"'Dracula's Daughter' would require half a dozen languages to adequately express its beastliness. I consider it absolutely unfit for exhibition." -British film censor, 1936 *** They reached Borgo Pass well before sundown, but the coach driver would go no further.
"I shouldn't even have taken you this far," he said. This was a black, rocky place in the Carpathian Mountains, with only the one road running through it and a half day's ride to civilization in any direction.
David tapped his foot and made exasperated faces at the driver. "If it's a question of money—" "It's not," the driver said. He was a broad-faced man who seemed not to blink often enough.
"You should come back to the village. Nothing good will happen to you here. And with such beautiful young ladies." He gave a sympathetic look to Helen and Gwen, who stood by the side of the road, stretching after the long ride. Gwen humored him with a smile in return. Helen was busy examining the landscape, as if she meant to memorize it. John stood on top of the carriage, unloaded their traveling bags, as the driver had insisted.
He tossed them to David one by one. "Let the man go if he's scared of a few bogeys," John said. "We'll camp out in the castle and make the next town on foot tomorrow. All the better." He clapped David on the shoulder, but his brother wouldn't banish the sour look on his face. The driver grew even more pale and somber. "You shouldn't go to the castle," he said, "It's an evil place. Come back with me.
For your mothers' sakes." He'd been talking like this all day, but none of the four travelers had really thought he'd make good on his declaration that he'd drive them no further than the pass. Everyone back at the little village where they'd secured passage had said equally dire and colorful things about the mountains and the castle.
At the time it seemed quaint. "The castle is the entire reason we're here in the first place," David said, his face turning red. "If you're not going to give us a ride and you're not going to say anything helpful then just get along." The driver tried twice more to dissuade them, but when he saw that no one was going to listen and, more importantly, that the afternoon light was waning, he shook his head, climbed back into the coach, and began the long ride back, sans passengers or luggage.
David, John, Gwen, and Helen watched the carriage trundle back down the narrow mountain road until it was only a black speck below the summit. John quirked an eyebrow. "Well, he was colorful." "He's a cheat," David said, shouldering his pack. "We paid him for the whole way." "But you knew he wouldn't take us beyond the pass," Gwen said, touching David on the cheek. "Everyone said so. Look on the bright side: Think what an amusing anecdote this will be for your book." David's face finally softened, and he kissed Gwen once on the lips.
"I just hope Helen made a good sketch of that scaredy-cat look on his face," John said. "Please tell me you did, darling? Did you see how his mustache curled when we mentioned the castle?
Do you think I can train mine to do that?" He demonstrated with two fingers. Helen gave him a thin-lipped smile and said, "Let's hurry. If we don't get to the ruins soon the light will fail and I won't be able to make any decent sketches." "Do you think you can manage the hike?" David said to Gwen.
But she was already shouldering her bag. "There's one way to find out," she said. "If it turns out I can't keep up, I'll know to go faster." She flashed him a smile. "Do you think I can manage the hike?" John said to Helen, pretending like his bags were too heavy to pick up.
"I'm surprised you managed the coach ride," she said, and pushed him over. In a few minutes they were all ready to go. And, arm in arm, they set off into the craggy Transylvanian wilderness, toward the lonely and foreboding towers of Castle Dracula. *** "It certainly is a grim place," Gwen said, surveying the courtyard. "I see why the villagers are so frightened.
It must have been deserted for centuries." The castle was quiet, gloomy, and skeletal. Thick curtains of cobwebs shrouded everything, ensnaring the central staircase.
Most of the ceiling here in what was once the grand entryway was gone. Now and then some rooting animal stirred in a dark corner. John climbed up and swept the cobwebs from one of the great stone windows, letting the feeble sunlight in. "No, it was only abandoned recently," Helen said. "To hear the villagers tell it, Count Dracula himself lived here until just a few years ago. He moved to London and died shortly after." "Which Count Dracula?" David said, alarmed. He was picking around the room, looking for recognizable inscriptions.
"There hasn't been an heir to the House of Dracula since the 14th century." "After you went to bed early like an old maid, Helen and I stayed up and learned all about the great House of Dracula from the locals," said John. "Shall we tell them the story, dear?" Helen was sketching the castle entry in a notebook, charcoal flying across the page, and she only nodded in reply.
John crept up to Gwen and leered. "It's not a story for the faint of heart," he added. "You see, Count Dracula was what the locals call one of.the undead." He held up two fingers to indicate long teeth. David rolled his eyes but Gwen shrank a little closer to him and tucked one hand into his. "Apparently one night back in those old 14th century days the count took it into his head to kidnap all the pretty young village girls for one of his parties," John continued.
"The peasants stormed the castle, and brought a genuine black-magic sorcerer with them." "Where did they find a thing like that?" said Gwen. "Maybe in those days there was one in every village, like having a dentist or a locksmith on call. Anyway, this is just how the villagers tell the story today. Apparently the wizard cursed all of Dracula's guests and turned the count himself into a vampire, so that he could be eternally punished for his wicked ways." "Sounds more like a punishment for the poor villagers, having to live with a vampire in the old castle!" Gwen said.
John shrugged. "You buy black magic, you get what you pay for. Now isn't that a plum for your book, David?" "Peasant superstitions," David said, although he was making notes anyway.
"You're writing a book on Transylvanian history," John said. "You must believe in vampires?" "Complete nonsense." Something stirred at the top of the stairs. All four travelers froze, then turned to look. But there was nothing there except the fluttering of cobwebs.
"The light won't last much longer in these mountains," Helen said. "Let's find the highest place in the castle and get the best view we can." "You two big important researchers do that," John said. "Gwen and I will set up camp here, and then maybe go find the room where the count kept all his dead wives." David took an electric torch from his bag and poked a hole in the curtain of cobwebs over the main stairs large enough to admit a person. Helen went to follow him, pausing for John to kiss her once on the cheek and once on the lips.
"Don't get so wrapped up in the angles that you go falling off a tower," he told her. "We'll have a hard time getting you down the aisle back home in a body cast. Not that I wouldn't push your hospital bed every inch to the altar myself." She stroked his fingers, giving him a long, silent look full of feeling.
Gwen felt an unpleasant twinge in her chest. David and Helen disappeared up the gloomy staircase, David and the electric light leading the way. Gwen opened the packs, dutifully fixing up bedrolls, but as soon as the others were out of sight John grabbed her by the hand.
She looked startled. "We have to have camp ready by the time they get back," she said. "There will be plenty of time for that," John replied. "Meanwhile, this is our chance to get some real exploring done, without Old Maid David getting after us. Come on; this is the only night we'll ever spend in a haunted Transylvanian castle, right?
Let's make the most of it." He began dragging her along with him toward a gloomy arch nearby. Gwen dragged her feet. "Don't call this place haunted," she said, shivering.
