Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Impetuousness of Youth

Dracula slipped silently into the bedroom where Van Helsing lay sleeping. The Count felt undignified, breathing through a gas mask he’d salvaged during the Great War, and hoped that his aged foe wouldn’t wake to see him in such a state. With haste, he stripped the hanging cloves of garlic from the walls and threw them out the window. Dracula removed the unsightly mask and set it gingerly on the floor, then approached the bed.

Van Helsing slept fitfully, his breathing ragged and raspy. He had grown frail with age, and time raced against cancer to claim his final breath. Hands that once were so strong, wielding swords and stakes and silver, were now gnarled by arthritis, and Dracula imagined they could scarcely hold a pencil. He stood over the bed for a long moment, then cleared his throat. 

“Van Helsing.”

The old man stirred slowly at first, but quickly returned to himself. Neither sickness nor age could dull the edge of those steely eyes, which glared at the undead Count in the moonlight. 

“Come to gloat?” hissed the doctor. “Or to finish me off?” 

“Neither,” said Dracula. “I’ve come to help.”

“I’ll not sell my soul for the Devil’s brand of help.”

“I am not—“ Dracula stopped, composed himself. “You’re dying, Van Helsing.”

“And not by your hand, no matter how you’ve tried!” 

“I know,” Dracula said. “We’ve chased each other for…what, thirty years now?”


“And this is how you wish to end it?”

Van Helsing gave Dracula a puzzled look, then stifled a hard cough. “My friends and family are here, Dracula. Soon I will see my wife, my daughter. I am surrounded by love, Dracula. I would not expect you to understand.”

Dracula looked for a long, silent moment out the window at the crescent moon. “Let me turn you.”


“Let me give you back your health, your youth.”

“Go to blazes, creature.” 

“You can send me there yourself! I can cleanse your sickness, give you the strength to fight once more!”

Any angry curse Van Helsing might have uttered was swallowed in a coughing fit. Dracula waited until he finished.

“Van—Abraham—if you could have cured your wife’s illness, if you could have revived your daughter, would not you have done so? Would not you do anything in your power to save them?” 

Van Helsing thought for a long time, and were it not for his labored breathing, Dracula might have thought he slipped away there and then. “Any earthly thing, yes," he said finally. "But I would not save their bodies only to damn their souls.”

“I don’t need your permission, you know,” Dracula threatened. “I could turn you now, and you would spend every night for eternity chasing after me, avenging your own soul. You would never forgive me for robbing you of paradise."

“Then do it, demon.” Van Helsing tore at his shirt, exposing his neck with trembling hands. “Or have your words more teeth than your jaws?”

Dracula felt the rage rise up at the old man’s obstinate impudence. He lunged forward, before sentimentality could blunt his resolve, and had nearly reached his old enemy’s throat when he caught a glint of reflected moonlight at the corner of his eye. Van Helsing swung with all his diminished strength, but the sharpened silver cross found no target, only shapeless mist. 

Dracula solidified by the window, stooping down to retrieve his gas mask. He paused and looked back to his old adversary. Any words he might have said stuck, clotted and dry, in his throat. He dove out of the window in silence, and nothing more passed between them.

Dracula visited Van Helsing’s gravesite only once, and only briefly. A silver-tipped crossbow bolt broke his reverie, sailing past his head so closely that it nearly parted his hair. He spun around, hissing. Dracula was not surprised to see Quincey Harker, who had been expertly trained these last twenty years by old Van Helsing.

Dracula was surprised to see the young boy holding the crossbow.

“Good shot, Bram!” Quincey clapped his son on the shoulder. “But aim for the heart, not the head.”

“Yes, father,” said the child, loading another bolt. “I shan’t miss this time.”

Dracula leapt upward and soared into the air on leathery wings, feeling a weariness that no fresh-drawn blood would ease. 

