(From the family chronicles of Counts Dracula-Cardie, and according to E.L.H.’s wishes)
The red orb of the setting sun is about to slip beneath the waves, bathing the sea in glowing light. Waves crash gently against the side of the ship.
A group of men are sitting on the first-class deck of a large American ship.
Harry, now Count Dracula-Cardie is surrounded by his old friends, Captain Wright, Doctor Weiss, James and the old librarian Karl Ivanovich.
On the night of their escape from the old castle in Carpathian Mountains, Karl Ivanovich fled alongside Harry. No one even thought that he was in no danger from the mob.
Latter, when filthy and tired after a dangerous climb down the mountain the ragged band had finally stumbled into the city, Harry refused to be parted from the old man, especially after he learned that Karl Ivanovich has no one in this world and no other income save what he could get whenever he finds work as a librarian.
“No, Mr Cardie, I am too old, I will be a burden to you”, protested the old man.
Harry, with his usual tact assured Karl Ivanovich that he will not only be useful to him, but rather absolutely necessary, since back in America, Harry’s large library was in total disarray. The old man agreed with tears in his eyes and from that moment on, Harry could count on one more loyal friend.
Three days have passed since ship left Hamburg; the last week before departure was taken up by travel arrangements, bills and other hassles. Now with all the problems and worries finally in the past, the friends were able to, at last, breathe a sigh of relief.
“Thank God it is finished. You wouldn’t be able to lure me back to Europe for a while”, laughed Harry “I’d rather deal with a thousand angry Comanches than with beautiful women who come down to earth on a moonbeam and sink their teeth into you like a rattlesnake. I think I’ve had enough of this rubbish to last me a lifetime”.
“By the way Harry, you never told us about your conversation with Count Carlo”, remarked Doctor.
“Yes, you owe us a story”, added James.
“All right, if you are still interested”, agreed Harry.
The men made themselves comfortable, lighting fresh cigars.
“And the time is rather appropriate. Sunset”, remarked James.
“You can imagine my surprise”, began Harry, “when my visitor, whom I took to be a poor monk, turned out to be the rightful owner of ‘my’ castle. From his first words, he assured me that he doesn’t have any rights to the castle anymore, and doesn’t want to have them either, since he took a vow of poverty many years ago, dedicating his life to fasting and prayer. Old sin was tormenting his soul, and he was hoping to forget it away from the world, wanting to find grace and forgiveness through a lifetime of prayer, swearing never to leave the monastery.
Suddenly, strange rumours reached him about a mysterious epidemic raging around his former castle. The news struck him like a bolt of lightning.
He knew only too well the source of this epidemic and this knowledge was in itself, his greatest sin. Because of his weakness many years ago, the two women dearest to him, his mother and his fiancé, were not destroyed, but continued killing the local people.
He also knew that with each new victim, their powers grew, and it was becoming impossible for an uninitiated person to fight them.
His heart and his mind told him to break his vow and leave the monastery. He felt that, despite his terrible predicament he had to return to the Carpathian Castle and finally fulfil his duty.
Carlo asked his spiritual adviser, a very old and learned prelate for his judgment, and the old man, who knew Carlo’s sad story very well, blessed him, giving him a box of communion host to take with him on his journey. He also warned Carlo that he was well aware about the existence of the “Old Undead” in the Carpathian Mountains, an especially powerful and cunning vampire and that the hour of his death hasn’t come yet, and when it does it would depend on a courageous woman.
As for Maria and Rita, who are much weaker than “Old Undead”, Carlo offered his help and his knowledge. This, as you all well know didn’t happen. The rebellion sparked much earlier than we expected. In the last moment, Carlo and I decided that he would stay behind and return women to the sleeping state with an aid of a spell.
No one can, or will, live in the castle without my permission. You all already know that I’ve sold all of the furnishings I bought for the castle; the only things left inside are the ones that I’ve found there...
Now for the answers to some of the questions that remained a mystery to us.
Count Carlo, in the trying days of his life kept diaries and now he gave them to me. They are remarkably vast, and to read all of them wouldn’t be necessary.
Many of facts are well known to us, while others cannot be made public, so I will read only the portions that are of interest to us.