"And don't think for a moment I'm running off with you. If we get hurt in here somewhere David and Helen will have no idea where to find us." John produced an electric torch like David's and shone it into the arched passage nearby. Hundreds of years of decay and disuse greeted them. "We'll scream very loudly and they'll find us in no time," he said. "Think about it: We might be the first people to step foot in here in almost 600 years…" " "Unless the stories about vampires are true." Gwen said.
John grinned at her. "Imagine meeting a real-life vampire," he said. "That would be quite an interview for David's book, yeah?" He led, the light bobbing this way and that with every step.
The roof was low, and the crumbling castle walls allowed all manner of icy drafts that felt like cold fingers on Gwen's arms and neck. She moved a little closer to John and caught the scent of his cologne—three weeks in the field and he still put a dash on every day. The drip, drip, drip of running water came from somewhere nearby.
"As long as we're alone, tell me: What do you really think of David's work?" John said, trying to sound casual. "I think it's very important," Gwen said automatically. "The book's going to be a big step forward for historical research in the region.
And of course Helen's sketches are part of that too." John snorted. "I think it's all a bunch of baloney, and I think secretly you agree." Gwen felt like slapping him. "How can you talk like that about your own brother? To say nothing of your fiancée!" "The fact that he's my brother and she's my fiancée is exactly why I can say it. They're doing all this work of traipsing around ruined castles and not even bothering to write about any of the good stuff.
"That Dracula story is the sort of thing people want, not David's muck about family lines and ancient treaties." He had stopped walking and was paying very particular attention to one wall. " They're going to do all this work and nobody's going to care, and that's going to break both of their hearts. Can you stand to see that? Aha!" This last he said in response to a slight noise when he pushed on a stone, which turned out to be a slab covering some sort of doorway.
When new it must have been cunningly hidden, but age had given it telltale cracks around the frame. He handed the light to Gwen and then set his shoulder against it, pushing with all his might as it slid slowly but surely under the pressure, liberating a musty smell from the gap. The wall yawned for them and John shone the light in.
"We have a responsibility to save both of them from themselves," he continued. "On that note, let's see what we've found." Gwen peered in. "It might not be safe." "All the more reason it'll be interesting." John's light revealed a lurid spectacle of cobweb-draped candelabrums and claw-footed tables and chair, and the skeleton of a chandelier that had shed all of its crystals in a still-glittering pile on the floor.
He whistled. "Why would you keep a room like this all sealed up, do you think?" "No reason I want to think about. I don't feel safe in here." "Don't worry so much. It's perfectly—" Gwen screamed as the rotted legs of the chair she'd grabbed broke and sent her tumbling.
John dropped the light (it flickered once, threatening to plunge them into hopeless darkness after rolling to a corner) and caught her.
But his foot slipped and he stumbled as well. They wheeled across the room in a kind of clumsy dance before coming to a stop against a low table, panting and holding onto each other.
"Are you all right?" he said. "I think so." Gwen realized how close they were. She ought to be telling him to let her go now, but she wasn't. She could feel his panting breath on her mouth. She turned away, but to her surprise he turned her back again. She squirmed. "John, Helen is my sister. She's your fiancée. I'm engaged to your brother." "And where are both of them now?" John said. "Why do you think they're always going off alone together like that?" "You don't really mean that." "I don't know what I mean.
All I know is—" "You're leaning on a coffin." "That's a strange way to put it, but okay." "No, John, really, that table it a coffin!" John jumped. The cloth covering the oblong shape wafted up, revealing the black lid, the brass hinges, and, most curious of all, a pair of tarnished brass padlocks. It was a beautiful thing, black finish gleaming in the artificial light.
John whistled. "Holy moly," he said. "Do you think anyone's in it? If we break this open and find some royal skeleton it'll give David's readers one hell of a surprise." "Oh, we couldn't do that," Gwen said. She also tried very hard not to think about how quickly he'd abandoned their talk of a moment ago, and then admonished herself.
After all, she'd wanted him to drop it… She was still chewing over this when both of them got the shock of their lives: Very clearly and very distinctly there came the sound of something knocking on the lid of the box. Gwen gasped. The electric light flickered again. They exchanged wide-eyed looks.
"It couldn't be," Gwen said. "It sounds like it is anyway. Help me find something to open it with." "But it can't be a person in there, it just can't," Gwen said. "Who would do such a thing?" "There'll be time to ask that later," said John, brandishing the heaviest candelabra he could and beating at the locks with it. But they didn't budge; age had made them no less solid. The sound of infernal clattering filled the castle. Wiping the sweat from his brow, John said, "I can't do this alone.
Call David." The knocking came again, louder this time and unmistakably coming from inside the casket. Heart racing, Gwen ran back to the passage and opened her mouth to call out—and the door slammed shut behind her! The tunnel plunged into total darkness. Gwen screamed, pawing for the door, but without any light it was impossible. She cried out: "John? Can you hear me?
Push the slab out again. John? John!" John dropped the candlestick, startled. The stone slab it had taken him two minutes to painstakingly push away had slid back into place in seconds, as if gliding on a freshly oiled hinge. He gaped and then, panicked, ran to the wall, putting his shoulder against it. It didn't budge. Maybe it could only be opened from the other side? Poor Gwen was out there without any light. What would— He heard a thump behind him.
Not the knocking again; something different. His eyes went to the floor, where a glimmer of brass caught his eye. One of the padlocks had fallen off the coffin. He picked it up and found that it was intact. In fact, it was still locked. What in the world? There was another thump. The second lock lay in the dust, apparently fallen off without the mechanism even opening.
It was stuffy in the little room, and suddenly he was sweating. Then he heard the knocking inside the box again, one, two, three, and the lid flew off with a bang.
When John dared look again, a girl was sitting up in the coffin. She had dark hair and eyes, like the women in this country, but she was so terribly pale. The sight of her made John's heart race.
She was dressed all in white, though what she wore didn't cover much, leaving her almost bare-breasted in front of him. She placed one lily-white hand on the coffin lip and pulled herself up, stepping down onto the rubble-strewn floor with bare feet. "At last," said the girl. "I've waited so patiently for you." "For me?" John said. "But I've never.my God, you're beautiful." Had he really just said that?
"Why were you.in there?" he ventured. "What are you doing in this awful place?" "Don't speak too hardly of my home," the girl said, putting one hand on John's arm. Her fingers were cold. "But how wonderful to think that this won't be my home any longer. You'll take ma way, won't you?" Looking into her eyes, John knew on some level that he should try to run away now. But he stayed, and she began stroking his hair and speaking in such a soothing way that he couldn't even avert his eyes.
"Father locked me in here as a punishment for being willful, but all I was doing was waiting for you," she continued. "I need a strong hand to guide me into the world of living people. We'll make our plans tonight, you and I. We'll go to the great cities and taste all the joys I've longed for. "I need a living man for my journey, for I must travel in strange, dark ways. I long for the world, John dear. Your devotion will open its gates to me.
