well as animals.”
“When moved by passion, of course. You will as well when the time comes. And do not make the face and begin to object. Did you not find much pleasure with Miss Jones?”
“Yes, but . . . she should have said something to me.”
He gave a little shrug. “Indeed, but that is something you must settle with her should you meet again. For your own future dalliances, it is up to you how much to convey to your mistresses. When it happens, make certain they are of a character that you may utterly trust them with your secret. By that you are trusting them with your very life. Few such exist, I promise. It has ever been so. It is best that you not even bother. So long as you only take blood and not exchange it with your mistresses, then—”
“But they’ll know when I do that. I did.”
“True, but you can make them think it unimportant. Did Miss Jones not impart such a request to you? Perhaps at the same time looking deep into your eyes? Such is the power of influence you now command. Use it sparingly, out of self-protection lest others notice.”
“But I don’t know how.” I was wary of trying, too, as it struck me as being almighty ill-mannered to press my will upon another person, especially a lady.
“It will come in the doing. Knowing that you are capable is all you need; the accomplishment will then be a most natural thing.”
More like a most supernatural thing, I silently corrected.
“Any other questions?”
“Yes.” I wondered if Dracula might shy away from this one. “I want to know about Renfield.”
He looked honestly puzzled. “Who?”
“The wretch who helped you at Seward’s asylum.”
“That madman who attacked me? Yes, what of him?”
“You killed him.”
“Indeed, I should very much hope so. He was useful to me for a short time, and then his insanity overtook him at last. He was a . . . liability.”
“How can you say that?”
“Is it not the correct word? A danger then.”
“A danger to you? That poor devil?”
“I suppose one may feel sorry for a mad dog, but—”
“You murdered him! I was there at his dying when he named you.”
Dracula pursed his lips, regarding me with what seemed to be great patience. “I’ve no need to explain my actions to anyone. If you consider defense of myself against him to be murder, then so be it. You were not there to see how things were at the time.”
“Then enlighten me.”
He paused a long while, finally shrugging. “Yes, I used him to gain entry to the building. I used him and others in that house to help me discover what your friends were up to in regard to myself. My powers of influence worked well on the servants, but mad people are immune. Mad people and drunkards. That is something you need to remember.”
“Why did you kill him?”
“You may believe or not, but he gave me no choice. He babbled of vengeance against those who had imprisoned him, and he included Mrs. Harker in his plans. I could not allow that. Seward was too kindly a keeper, and to my mind, too stupid to see what so obviously lay ahead. This Renfield was a disaster poised to overtake all of you. It was a fortunate circumstance he chose to attack me first.”
“But he was trying to defend us against you.”
“Ha. And you believed his ravings?”
“He was quite sane at the end. Completely lucid.”
Dracula made a waving-away gesture with one hand. “I care not. Only his intentions prior to his death concerned me. In the days of my breathing youth I’d have had him removed from his misery, and it would have been more effective than confining him to an easily breached cell. Are all the lunatics under Seward’s charge so adept at escape or was he simply incompetent?”
I bristled, wanting to defend my friend, but quelled it. “You say Renfield might have tried to do us an injury?”
“It was a certainty to say the least. I was given to understand Mrs. Harker had taken to visiting him. Apparently she would sit with him with but one attendant for protection. Be that creature tied hand and foot, I would never have trusted to place her fate within twenty yards of him. Your friends have too much civilization. It overcomes honest sense. Bah!”
Once more I was placed in the position of trying to balance what I’d seen against what he was telling me. Both views made sense depending where I stood. Could we have all been so wrong?
“Is there anything else you wish to have clarified?” he asked.
“Indeed, sir. I wish now to know about Harker.”
He did look mildly surprised, but not worried. “A most general request. Would you please more specific be?”
“I want to know why you treated him so harshly. He spent most of his time here with you in fear for his life.”
“Is that what he told you and the others?”
“It’s all in his journal, which I have read.”
He spared a regretful look at his papers, pushed his chair from the table, and stood. “I should be interested to hear a complete account of that, Mr. Morris.”
“It is not complimentary.”
“Evidently, since your friend was so anxious to kill me and was able to pass that desire onto others. Give me an honest reporting by all means and spare no detail, I shall not take offense.”
“But I want to hear what you have to say.”
“In good time. Please.” He made a gesture of invitation with his upturned palm.
As it didn’t seem I’d get anywhere unless I went first, I did so, full well knowing that he’d have the chance to think up a ripe and reasonable explanation for each of his crimes against poor Harker. I plunged into things, from Harker’s arrival in Munich to his desperate climb down the wall to freedom and his subsequent hospitalization in Buda-Pesth for brain fever. Dracula made no interruption, though once in a while his brows descended and he paced once or twice before the fireplace pulling at his graying mustache. He seemed more thoughtful than agitated, though, and continued in his silence for quite some time after I’d finished.
“This is Harker’s exact story?” he finally asked. “That which he set down?”
“I’ve read it many times over. You’ve gotten a fairly short version, but everything’s there that matters.”
He shook his head and clasped his hands behind him, stalking slowly up and down, his gaze on the floor. “No wonder all of you pursued me with such vigor and determination.”