Harry got up and returned a little later with a thick notebook. He flipped few pages and began reading:
“Jamie’s conclusions were almost always correct. The cause of all the calamities was the old Count Dracula who was cunning enough to transport himself and his coffin in the guise of an old servant. His arrival coincided with the first epidemic, which saw the death of young Maria Dracula, Carlo’s mother.
She was the vampire with long blonde hair. Carlo’s father was aware of the nature of her death, but because of his love for her couldn’t bring himself to kill her.
To safeguard himself and others, he, together with old Petro and family’s doctor moved her body into a specially constructed crypt and returned her to a sleeping state with a special ritual.
Afterwards, Frederick decided to leave the world and spend the rest of his life guarding his terrible and beloved wife. He spent his days in prayer, hoping to gain a pardon for her soul.
In an attempt to safeguard his wife’s memory, Frederick forbade Carlo from ever returning home and made both Petro and the family doctor swear an oath to never reveal to Carlo the circumstances of his mother’s death, or the events that followed it.
With this decision, Frederick made a fateful mistake.
He never thought that Carlo would want to return and prevented the only two people who could have stopped him from revealing the truth.
What his final plans were was never revealed, Count Frederick died suddenly, without leaving a will.
Old Petro buried him in the new crypt, next to his wife and repeated all the necessary rituals.
Afterwards he set of on his pilgrimage to Rome, stopping in Venice to report to his new master.
Carlo’s decision to return to his birthplace terrified the old man, and yet he couldn’t break the oath given to Carlo’s father. After making Carlo promise that he would wait for him, the old man left for Rome, looking for an absolution of his oath.
Old family doctor, wanting to save Carlo’s life broke the oath, which cost him his sanity. It was all in vain, Carlo didn’t believe him, especially after his best friend Alf, whose intellect and learning Carlo admired, not only laughed at the notion of vampires but also proved old man’s insanity.
Unfortunately, Carlo didn’t wait for Petro’s return and moved back to the castle with his fiancée Rita.
Everything was well, at first.
New crypt remained undiscovered and old Dracula lay quietly in his coffin.
“Then everything turned upside down”, read Harry, “Rita was feeling ill, she lost her colour, grew thin, it seemed, in the matter of hours. At the same time she was strangely, shyly gentle with me. She didn’t refuse my kisses, but seemed strangely embarrassed, always looking around, as if afraid of her old nanny’s disapproval. I found it all very funny”.
Francesca’s mysterious death affected Rita badly and Carlo decided, on the old doctor’s advice to take Rita “as far away as possible” to move her to the forest house under an eye of his best friend Alf.
There Rita took turn for the worse, getting weaker and weaker until she fell into a coma which was mistaken for death.
“We dressed our darling”, red Harry again “in her favourite dress of blue silk and I put the empress’ comb in her hair,-she loved it so much. Alf and Lucia took care of the coffin and the arrangements. I only told them not to spare any expenses. I wanted my beloved to rest among the lace and silk.
We draped the chapel with black cloth and I ordered every rose in the garden to be cut down,-let them die along with their mistress.
Alf and I took Rita’s body from her salon, helped by Lucia and old Cecilia. We didn’t want strangers walking in this sacred space. Alf and Lucia instantly agreed to my idea of closing her salon forever. It is this way still.
With the bells tolling, accompanied by all servants and the villagers we carried Rita’s body into the chapel. The funeral service was due in the morning.
Though the evening sky was clear, a vicious gale broke out in the middle of the night. Old servants swear they haven’t seen a storm as violent in a long time
It thundered without a pause, dark sky was split by lighting and the wind was so strong I felt as if castle would come crashing down at any moment.
We all gathered in the dinning room. Our nerves, already taught from our grief, were stretched to a breaking point. The wind outside howled as if it were a live being. We were silent. I felt as if the whole world was breaking apart, not wanting to exist after the death of her, who was its greatest treasure.
Suddenly we heard the sound of panicked voices, rising above the storm. A woman screamed and someone howled.
The doors opened with a crash and several servants, five or six people in all, rushed into the room. They were all pale, with dishevelled hair and one of them screamed at me: “She is walking! She is coming!” Some ran to me as if looking for help, while others rushed into the next room.
And before we could understand from their screams what was happening, in the doorway, to our horror stood Rita, dead Rita.
In the first moment I couldn’t think. As if in a dream I looked around me, my eyes registering Rita, in her blue ball gown with roses tucked into her décolleté, saw old doctor’s bulging eyes, saw Alf’s face turn deathly pale.