At least I'll see it all: the lights and the gaiety, the strong, young people." "And I'll repay you, John. I have wealth and power and strange delights you know nothing about yet." He was staring at her lips, which were very red despite how pale the rest of her complexion was. "I'll…help you if I can," he said.
"But there's a woman—actually, there's another woman too, and then also I have a brother and, well, it's all very complicated, you see." He trailed off, suddenly unsure what he was even saying. "I don't want to hear you talk about other women ever again," the girl said, and now her hand was around his throat.
She squeezed only a little, but it seemed almost to paralyze him. Then their lips met, and although she was cold there was something soft and inviting about her skin, her figure, the hungry pull of her mouth… He kissed her back, and when she didn't break off he did it harder, and soon they were leaning over the coffin, devouring each other with kisses, her half-naked body slipping against his, her naked breasts, pale as purest ivory, pressed against him.
His heart beat so loud that he imagined the pulse reverberating through her. When they finished he gasped and crumpled to the ground, hugging her knees, sobbing. She stroked his head like a loyal dog. Suddenly he felt that nothing was more important than helping this strange, beautiful woman. Somewhere nearby, on the other side of the wall, he heard a voice—Gwen?—screaming, but it was like it was happening in another world.
John kissed the strange girl's bare legs, his lips tracing the curve of her exquisite calves. She purred and reclined in the coffin. Then she pushed his head back, opened her mouth and seemed to kiss his neck, and then— Darkness descended on him. Outside, Gwen kept beating at the wall, but her strength was fading. Her voice was fading. The light had long since faded. She cried out for Helen and David, but they didn't come. She cried out to John, but he didn't answer.
Eventually she just cried. And Castle Dracula swallowed her cries up, one by one. *** Six months later: Helen neither replied nor turned to look up when Gwen talked. She sat on the garden bench and watched the flowers bob in the wind, and even when Gwen took her hand she responded only by glancing at her, once, and pursing her lips. She looked pale and her hair was thinning. Gwen did her best to smile. "Hello Helen. How are you?" No reply.
Helen held a single flower blossom, which she plucked the petals from one by one, shredding them with nervous fingers. It was a gray day in London, and even here in the big garden everything looked muted, washed out, and half-real. But at least it was more cheerful here than in the cell the doctors kept Helen in the rest of the time… "Dr.
Seward says you've been drawing again," Gwen ventured. "He says you drew.the castle." She rushed over the word, fearful, and then plowed on. "He asked me to ask you if you might keep drawing. It helps him understand how to help you." No reply. Gwen made small talk for a bit longer and then stood, promising to return. Helen did manage a "Goodbye," and kissed Helen's cheek, but that was all. Wiping her eyes, Gwen marched down the hill to where an astute, pipe-smoking man waited for her.
She shook her head at him. "Nothing," she said. "That doesn't necessarily mean you've failed," Dr. Seward said, taking her by the arm and walking her back toward the main house, a big, looming Gothic thing that served as both home and hospital for the doctor. "If she keeps looking for an outlet in art it may mean she took your comments to heart," he continued. "Do you really think it's good for her to draw those awful things?" "The pictures aren't awful," Seward said.
"The feelings they represent are, but since they exist, it's better out than in. Do you mean to say you never think about such things yourself?" He rounded on her, peering over his spectacles in a way that made her squirm.
"You never talk about what you saw in the castle that night." She looked away. "I'm not one for drawing pictures." "I'm not sure that's true. That look you gave me just now illustrated quite a few things very vividly." Seward paused to refill his pipe, but before he could say more they were interrupted by the arrival of a man Gwen had never seen before. He was short and steel-haired, with a prominent nose and small, round spectacles.
He dressed somberly, almost like a mortician, and when he spoke his English was curiously accented. Despite all this, Gwen immediately felt at ease with him. "Hello my dear," he said. "We've never met, but our mutual friend Dr. Seward has told me so much about you and your poor sister that I presumptuously feel something like kinship with you, and I hope that I can earn the same in return." Dr.
Seward nodded at the little man. "Gwen, meet my old friend. Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. I asked him here to help with your sister's case. I have…particular reasons for wanting his expertise." Gwen curtsied. "A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Van Helsing. Any friend of Dr. Seward's I'm happy to meet. He's been so good to Helen, ever since her accident…" "Yes, I've read all about that," Van Helsing said. "But I also have reason to suspect that there are things about that 'accident' that you've perhaps kept to yourself.
But this isn't garden conversation; why don't we all go in for tea?" Gwen looked back at where Helen still sat alone.
Soon someone would come and collect her for fear of a storm, and Gwen knew that it was hardest for her when she had to be inside, and that she didn't feel safe anymore unless she was in some open place. Left on her own, she'd sit out here in the storm all night, even if it killed her… As they went inside, Gwen examined Van Helsing more closely. "If you don't my asking, what kind of doctor are you?" "A specialist." "A specialist in what?" Van Helsing smiled.
"The unbelievable." *** The sign on the cage read: "Gray Wolf." And beneath that: "Dangerous." The animal lay with its snout on its paws, still but not sleeping, as dusk turned to night. A couple walking hand in hand through the zoo gardens peered at it.
"How cute," said the young woman. The wolf snarled. John pulled his coat tighter and watched the couple walk away from the wolf's pen. In truth, he didn't mind the cold. Something else altogether made him shiver. He peered through the bars at the caged animal. It laid its ears back and bared its teeth again…but then its demeanor changed.
It sat up and its expression became passive, even eager. John's flesh crawled. And then the Countess was there, standing right beside him. She wore a fur coat with a hood, and her dark eyes stared out from it shadows, fixing John to the ground.
"Where are you going?" she said. Her voice was very soft. John licked his dry lips. "Nowhere. I was out for a walk." "I woke up and you weren't here. I was worried…" "I got lost finding my way back," John said, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice.
"I'm not used to this city yet." She didn't blink. He squirmed. When she reached out he held his breath, but the touch turned out to be a loving one.
"I do make it so hard for you, always going one place to another," she said. "But you don't mind, do you darling?" "Of…course not." And in truth, he didn't. Her touch, her voice, the smell of her perfume, the way the luscious sables draped across her exquisite body (like a statue that walked) crammed his fears into a tiny corner of his mind, replaced with— What? Love? Perhaps. But not love of any sort he'd ever known.
Not human love. Still, its power was no less compelling. He wanted to fall on his knees and grovel, but he reminded himself they were still in public. She turned away, searching the horizon, though there was nothing to see through the fog and the lights of the city. "We're going out," she said. "I feel I need company. You'll help me, of course." John felt queasy, but he mumbled the words automatically: "Yes.
Whatever you want." She noticed the wolf. It whined and wagged its tail. She put her hand between into the cage and petted its muzzle. It licked her fingers.
"How cute," she said, her voice filled with both hunger and affection. "How cute." *** It was dark out, and Van Helsing was telling Gwen about his studies in Amsterdam, all of them sitting together in Dr. Seward's parlor, and then he got her talking about Transylvania so naturally that she scarcely realized she was doing it.