“Between what happened to him, what you did to Mrs. Harker, and—”
He froze in mid-step at her name and snapped a dark look at me. “That subject, young man, is closed, for now and evermore.”
I smothered the rest of my utterance. It had to do with Lucy and was perhaps best left unsaid, lest I betray myself to him.
“I will speak of Jonathan Harker’s sojourn with me, nothing more,” he stated in a manner that would brook no argument.
Pushing my nascent anger away for the moment, I leaned forward. “I’m listening.”
“Then listen well, for now you will hear the truth of things.”
Keeping a poker face is second nature with me when I choose to use it, and so I held to a neutral expression. I thought it would be to his advantage to lie, to make himself look better in my eyes, but I could not ignore the nagging instinct that he really didn’t give a tinker’s damn for my good opinion, or anyone else’s for that matter. There was also the fact he seemed to be fairly annoyed about something, and if he was intending to lie then he’d be more prone to put on a pleasant manner in order to convince me of his sincerity.
“All that you told of his story was true—up to a certain point,” he said. “Yes, I did hold him prisoner in his room, but it was for his own protection.”
“To keep the—your three friends away from him?”
“Let me speak of it in order. You tell me that his real fear began when he saw me descending along the castle wall?”
I nodded. Certainly at that point Harker first realized the true supernatural nature of his host. While reading that part of his journal I’ll say without blush that my hair went straight up on the back of my neck and goose-flesh crawled along my arms. I’d had to stop for a time to gather myself enough to finish it and needed a bracing drink afterwards.
Dracula snorted. “I shall state with certainty that the seeds of his fear were sown long before he arrived. His companions on the diligence he took here no doubt supplied him with many rumors about me, about the land. It must have quite slipped his mind how I’d gone to great pains to see that he arrived safely, and even saved his life when he insisted on an ill-advised walk and got caught in a snow storm, but that is nothing to the rest. Such is man’s character to forget the good done for him. Harker is a most sensitive sort of fellow, is he not? I noticed that about him from the first.”
“He was when I met him.” He had good reason to be, after what he’d been put through.
“Which was after his return to England?”
“He must have always been so, but not allowed others to see, I think. When Harker first came here he was most anxious to be of service and so it seemed only. . .typical?. . .to me. I am accustomed to people behaving in such a manner; it was nothing to remark upon. I made him welcome, we conducted our business, and he soon became comfortable in my presence. He was helpful to answer my questions about the English law and customs. I found him a good listener, and the hours of evening passed quickly for his company. I thought all was well for him. What I’d not considered was the effect of the—” he gestured wide about us to take in the whole of the castle. “—atmosphere this place might have on one unused to it.”
“I suppose he might have found it a little forbidding.”
“Perhaps you are not as sensitive as he. You walk unafraid through passages that still ring with the thousand lives and deaths that have gone before. These stones have long memories—and I know Harker felt their oppression.”
“Are you talking about ghosts?”
“Not in the ordinary sense.”
I gave short chuckle. “I don’t think a ghost is supposed to be ordinary, that’s why people get alarmed about them.”
“I do not speak of crude figures in winding sheets rattling chains and locks. I speak of an essence left behind, an impression, a feeling one senses with the soul, not the eyes. This ancient land is steeped in blood and barbarity well beyond any savage imagining, and it can have an adverse effect on those unprepared. Harker was a soft man from the city, raised to civilized comforts, sheltered from the true terrors of the world past and present. Comes he then to a wild, dark country where he has not the instinct to listen to the wiser voice of his heart. When it says stay indoors at night and pull the covers over your head it is for a very good reason.
“I should have seen the mal power working away on him, but not knowing him well I could not judge what is normal or not for him, and he being English, he speaks nothing of his troubles to me. In a very short time the gloom of this place began to take its toll upon his mind.”
“You’re saying he got touched in the head just from being here?”
He gave a little shrug. “A most interesting phrase. I must remember it. It seems right.”
“And all that he wrote in his journal was a fiction?”
“Not all. Much there was true. He departs from the facts concerning my three companions. He departs very far.”
I felt my heart sink. “In what way?”
“You say he wrote that I interrupted before my dear ones could kiss him, take his blood. That is not what happened.”
“Then what did?”
“They were . . . playful and curious. And disobedient. I told them to leave him alone, but the temptation was too much for them, and when he fell into a doze in that part of the castle they did come upon him. What followed you may guess, for you are a man of the world.”
“Oh, yes, They did indeed. Once he discovered the delights of their company he was a most willing participant. One can hardly blame the fellow. He is a lonely stranger far from the restraints of his own genteel society and has before him three most passionate, beautiful women. One cannot blame him at all.”
“But he loves his wife, very deeply.”
“She was not his wife then, and is it not the custom that young men are expected to, as I have heard said, ‘sow oats’ before settling down?”
“I wouldn’t call it a custom. Besides, I can hardly see a steady fellow like Harker going on such a rip as you suggest. Are you sure?”
“My dear ones confessed as much to me when I did finally take notice of Harker’s . . . deterioration.”
“They were drinking blood from him?”