How long did we all stand like this, I cannot tell. We were awoken from our stupor by Lucia’s happy cry:
“Dear God, you only fainted, you are alive, oh Rita, you are alive! We are so happy!”
Everyone started talking at once, happy, rushing towards Rita. Only the old doctor stood as still as a statue, his face frozen in an expression of bewilderment and disbelief.
Rita was weak and pale, which was understandable, giving the depth of her coma. And to wake up in her own coffin! That could have broken anyone. But fortunately, she was so weak that neither the coffin nor funeral furnishings of the chapel seemed to affect her.
She never spoke of her experience before or since.
That very night a young servant girl died in the castle, as if death didn’t want to leave us without taking a victim...
Death came and reigned in our home.
Not a week would pass without a new victim. We even became used to it, in part because similar epidemic also took over the village”.
“This was the beginning of so called ‘second epidemic’”, explained Harry, flipping through the next few pages.
“Carlo records the deaths of Lucia, Alf, the Italian footmen and complains that Rita, who was so sensitive and compassionate, is hardly moved by it all. Here he writes:
“Down in the village the funeral bell is tolling every day, reminding me of my childhood. Strange, unexplained fear is gripping me. And then that damned old doctor and his tales of vampires!
Poor man has finally lost his mind. He spends his nights and days walking inside the castle like ghost, appearing before your eyes when you least expect it, stinking the place up with garlic and drawing the sign of the pentagram wherever he can.
He is especially fond of decorating my rooms and things with it. I gave up arguing with him, as long as he spares me from garlic smell. We have a mute agreement about this.
Why aggravate the lunatic?
He and Rita have turned into the bitter enemies now. When they first met, Doctor was surrounding her with knightly attention, while Rita treated him with kindness as an elderly man and a friend of my parents. Now she cannot stand the sight of the old man, she absolutely hates him...
I think he is one of the reasons why she prefers eating alone in her rooms. I also attribute her refusal to accept my latest gift to her hatred of him.
Pity, because the thing turned out beautifully. I am talking about the pentagram pendant on a fine gold chain, studded with diamonds of finest quality, as pure as the spring dew.
And Rita refused to even touch it.
I must admit, I felt hurt. Oh well, I will wear it myself to remind me that everything is a lie. Happiness, love, friendship...”
Harry stopped reading and pushed the notebook aside:
“The culprit was once again the old vampire. He spent fifteen years in his coffin, bound by Petro’s spell, but was still powerful enough to put into Carlo’s mind an idea of taking Rita to the crypt and to Rita, a desire to lean on the stone coffin. The touch of a warm female flesh was enough to break the spell and free him.
He began by destroying the very woman who’d freed him, rewarding her with his love and this love’s terrible consequences.
Rita, with his help, became a strong vampire in a very short time. She lived a double existence: she spend her days among the living and, at night, preyed upon them as a vampire. Her passionate love for Alf, Carlo’s best friend nearly gave her away. She forgot to be careful and exposed her true nature to him, though Alf died without revealing her secret to Carlo.
Alf’s farewell letter, inside the bible never reached its intended destination. Carlo never saw it.
Nonetheless Carlo began to have his own suspicions, at first very vague, but, spurred on by his own jealousy, he started to track Rita’s movements.
Here Carlo is struggling within himself:
“She is so shameless, so licentious”, he writes “and the longer I watch her the more I feel as if I came up to a blind wall. She is either insane, or she is suffering from some mysterious illness, but a mental one, since, physically she is blossoming more and more every day”
“How can I explain this” he writes later “Rita sneaks into my study, looks around and picks up a heavy paperweight from my desk and throws it, with all her strength against the tall mirror that fills up a blank wall. The glass shatters. At the same moment, she knocks a heavy Chinese vase off its stand. Servants rush into the room.
“Nothing to gape at”, she says coldly “tell your master that I accidently pushed the vase off, which in turn broke the mirror”
“Leave now”. The servants exchange puzzled looks and walk away”
“At the same time”, continued Harry, “Carlo came across the old book dealing with lamias. He brought it from the forest house in memory of his friend, and decided to read it on one of his sleepless nights. Carlo admits that he wouldn’t have been able to understand it at all hadn’t it been for Doctor’s constant talks on the subject. Nonetheless, he cannot bring himself to believe in the existence of vampires, let alone add his fiancé to their ranks.