She had told no one the truth—the whole truth—about that night. Only mumbled half-truths to the authorities and doctors. "We were traveling through the country," she said. "David—he was my fiancé—was writing a book about the old noble families, and Helen was his illustrator.
John and I were just along for the sights." "Borgo Pass doesn't see many tourists," said Van Helsing. "Have you been there?" "Only once. Please go on?" "That place, Castle Dracula.at first I thought the peasants were just superstitious, but when we arrived I felt there really was something evil about it.
It seemed silly, but I still couldn't help it. "We separated, David and Helen to work, John and I to explore. David.never came back. He fell down some stairs. Neck broken." She closed her eyes and an image flashed into her mind of David lying in a heap, so she opened them again.
"At least.that's what we told everyone." Van Helsing leaned forward. "And what really happened?" "I wasn't there. I only know what Helen said after, and she was hysterical. But she said…she said…" Gwen had to swallow a few times before she could continue.
"She said something came out of the shadows and attacked him. Something all in white, like a ghost, so fast she could barely see it. It knocked him down, and then it pushed her away, and then…I don't really know what happened then. But David was dead when I found him." "And where were you during all this?" "Looking for John. He was trapped in a room that had no way out. At least, that's what I thought. The door opened eventually, but I don't know why." "And then what?" Van Helsing was finishing his tea now.
The logs on the fire popped. "That's all I remember. I woke up hours later and heard Helen screaming off somewhere in the castle. I think…" She paused. "I think I can barely remember someone standing in the door when it opened. But I can't remember a thing about whoever it was." Van Helsing cleaned his spectacles.
He looked older without them. He was not a large man, and he was aged, but she felt safer with him around. Ever since Transylvania, the nights held special terrors for her whenever she thought she heard the flutter of a wing, or the cry of an unseen beast. "One man dead, another missing, and your sister's sanity quite destroyed," he said. "So when you returned to your own country you brought her here?" "Dr. Seward was a friend of our father's, back when he was alive. And honestly.we had nowhere else to go." "And what about you, Miss Hartley?
Is your mind still troubled after that night?" Gwen raised her teacup to her lips and realized it was empty. It clattered against the saucer when she set it down. "I haven't slept more than a few hours at a time ever since. Terrible dreams.
I'm back in the castle calling for John, but he won't answer. Instead I hear a woman's voice." "What woman?" "I don't know. But I imagine I heard her that night. And then I wake." "Hmm. Miss Hartley, I hope you won't find this untoward, but I find it very interesting that you dream of your sister's fiancé and not your own.
And that you appeared much more pained talking about John's disappearance than David's death…" Gwen felt herself go red. Then she was suddenly angry, but before she could lose her retort Van Helsing made a consolatory gesture. "You might not think it to look at me, but I am familiar with matters of the heart, and with how a young woman may find herself less free to choose where her marital fortunes lie than a man." Gwen looked away.
"Helen met John first.we had so little money after father died, and David seemed to care for me. When he asked, I was afraid of what would happen if I said no. But why am I telling you these things?" Van Helsing gave her a handkerchief, but she refused to cry. He returned it to his pocket. "Maybe you're telling me because part of you realizes how important it is. I said such an indelicate thing because I had to know whether you would be willing to do what is necessary to save John Martin." Gwen sat up straight.
"Do you know where he is?" "Indirectly. Your story confirms things I have long feared. Are you familiar with the city's recent outbreak of conspicuous catastrophic anemia?" Gwen shook her head, bewildered. "It's the rarest of all blood diseases, characterized by an extreme exhaustion of the physical humors.
A man can die from it in days, or even a single night. Cases have sprung up all across the continent, but only ever a few at a time, and only for a short time, and always in the largest cities.
Now it's here." "But what's that to do with John?" "The last time we saw such an outbreak in London, it was shortly after the last count left Castle Dracula." Gwen fretted, biting her lip. "Are you saying that John is here, and he brought something awful from that castle? That doesn't make any sense with the way he disappeared." Van Helsing stood, looking troubled. "I will explain myself better when I can.
If you're gracious enough to entertain me again, that is. I do have one last question: Did you believe the stories the peasants told about that ancient castle?" Something fluttered at the window again and Gwen turned, but she couldn't tell if she'd really heard it or if it was her imagination.
She waited for her heart to slow again before answering. "I meant it when I said there's something evil about that place. But I don't believe the legends about werewolves and vampires, if that's what you mean." Van Helsing nodded. Before he left he patted her on the shoulder in a grandfatherly way.
For the first time she hoped that maybe this really was someone who could help Helen. Maybe he could even help her too, although she didn't understand some of his questions, or what he'd said about John. Before leaving, Van Helsing paused at the door. "Miss Hartley? If we're going to help your sister and John Martin, there is one thing I'd like you to know: "There ARE such things as vampires…" *** John looked away, but he couldn't unsee it: The Countess lay on the couch, nude and luxuriating, looking at him with those dark eyes.
A half-dressed man lay next to her, pale and unmoving, his eyes gone glassy and empty. The Countess wiped her mouth. "Ah John, so brave and faithful. I love you so. Do you love me?" He mumbled. "A woman needs love. Even a woman like me," she said.
"I know how you feel when I bring other men home, but I must always have men about me. I love none of them the way I love you." When she stood the body rolled off the couch. The sick thump on the carpet was loud enough that you could hear it all the way through the flat, but there was no one here but they two.
He didn't resist when her arms circled him. When she kissed him, some flicker of a memory came back, recalling some other woman in another place, one he'd held close very like this and thought to kiss. But it was gone just as suddenly, and all he knew then was the hard, strong, lithe body coiling around him. Her mouth devoured his, pushing him down.
Her legs gripped him. He stepped over the unmoving figure on the floor and let himself sink onto the couch, where the Countess undressed him, pulling apart the clothes she'd covered him in and running her hands over his body. She was cold, and she made him feel cold. Her body flexed and twisted over his. Her breasts were utterly white, crowned by dark nipples. Her belly was flat and smooth, her neck long and slender, her arms lithe and graceful.
She looked fragile, but he knew how powerful she was. She held him down, lowering herself onto his cock and drawing a thin, sharp gasp from him.
She tightened on him almost immediately. Her fingers traced the line of his neck until she found the pulse, and when she rode him her rhythm matched the beating of his heart. "I love this city of yours," the Countess said. "I think I will stay her always. I would like to watch it change with the generations, watch its children dance and play and then grow old. To see sad smiles of memory come into their faces as they steal away and die. Won't it be wonderful?" He gasped his agreement as she went up and down him, the force of each rise and fall seeming to push him further and further down until he felt he might be buried or break altogether.
He spotted a few red drops dappling her milky white skin, spilled remains that she had missed. He had the awful urge to lick them away, his rough tongue scouring her marble body clean.but she scraped them with the tip of one sharp nail and then her red tongue darted out, licking it all up herself.