The vampire withdrew to his estate, staying only long enough to arrange long-term travel to Geneva. More than a century of rumors whispered between Swiss schoolchildren or around campfires had transformed Castle Frankenstein into a thing of horrifying legend, untouched even by those who might seek to tear it down. Dracula was one of few old enough to remember the true story of that house, and one of even fewer estranged enough from humanity to know its sole occupant. That building, once a laboratory, now a hermitage, would offer Dracula the solitude he so craved.

Adam Frankenstein proved a gracious host, and welcomed even what little company Dracula provided. But weeks turned into months, and Dracula spent more and more time in his coffin. He refused to eat, even as Adam broke his exile to retrieve fresh goats and sheep to satiate his guest’s hunger. 

“Vlad, you have to eat something,” Adam pleaded through the thick wooden door. “Come on, it’s still bleating.” 

There was no response. 

“I know what you’re going through, believe me. Come out, and we can talk about it.”

After another moment of silence, Adam unlocked the door and led the goat in. “I’m going to leave this here for when you get hungry.” As he left, he turned back to face the coffin once more. “You can’t spend the rest of eternity locked up like this, Vlad. I’ll be here when you’re ready.”

The readiness was slow in coming. Dracula would eventually eat the meals Adam left for him, but never even left the basement chamber anymore. Adam knew what it was like to want solitude, to lose loved ones, even to watch the endless years pass steadily by. But he did not know how to help, so he turned as always to his library. He read for days.

The letters and telegraphs and messengers had all been sent weeks before, and with the night finally approaching, Adam felt an unfamiliar feeling of excitement. His plan was meticulous, and would surely bring an end to Dracula’s depression. The guests began arriving an hour after sunset, with the moon glowing full and yellow, low in the autumn sky. Adam greeted them at the door, each ghoul and ghost and creature, some familiar, some he’d only heard of through stories. Crackly phonograph music echoed through the castle, and Adam wondered what stories the villagers might tell of the strange night when monsters reveled at Castle Frankenstein. 

Adam stood once more outside the wooden door to the basement chamber. “Come on, Vlad. Everyone is here for you. They want to meet the great Count Dracula!” 

“Go away,” Dracula muttered, barely audible over the thumping music from upstairs. 

Adam's enormous shoulders dropped, but he was resolute. “I’m going to go back upstairs. If I don’t see you up there in ten minutes, I’ll drag you out of that coffin myself.” 

Dracula pulled the lid of his coffin closed even tighter, hoping it might seal out the noise, but the acoustics of the chamber only amplified the caterwauling, the unfamiliar rhythms and melodies, which in turn amplified his feelings of isolation. Ten minutes was all he could stand. 

Adam was undeterred by Dracula’s reticence. He had one last card to play, one which relied on Castle Frankenstein’s ancient harpsichord, lovingly restored over these last several weeks, and a piece of 15th century dance music popular in Wallachia during the adolescence of one Vlad Tepes. Adam had merely dabbled with the instrument before, but was sure his skills were up to the task. He turned off the phonograph and urged the guests to be quiet, then sat down at the bench, gingerly playing the instrument with fingers that seemed far too clumsy for such nimble motions.

Dracula threw open the coffin lid, raising a hand in rage. But before the cry could escape his parched lips, he heard a familiar tune, plucked out on metallic strings, and was transported back to his boyhood so many centuries ago. Memories flooded his mind of a time before blood and bats, a time when he could dance in the sunlight on a Carpathian mountainside, a time when he was truly young and not merely ageless, as Adam played a song that Dracula had long thought lost to the mists of history. 

The guests clapped as Adam finished. He backed gingerly away from the harpsichord and turned around to face the crowd, seeing a disheveled, emaciated Dracula standing at the top of the basement stairs, smiling wistfully, with tears in his dark eyes. Adam returned the smile.

“I always wondered,” Dracula said, embracing his hulking friend. “Whatever happened to my ‘Transylvania Twist.’”