“The book clearly states that “they” leave their graves”, he writes, “then the book says that”, actually it is better if I read it to you, says Harry, flipping a few pages:
“The book says that the closest people to a vampire are the ones in most danger. If it were true then I would have been the first one to die. And I am alive and well, and no one has been bothering me at night...only I cannot sleep. I think I just heard a scream. Maybe...
Damn it, a big black cat sneaked into my room, I even got a fright for a moment. The cat was also frightened and ran down the passage. Where did it come from? I haven’t seen the one like that in the castle, maybe it wandered in from the forest. I will have too...
What a night...the sun is shining and I still cannot shake off the nightmare...or maybe it was real. I don’t know anymore, I’ve lost all the ways of measuring sanity...
Last night a black cat came into my room and ran away. No sooner, I got back to writing when the door swung open again and the lunatic dashed into my room.
He was clad in an old dressing gown with garlic dangling from his hat, his hand clutching a wooden stake, his constant companion.
It turns out it is made of aspen and he travelled far to get it, since that tree doesn’t grow here.
The old man ran into my room and started to look for something. He searched under the bed, opened my cupboard, moved chairs and drapes and even peered up the chimney.
“No, he is gone”
“Who is gone, who are you looking for?” I asked.
“Him. Oh I understand he wouldn’t dare to come here”, laughed the madman, pointing to a sign of a pentagram that he carved on the threshold of my room.
“Do you know what”, he added, “I put garlic paste on the doorframes, blessed herb, and he, and he jumped into the window, as a black cat...up and here, I was chasing him, but you see, my legs are old and he got away...” , he let out a heavy sigh and sank onto a chair.
I understood from his broken phrases that he decorated the doors to the chapel with garlic and waited with his stake for “him” to arrive. And infamous “he” the old man is so fond of complaining about is no other than Rita.
I swear if he were not old, I would have hit him, despite all of his insanity. I believed back then that even a lunatic should know his measure. While I was thinking of the best way to set his mind straight, the old man suddenly leaped off his chair, grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear:
“Let’s go, hurry. He must have gone in the Italian’s room. The painter. He will bleed him dry, the poor boy”
I couldn’t pull myself away and followed him meekly. He was starting to run and climbed up the stairs to the third floor. Once in the passageway, we, like a couple of thieves made our way to the Italian’s bedroom.
Old man opened the door slowly and quietly.
The room was bathed in moonlight, window wide open and the curtain pulled aside.
Your can only imagine my surprise, soon followed by rage when I saw Rita, my fiancée, lying on the painter’s chest, kissing him!
I must have shouted because Rita lifted her head and turned around and, oh horror. In the bright light of the moon, her eyes shone with rage and passion and her lips were dripping blood...
“Do you see? Do you see?” shouted the old man, rushing forward...strong gust of wind smashed the shutters closed and lifted the drape, which hit the old man; he became tangled and fell down.
I rushed to help him, but the moon disappeared and the room went dark. It took me a long time to find a candle and some matches.
In the flickering, poor light of the candle, I examined the room. The lunatic was getting of the floor, complaining and the Italian painter was sleeping peacefully.
I was about to blame everything on a hallucination when old man walked over to young painter and, lifting him by the shoulders announced calmly:
“I was right, she killed him”. He was telling the truth, the painter was dead, his face white, his arms hanging lifeless and the front of his white nightshirt was stained with blood.
Dear God in heaven, what is this? My head cannot take it...it will explode. Is it true that Rita is “Undead”? She drinks the blood of the living...how can I understand it, how can I find some thread to tie it al together...Rita and blood. No and no. I must be going insane myself, under the old man’s influence. He must be forcing his mad ideas into my head, and yet at the same time I know, know very well that I am not insane. But then all the lunatics think they are healthy”, Harry stopped.
“What happened next?”
“Carlo enters horrible phase of doubt, more horrible than even jealous torment he felt before. He admits that he was a hairbreadth away from loosing his mind.
To his fortune, old Petro returned from Rome. He grew painfully thin and aged, but he is solemnly calm and confident:
“Lord had mercy on me and the Holy Father blessed me to serve others and I am no longer afraid. And I will fight all the darkness for your sake, young Carlo. I will save you, have no doubt”, he said.
Petro spent the entire day down in the village and was told about our calamities.