Then she threw herself onto him, her lips tracing the lines of his bare chest. When her mouth reached his neck he froze in fear, but she only kissed him gently, her hips still wriggling on top of him. A few candles lit the bedroom, and in the darkened mirror they glowed like white phantoms, hazy and unreal. Thunder rumbled outside.wait, that wasn't thunder. It was too close. The wolf snarled and John jumped, falling over the back of the couch. The animal stalked forward, lips drawn back, but as soon as a lily-white hand touched it on the ear it heeled, trotting back and lying beside the couch.
The Countess clucked her tongue. "Poor John. Did my new pet scare you?" He stood, feeling sheepish. "I'm fine." The wolf eyed the body on the floor, and with a start John realized he had forgotten the dead man was there.
"Take care of that, will you?" the Countess said, stretching out on the rug on the floor and petting the wolf's head. Swallowing, John put on his pants and threw the corpse over one shoulder. Steps would have to be taken to ensure he stayed dead, and then to ensure that he would never be found.
The body was heavy, and John was weak from so many nights of exertion, but the Countess' voice filled him with a new kind of strength.
One born of the fear of what would happen if he failed. *** "It says here there's an escaped wolf running around London and nobody can seem to catch it. Isn't that odd?" Gwen put the newspaper down and Helen glanced at it.
The salad in front of her was half eaten, the most Gwen had seen her take in months. All around them: white tablecloths, tinkling glasses, the strings of an orchestra. Gwen worried that the music at this club might be too loud for her, but Helen seemed to like to watch the couples dancing. Gwen had been skeptical when Professor Van Helsing told her to begin taking Helen out into the city, but she'd regained color and started speaking again. Dr. Seward insisted on advancing them any money they needed, both for the sake of Helen's treatment and for their father's memory.
Now Helen looked at the dance floor and said only, "Odd things happen." Then, suddenly, "Do you want to dance?" Gwen almost laughed. Helen looked nearly embarrassed, and then said quickly: "I don't mean with me. Or with anyone. I'm just saying, wouldn't it be nice to dance? If someone was here? It's been a long time since either of us did." "I guess it has." "David was never much of a dancer with you, was he?" Gwen's heart caught in her throat. It was the first time Helen had mentioned either of the boys since the castle.
She covered her shock by wiping her mouth with a napkin. "He wasn't." "But John was always willing to dance with you, wasn't he?" "I." Helen shook her head and waved it off. "I'm not saying anything. Just remembering." Her voice trailed off, and she seemed to be staring at something. In fact, everyone was staring. Even the band's music faltered for a moment. Into the room came a woman, dark and exotic, covered in furs. Every eye went to her and stayed on her. She held her coat to the man at the door and he nearly tripped as he took it.
She sat at a reserved table, far enough away from everyone to have privacy but close enough that they could still all see her. The man who came in with her was curiously listless, almost dragging his feet as he walked, but nobody paid him any mind.
Helen caught her breath first. "That woman." "She sure knows how to make an entrance," Gwen said. She was blushing for some reason. The whole spectacle was seemed like a dream, a private dream she wouldn't tell anyone about.
She hoped the stir would die down once the moment passed, but Helen leaned over to the young couple at the next table and asked: "Who is she?" "Countess Szelinski," said the young man, instantly.
"She's the talk of the town these days." "She's wonderful," said the woman with him. "Can you imagine being so wonderful?" "Likes to make a scene, but keeps to herself," the man said. "Spends money like water. And lots of company, if you'll pardon me for bringing it up." He quirked an eyebrow. Indeed, in addition to the faceless man she'd entered with the Countess had attracted two new tablemates, both men about the same age.
Gwen noticed (though she suspected no one else did) that all three looked pale and in poor health. Gwen saw a waiter come to their table, but the Countess ordered nothing and the men with her didn't touch their own drinks. "I don't think I like the way they're looking at her." Gwen said. "But can you blame them?" said the young woman.
The truth was, Gwen didn't like the way Helen was looking at the Countess either, even as the Countess was coming down with one of her listless boytoys on her arm.
Soon the two were spinning, arm-in-arm, parting the crowd. The man moved in an automatic way but the Countess was graceful enough for the both of them.
A feeling of dread settled in the pit of Gwen's stomach. All this agitation, whatever its cause, couldn't be good for Helen. As she went to her sister, she happened to glance at the couple on the floor, and then— Her breath left her.
The room spun and the floor heaved. Gwen grabbed the back of the nearest chair so that she couldn't faint. Couples seated nearby noticed and came to help her.
Helen noticed too, snapping out of her reverie. Brow knit with concern she came to Gwen's side. "I'm fine," Gwen said, short of breath. Then, thinking quickly, she said, "Actually, I'm not fine. I've felt faint all night, but I didn't want to spoil your evening. Maybe we should go now?" "Of course," Helen said, and Gwen allowed her sister to take her by the arm and lead her to the door.
She didn't really need the help, but anything to keep Helen from seeing that man dancing with the Countess. Of course it couldn't really be John. It didn't even look that much like him, she decided.
John had been a beau, and this man was positively ghastly. And yet. Helen waited for a cab and Gwen went back in, feigning having forgotten something. She approached the doorkeeper and, distracted, she blurted out, "Would you like five pounds?" The man blinked.
"I'm sorry?" "What I mean is.that woman, Countess Szelinski? She came in with a man. Who is he?' The doorkeeper sniffed. "Baron Daronstein. That's what he calls himself, anyway. If you ask me he's just some gigolo out for whatever he can get. Pardon my language Miss, but it's true." "Does she keep a lot of men?" "All sorts. You saw those fellows tonight. She goes through them fast—pardon my language again. But the so-called baron is always with her." Gwen took a five-pound note from her purse.
"I need to speak with that man." The doorkeeper looked astonished. "I'm not on terms to make an introduction." "But you might know the Countess' address. She must have a driver you can get it from?" "Her driver is deaf and dumb. But.I suppose I could get it from the office. She spends a lot of money here, and her bills are paid by check.
It's very risky for a man in my position, of course." Gwen took out another note. She passed them both and even gave his hand a squeeze for good measure. Then she went back out into the foggy night, where Helen waited with the cab.
She talked more on the way home than she had for months, but Gwen hardly heard her. She could hear nothing over the beating of her own heart.
*** Van Helsing was rarely in London, and his flat here was a spare place. He did his best to make Gwen comfortable, but she paced the room, casting suspicious glances at the world outside the windows. "He was completely changed, but I'm sure it was him. Oh God, it was awful. Imagine the thing that could do that to John." Van Helsing put down the book he'd been looking at, balancing it on a stack of others.
"We do not have to imagine. We know." "Do you mean that all of those things the people in the village told us were true?" "All of those and more.
As much as it upsets you, it's a lucky stroke for all of us that you were there tonight. I have been searching for the vector of this outbreak, and it seems you found her." Gwen turned and all but ran to him and took his hand. "Then we have to help John.