“Only a little, not enough to endanger him and there was no blood exchange. What I saw was a sharp decline in his spirits. At night he knew the heights of ecstasy, but during the day he wallowed in the depths of guilt. So much so that it began to show in his manner and speech. I do not understand why it is that some people suffer such distress and shame for doing what is so enjoyable. It is as though they must punish themselves for taking pleasure from life, as though they deserve it not. Why must joy be atoned for? There is no reason for it, but many persist in bringing harm to themselves when they should be thankful and accept. Harker was of that number.
“He felt guilt for his perceived betrayal of his fiancée and perhaps of myself, his unsuspecting host. Had I known I could have put his mind to rest on the latter. My dear ones were ever free to fulfill their desires with anyone they chose unless I bade them otherwise. Harker did not know that, of course, and because of things he’d observed as I went about my other business he was too afraid of me to speak. If he’d said but one word I might have prevented much anguish for him. By the time I discovered the truth he was already half mad with the brain fever and to stop him from harming himself I had to lock him up. I gave orders to my Szgany to free him and conduct him to a doctor after my departure for England.”
“Why did you not take him yourself?”
“My arrangements of travel could not be altered to allow for it by then. Besides, toward the end the very sight of me was enough to send him into a terrible fit. It was most distressing to witness—and feel.” He thoughtfully touched the scar on his forehead. “It seemed best to not be around him, though perhaps I should have tried otherwise. Then might I have found his journal.”
“And destroyed it?”
“Of course, out of self-protection. As you’ve just realized, it contains some rather damaging untruths. He describes me as being a monster. If I am a great and so-terrible monster, then his little dalliance of the flesh is not so important.”
“Like stubbing a toe to forget a toothache?”
“Ah . . . yes . . . I suppose. As for feeding a child to my dear ones and setting my wolves upon the grieving mother, or compelling them to attack Harker should he set a foot outside, those are fantasies from his fevered mind. He was indeed ill to invent such things.”
I shook my head. “But he wrote so believably.”
“Then perhaps he is misplaced in his vocation and should take up the writing of lurid romances instead. I have had to do many dread acts in my life, but torturing English solicitors—bah!”
And to hear it like that, it did seem absurd.
“What would be the point, Mr. Morris? I’d already obtained all that I required of him. No, young sir, the truth is that the very proper Mr. Harker could not bear to have his forbidden pleasures on his conscience and so buried them deep in his mind. That he made mention of them at all in his journal is what should be so surprising to you. The only way he could speak of his carnal encounter was to say that I stopped all before it could start, leaving him an innocent victim of the others’ unfulfilled lust. Would that it were true, then none of this might have happened.”
That was quite an assumption to say the least, for Dracula might not have preyed upon Lucy and everything would be . . . no, I could not continue on that trail. If I started thinking about her, then I’d start hurting again over the thousand might-have-beens. She was gone and there was no help for it.
“Any more questions?” he inquired.
“No. None for now,” I said. My head was so stuffed full with all these new particulars I didn’t think I was ready to add more without being in danger of splitting a seam.
“It is just as well. I feel the sun’s soon arrival. You’ve just time to get to your place of rest.”
I could feel it, too. Yet another link to him, to his kind. My kind now, damn it all. I huffed out some kind of quick farewell to him and hurried away, nearly running up the worn and narrow stairs to my high sanctuary. I didn’t miss a step. It would have been like a coal mine to anyone else, but not to me, for enough ambient glow leaked up the passage for my eyes to use. When I got to the chamber and locked the door, though, I was cut off from all light except that of my own making. I wondered if Dracula’s vision was similarly limited, or if he could see perfectly even in such a sealed place.
Hands out, I stumbled forward and fell onto my bed with its layer of hard-won Transylvanian earth, feeling it shift and pack under the weight of my body. It had a smell more of dry dust than of anything that could cause a seed to sprout. Dust and death, I thought. Dracula must have given me some of the stuff from his rotting chapel.
I wanted light. Wanted it very badly. Groping on the little table next to the bed for my packet of Vespas, I scraped one to life against the stone wall. The yellow radiance hurt my eyes for an instant, but my vision adjusted quickly.
The tiny match flame was more than sufficient for me to see by, but I still wanted my lamp and candles. It was foolish to need such reassurance. I pushed the notion away as best I could. I’d only have to put everything out again in a few more seconds.
What light I had gave no cheer to the forlorn room. The stones were a dreary gray, scarred by ancient marks and stains of unknown origin. Blood, perhaps, spilled by the ladies of the castle refusing to give up to invaders? Or had they surrendered only to be slaughtered?
That inspired a shudder.
I felt my inner change drag on my limbs as the heavy numbness stole over me. The sun had nearly arrived. I let the match drop to the bare floor where it died. Waiting with eyes shut against the confining blackness, I could understand how Harker’s imagination might have given in to the morbid influences of this desolate place.
For that alone I was inclined to believe Dracula’s account of things. All he’d said sounded very reasonable. He’d struck just the right note of exasperation and sympathetic regret to sound true, but I wasn’t swallowing it whole hog just yet.
This would need a store of mulling over and then some before I made up my mind whether or not to kill him.
© 2007 & 2010 P.N. Elrod