Right now, without waiting another moment. I don't know if I believe any of this, Professor, but I know I'll do anything to get John back." "To go now would doom us all. At night this Countess has most terrible power. It's during the day, when she lies asleep in her coffin, when we must strike. We don't know where her coffin may be, but there is one person who does: John." "The doorman gave me an address: 32 Brussel Place." "If she is really the spawn of Dracula then she will be more cunning than to hide in the obvious place.
But we may find John there, and as long as he lives his soul is his own, even if his will has been completely consumed, and in his soul I think he loves you. That gives us a power she will never have. "But if she realizes we know about her, we will lose every advantage.
She will flee and perhaps kill John, and make him her slave forever: a vampire, like herself." Gwen set the line of her mouth. "I won't let that happen." Van Helsing took her hand. "You're a brave woman. That's good. You'll have to be for what's ahead." He went to the window, and Gwen followed after him. "What do we do first?" she said. "We wait for day.
And then the difficult part begins." *** John waked and slept and waked and dreamed and waked again, but whether sleeping or waking he moved and spoke and acted all the same. A collage of images fluttered before his eyes and disappeared: The Countess kissing another man, then two other men, then kissing John, then back to the other two. He saw both men kneel at her feet, one kissing the sculpted roundness of her calves while she toyed with the second, cupping his face and pulling him up for a kiss and then dropping him without one.
Naked bodies twined around each other in the candlelight, and sometimes one of them was John's. Neither sleeping nor waking, he acted without thought or memory. The Countess sprawled on red sheets, one man behind her sleek white body, flexing his hips, the creamy roundness of her bottom splayed in front of him while she buried her face in the lap of the other, moving her head up and down while his eyes rolled and he exhaled gasps and sighs.
Both strangers looked vaguely familiar to John, and he thought perhaps he had seen them some other time. But of course he had, he realized; he must have been there when they met the Countess.
Probably he had even introduced them. Half-remembered fragments of similar introductions crossed his mind and were instantly forgotten. The Countess growled under her breath, like an animal. Now John was with them, lying on his back, the Countess straddling him, her head turned and mouth open to receive one of the other men while the second positioned himself behind her, all three of them on her and in her at the same time.
She was a bright white flame in the dark, but when her lips parted he saw a deep, black void inside her that would never be filled. Naked flesh lolled against naked flesh as the smell of sweat saturated the room. John realized how exhausted he was. The other two men looked spent as well, but none of them stopped.
It wasn't until the Countess seemed to tire that anything slowed. But rather than quit she turned and kissed one of the men on his neck—no, more than a kiss, John knew. The man gasped but could not cry out. He twisted in a half-hearted attempt to escape, but soon his flailing became mere reflex, and in a minute he was empty, used up, discarded. The Countess let him drop to the floor.
John and the other stranger looked at him with glazed eyes that didn't really see. The Countess seemed refreshed—she positively glowed.
Her body was full and ripe as she fell onto John again, dragging the other man in the fray with them. Back and forth she went, kissing one then the other, touching one and then the other, drawing one into her embrace and writhing underneath him until he could take no more and then trading him away. Her kiss tasted bitter, but her body was sweet. John kissed her naked breasts, and her sharp nails crisscrossed him. He knew that if she asked him to he would keep doing this until he died.
Only when dawn approached did he notice that it was the third man who was dead now, his unseeing eyes staring forever as John and the Countess continued making love through the remainder of the night, the Countess' body more luscious than ever, his own expended.
They lay together in the last hour and she stroked him tenderly, whispering. "Soon you'll kiss the sun goodbye and join me. We'll sleep side by side through the day and share glorious, unending nights together, and never grow old and never die, and love one another forever." John imagined an imploring look on the dead man's face; a warning perhaps.
But of course, it was only his imagination. A dead man knew nothing, and could tell him nothing, and mattered nothing. Only the Countess mattered. He pressed his cheek to hers. "Whatever you want," he said. "Always." *** "Helen shouldn't be here," Gwen said. "She's not strong enough." All three of them—the sisters and Van Helsing—sat in the back of a cab, jostled this way and that as it rolled over an uneven London Street.
Helen sat up a little straighter. "If we're helping John then I have to be here," she said. "Or do you think you have more of a right?" There was an edge in her voice again. In a way Gwen was glad to hear it. It sounded something like the old Helen.
But it pained her too. Van Helsing came between them. "You both must go. It may well take both of you, and to send either of you in alone is more dangerous." "You're not coming?" Gwen said.
"John doesn't know me. He would see me as an enemy." Van Helsing pointed out the window to the dark, lonely flat at 32 Brussel Place. "Here, in the daylight hours, when the Countess is asleep and further from his thoughts, you may be able to inveigh on him." "What if he just throws us out and tells the Countess everything?" said Helen. Van Helsing winced and nodded. "The risk is something we will have to assume. Have faith that the love you both have for John is more powerful than her hold on him." Van Helsing held something out to her and Helen bowed her head to accept it: a crucifix, fixed to a chain.
Gwen took an identical one, though she fingered it doubtfully before tucking it into her blouse. It was a grim day outside, and the sisters approached the flat without speaking. The unease Gwen sensed coming from Helen was awful. Since she began her recovery they'd become easy friends again, like when they were girls, but after that night in the restaurant Helen seemed moody and hostile.
Maybe she resented Gwen for not telling her about John right away. Or maybe it was something else. There was no answer when Gwen knocked, nor when she knocked again. Helen rapped at the door the third time, and then a little window, barred and dark, slid aside just above the knocker. "What do you want?" "We're here to see—Baron Daronstein," Gwen said, tongue tripping over the unfamiliar name. "He's not in." "We'll wait for him," Helen said.
"We're friends of his." "The baron has no friends." "It's very important," Gwen said. The little window slid shut and at first Gwen thought they were out of luck, but then they heard the click of locks being undone and, with a creek, the door eased open. The entryway was pitch black. Helen went in first, Gwen close behind. Without thinking, she grabbed Helen's hand, and Helen squeezed hers back a little. As soon as they were inside, the door slammed shut behind them.
It took a second for their eyes to adjust to the gloom. As soon as they did Gwen had to stifle a gasp. In the daylight John looked less unreal than he had the other night, but also more haggard. His eyes were bleary and tinged with red. He looked at them with something between indifference and contempt. "I am Baron Daronstein," he said. "I don't know either of you." Gwen fumbled for words.
"We're.friends of friends of yours. I—" "John," Helen said, walking toward him. The sound of the name made Gwen jump. "We've come to take you home." John stirred. "I said I don't know you." "You've been asleep," Helen said, taking small, slow steps toward him.
"You're very ill. We were on the trip to Transylvania. You remember the little inn near Borgo Pass?" John's eyes moved in his sunken sockets, looking at Helen, then Gwen, then the door. "Borgo Pass," he said, the words sounding thick. "The little inn.the castle." Helen jumped in. "That's all in the past now. Gwen and I are going to take you home." John edged away. "I don't know you," he said. Helen reached for his hand and he edged away further. "You both need to leave." "John—" said Gwen.
"Wait," said Helen. "Go," said John. "Now!" And then they all heard something else: The clicking sound of something with long nails loping its way across the floor. Gwen's heart skipped a beat when the big, shaggy head, with its long muzzle and cruel yellow eyes, peered around the corner.
The wolf padded in, head low to the ground, hackles raised. Its eyes rooted Gwen to the spot. Helen didn't seem to be able to move either. John looked from them to the wolf and back to them again, and then he screamed: "Go!" But it was too late.
With a snarl the wolf charged and then leapt, and then time seemed to slow down. Gwen saw the animal flying forward and she saw Helen falling back and she saw the two collide, the wolf's jaws snapping. And then there was blood. Gwen caught Helen's falling form more on reflex than thought, and as soon as she had her arms full she realized her mistake, because there was no way she could run without dropping Helen, and the wolf was already on them. Jaws slavering, it leapt again.
Gwen had just enough time to look away. There was a thrashing and a banging and the sound of a man crying out, and when Gwen looked up she saw, amazingly, that John had caught the wolf, and was wrestling with it. For a second the two vied, each trying to overpower the other, and then John threw the beast and it hit the wall, then tumbled to the floor with a yelp. The only sound in the entire flat was John's strained panting.
Slowly, deliberately, he pointed to the door again. "Go," was all he said. *** "She'll recover. Physically, anyway. Mentally.well, we're back to square one." Dr. Seward sighed. They were in Dr.
Seward's study, after a night and a day and part of a night with Helen at the hospital. She was there still, lying in bed, holding the crucifix as tightly as she could. She'd refused to part from it, and now that night was on Gwen was glad. She pondered the dark. Professor Van Helsing had his head in his hands.
"I should have listened to you, Gwen. I can't believe I sent Helen into that kind of danger." Gwen shook her head. "He was listening to Helen. It would have worked. I'd have been no better off on my own. I suppose John will tell the Countess what happened. Do you think she'll.?" "Undoubtedly," Van Helsing answered. "But not yet. She still needs a mortal agent to act in daylight, and prepare her escape." "Escape to where?" said Dr. Seward. "How do you know she's going?" "A bit of foresight and a bit of luck," said Van Helsing.
"I received a call earlier from a friend in the police. I had asked him to keep an eye out for anything strange. He told me a very unusual story about two men arrested for grave robbing last night." "Grave robbing?" Helen said, horrified.
"But this is the important part: They insisted they had not stolen any bodies. They said that the coffin they took from the tomb was empty of everything except dirt, and that they'd been paid by a gentleman to move it and ready it for shipping.
The cemetery was not far from Brussel Place." "So she is running," Gwen said, and now she felt a flash of something new: anger. "According to the arrested men, they delivered the box to a particular ship: The Belgrade, which sets sail for New Orleans tomorrow night.
Another lucky break: If any ship leaving sooner had accommodated our friend John's demands, I'm sure we would already have missed them." "But how do we stop them?" Gwen said. She was toying with the crucifix Van Helsing had given her. She was still not entirely comfortable wearing it. Van Helsing fixed her with a meaningful look.
"Miss Hartley, I see a long voyage in our future." *** Fog again. Gwen thought she might never see another clear night in London. Then she realized she might never see another night in London at all. The Belgrade was a rusty tramp boat, but her captain guarded it jealously.
He gave Gwen and Professor Van Helsing evil looks as they boarded. "I don't like my ship cluttered up with a bunch of bally passengers." Van Helsing gave him a bemused look. "We ask nothing but a corner to sleep and a little food. That's well worth 400 pounds." "Don't see why you couldn't have gone in the morning. Plenty of other ships in the morning." "We have reasons," Gwen said.
"Lucky ones, as your bank book is concerned." Their cabin was really just a pantry that had been partially emptied to accommodate them. Between her haste and the necessity of conserving room, Gwen had packed almost nothing, and only when she felt the lurch of the ship pushing away from the dock did the gravity of what was happening sink in.
They were really going to America, thousands of miles in this dingy cargo ship. Or would they even make it that far? "How did you know the captain would agree to take us?" she asked as he unfolded her things. "If he agreed to take on John he'd agree to take more." "But he swore there were no other passengers." "Because John doubtless paid him to say so, just as he must have paid him also to keep quiet about the extra cargo he onboard." Gwen felt a chill.
"The Countess is here." "I don't think she'll show herself tonight. She won't want to spook the crew until it's too late to turn back. Tomorrow we'll begin our search, and then the race will be on: If we find where she is hidden we can destroy her. But if she realizes we're here I fear we will never see New Orleans. "I wish I could have left you out of this danger, Miss Hartley, but you are essential to this. I will have little leverage reasoning with John.
You are the one person in the world he may still listen to." "I wouldn't have let you leave me behind anyway. And I think it's high time you start calling me Gwen, professor." He favored her with a small smile.
"What do we do when we find the Countess?" Gwen said. "There are special means of dispatching such creatures. In this case, we will drive a wooden stake through her heart as she sleeps." Gwen put a hand to her mouth.
"How dreadful." "Gruesome, yes," said Van Helsing, adjusting his spectacles. "But you must think of it as an act of mercy. Imagine how many centuries Countess Szelinski's soul has been in torment. Once we're done, she'll be at peace—and John will be free of her power." The walls creaked and the whole ship listed unexpectedly, and Gwen had to put a hand out to keep from stumbling.
The rise and fall of the boat was already difficult to keep up with. "It seems we've hit bad weather," said Van Helsing. "I have to admit, I've never liked boats. The ocean makes me anxious." Someone tapped on the door and Gwen, being closest, answered.
It was a man from the crew. "Just checking in. Captain says not to worry about the storm." "That's very kind of you. We'll keep to—" She took her eyes off him for a second and it almost cost her life.
A flicker of movement was her only warning and, instinctively, she held the crucifix in front of her. The crewman shrank back and made a horrible noise, and when Gwen looked fully into his face for the first time and saw the pale, deathlike features and bloodless lips drawn back in a snarl she nearly fainted.
Alarmed, Van Helsing came forward with his own crucifix in hand, and the man retreated into the corridor. Gwen saw he was not alone: A half dozen men crowded the door with eyes gleaming. They reached for her but dared not approach while she held the cross.
Van Helsing waved his and they scattered to regroup a few feet away. Then he slammed the door. Gwen's fingers ached from gripping the little cross so hard, but she dared not put it down. "Vampires!" she said. "All of them!" "The entire crew, I would guess. Except perhaps for the captain, and shortly him as well." "But how?" "I've made a terrible mistake. The Countess wanted us to follow her. This boat was a trap, and I led us right into it." The ship careened from side to side, and even here they could hear the roaring of the wind and waves.
There was another sound at the door, like a heavy shape pressing against it. Gwen stood a little closer to Van Helsing. "Doors won't hold them," he said. "But we have protections they cannot so easily circumvent." "What do we do?" "You'll find a lifeboat. The open sea in a storm is a terrible thing, but better to take your chances there than face certain doom here." "And you?" The little man stood up straighter.
"I cannot leave until I do what must be done. This ship must not reach port." He took something from off one of the shelves and handed it to her.
It was square, metal container marked GAS. It was heavy. She nodded. Van Helsing took two canisters with him, and two flares. He gave one to Gwen as well.
Her stomach lurched, both from the heaving of the ship and the knowledge of what was coming next. She wrapped herself in her heaviest coat, but she knew it would provide very little protection. It seemed the coast was clear outside, but she knew the crew must be skulking around somewhere.
Van Helsing pressed his hand into hers. "I'm going further into the hold, to find the Countess, and John if I can." "You'll need me." "Miss Hartley, I simply cannot allow that." Gwen touched his shoulder the same way he had done for her. He kissed her hand, and it seemed to Gwen quite gallant. Then he turned and ran off into the dark interior of the ship, without pause or hesitation.
Gwen watched him go but then chided herself. She had no time to waste. She unscrewed the cap of the gas canister and the fumes hit her full in the face. Overturning it, she sloshed a trail along the corridor and up the stairs, to the deck door. The wind screamed outside, and rain seeped in. Bracing herself, she threw the door open and ran out to embrace the storm. They were waiting for her. The crew was 14 men in all, minus the captain, who was nowhere to be seen. But even as they reached for her their eyes fell on the cross around her neck and they fell back, as if an invisible hand pushed them.
Icy rain pelted them all and the boat swooned and shook and everyone, Gwen and the crew slid from one side to the other. She lost her grip on the canister and it bounced across the deck.
Gwen stumbled, slid, and nearly pitched right over the railing to a watery grave below. Many of the crewmen fell right past her and vanished into the churning black sea, but she caught herself at the last moment. With one hand she held the railing and with the other she held the flare. She'd come close to dropping it.
Wiping rain from her eyes, she spotted the lifeboat rocking wildly against the side of the ship. How could she loose it? Then, heart sinking, she saw that it didn't matter: A hole was punched clean through the bottom.
Holding to the rail for dear life she dragged herself along, salt spray stinging her eyes, until she found the next one, but it too was destroyed. Professor Van Helsing was right: The Countess had been ready for them. Dark shapes loomed on the deck still, but most seemed too unsure of their footing to approach.
One man, pale and haggard, stood near the railing but held onto nothing, seemingly asking for the storm to wash him away. He looked not at all like the John she knew anymore, but his eyes still gave him away.
He had a knife. Slowly, deliberately, he took one lurching step toward her, then another. Gwen pressed herself to the railing, but there was nowhere to run. She tried to talk but the wind and the waves were too much, so instead she screamed: "We're going to die here, John.
And that's all right. I only have one regret: I should have told you all along it's you I love. It was wrong, but I should have told you anyway. I'm sorry for David and Helen. "Maybe if I'd told everyone the truth none of this would have happened, and they'd still be with us. But if I have to die now, I'm glad it's with you.
I'm not afraid." She took a wobbling step forward. John took a step back. Water surged around their feet. She came toward him again and he held up the knife. Gwen shook her head. "I know you have to. I just have one thing to ask. I'd like to put my arms around you one last time." He looked away. The knife trembled, but didn't drop.
Gwen nodded again. "Don't worry. I'll make it easy." And, closing her eyes and opening her arms, she ran toward him.
Forgetting the sea and the storm and the nightmare and everything, she flung her arms around him and leaned into the embrace with everything she had. She held her breath and waited for the pain as the knife slid into her breast. But it didn't come. Instead she felt John's arms around her, and then his lips on hers, and then they were a strange jumble of words and kisses and embraces. The knife fell to the deck and was lost to the sea. John look of pained confusion slowly dissolved. "Good heavens," he said.
"Gwen." She kissed his hand. "Yes, it's me. And it's you." The ship heaved again and they both fell, holding onto each other. The Belgrade was adrift, spinning out of control. The crew, braver now, were closing on them. Gwen had lost the crucifix in the storm. John was unarmed. They had nowhere to go. G Gwen heard the clatter of the empty gas can rolling around their feet and realized that she was still holding the last flare.
John looked at it, then at her. "We go over the side," he said. "The lifeboats are all ruined." "They might still work as driftwood. It's a better bet than here." "Can we really make it?" "It's the smallest chance. But we're doomed to something worse if we stay here. Are you ready?" The flare hissed to life in his hand. The sharp, hungry faces of the vampires glowed red in the harsh chemical light, and then Gwen threw the flare into the stairwell and a gruesome orange blaze sparked to life down below, turning the portal into a smoking hell.
Gwen and John, embracing, caught between the flames and the ocean, chose the waters, and jumped, and vanished. Down below, in the guts of the ship, Van Helsing emptied the fuel cans, splashing everything in the hold, eyes burning with the fumes. Above him, the ship's metal hull groaned and contorted. Wooden crates were piled on all sides. Which one was the right one? It didn't matter.
Between the storm and the fire, there would be no way off this ship. No sooner had he finished his grim task than he saw her, blocking the entry and watching, as if she'd always been there. Dressed only in her shroud, she looked small and young and vulnerable, though he knew she was nothing of the sort. Her dark eyes gleamed. There was, he admitted, more than a little resemblance between her and her father. Van Helsing brandished a flare in his hand.
"It's over, Countess. This ship of death will be lost forever, and you with it." "You think to drown me?" "Your kind cannot cross running water under your own power. Even if you sink deep enough to escape the rays of the sun, there you'll lie for eternity. Better you let me give you a clean death now." The Countess bristled. "You'll die too." "I don't doubt it. I don't fear it. What does your kind think about death? I imagine you think you know it. You may find you are wrong." For a second it seemed as if the Countess doubted herself.
Then her face hardened. But by then Van Helsing lit the flare, and the room went red. The hold exploded in heat and glare. Overhead, the deck buckled. Van Helsing thought at first he was carried off his feet by the explosion but he realized it was the Countess.
She cleared the distance between them in a single leap, catching him and holding him tight even as the flames fell onto her and over her. She bared her teeth at his throat, but somehow he held her back.
They remained locked like that for one second, then two, then a third. And then the blazing hulk of the cargo collapsed, burying them both in the flaming wreckage. And when the ocean finally poured, in the waves dragged the remains of the Belgrade and every soul still aboard down into their unforgiving depths. Where, on the dark, silty seafloor that no living man would ever set eyes on, the ocean made a final grave for the House of Dracula.
*** Note: The 1936 film "Dracula's Daughter" (a sequel to 1931's "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi) was delayed for years because studio censors would not approve the script. In the end the released film bore almost no resemblance to the proposed one.
This story adapts several rejected scripts. It's the author's sincere hope that the censors rolls over their graves at it.