Later he told me about the monastery where he spend his time. “It is so wonderful there, so wonderful, I never wanted to leave”, he confessed “but I had to hurry here, I feared for you, but, God be thanked, I am not too late”
Little by little, with great tact, Petro started to introduce Carlo to the facts surrounding his mother’s death, but seeing a look of sadness on his young master’s face stopped and asked:
“So you know everything? Who told you?”
Carlo admitted that he knew most of it and that the old doctor was the one who told him.
“Ah, this is the reason for his insanity, his oath”, said Petro “where did he go to, do you know?”
“He didn’t go anywhere; he lives with me, up at the castle”.
After Carlo’s confession that he knows the reason for his mother’s death, Petro openly told him about his own mission in the world. This mission is to destroy vampires. He invited Carlo to help him in it.
“Fortunately, your dear mother is peaceful. I already examined the crypt and the rock around it. All is as it should be. Maybe old count’s prayers saved her soul. And thank God for it, otherwise you would have had to knock a stake into your own mother’s heart”.
Petro confirmed that the “Old Devil” was set free by the touch of Rita’s body and the first drink of blood would have fully restored his powers. He is only surprised that the “Old Devil” didn’t kill her, since it is the typical reward of vampires to their liberators.
“I have heard”, continued Petro, “that your bride was ill, close to death, but she pulled through and the people are saying that she looks even more beautiful than she was before illness”
“Have you met my bride?” I asked.
“No, not yet”.
So what am I to do now? Should I share my suspicions with Petro or should I keep quiet, not to put any preconceived idea into his head, which would be even better, since the lunatic left for the city.
It is decided, I will keep quiet for now.
It is an old custom with Rita and me to take a walk in the garden after a midday meal (though we eat in separate parts of the house). We walk along the precipice, enjoying the view.
Before these walks were full of wondrous moments, we had so much to say to each other...and now. Now it is as if we are doing it for the servants’ sake.
So yesterday, we were walking as usual, swapping few comments about the weather.
Petro suddenly climbed up on the terrace. He was dressed in the old court dress, his shoes had huge buckles on them, his hair was neatly combed and he held a small parcel wrapped in paper in his hands.
I understood immediately that the old man came here to be introduced to his new mistress.
“Rita”, I said “this is Petro, he helped to raise me and was a loyal servant of my parents”.
Rita nodded head head.
Petro bowed deeply and bend over her hand. I’ve noticed for the first time the unpleasant change in Rita’s hands. Her fingers, pink with delicate nails, now looked long and white, her nails strong and sharp.
When Petro was about to touch her hand, Rita pulled back and snapped:
“I don’t want to!”
Poor Petro was so taken aback that instead of leaving, he held out his package to Rita:
“I brought these for you, they were blessed by the Holy Father himself”
Rita jumped to the side, her entire face twisted in rage and she not so much spoke, as hissed:
“Get out, you fool!” and walked away towards the house.
Poor Petro was a pitiful sight. The paper broke in his shaking hands and an amber rosary was left hanging in his hands.
For me this scene was full of hidden meaning.
How could Rita, in her present condition, accept the rosary, blessed by the Holy Father himself?
“Calm down, Petro, give the rosary to me instead. I will need it in the days to come”
“Dear Carlo, why? What did I do wrong?” he mumbled, hurt.
“Nothing. Have courage, my friend”, I answered “all this means only that you were too late and the “Old Devil” did his job and ruined the one who released him”.
After Carlo told him all he knew, Petro concluded that Rita is a vampire and that she must be destroyed.
Despite all this, Carlo is hoping at times that he is wrong, that all that happened is a result of a psychosis, hallucination, a mistake. Petro then decides to prove the truth to him once and for all”
“If you are not bored, I could read the rest of the notes to you without interruptions”, he said.
“Of course, we want to know everything”, answered James for everyone.
“In this case, Karl Ivanovich, would you be kind enough to read them to us, I am getting tired”, said Harry, passing the notebook to the librarian.
The old man put on his glasses and began to read:
“Petro is following Rita. Now he is convinced that she spends her hours of vampiric sleep in her coffin in the chapel. No wonder she is so protective of it.
Tonight we will go there, to see the final proof.
Last evening, at sunset (which is, according to Petro, the hour when all the vampires must return to their death state) we left for the chapel. Rita has also been watching us and, according to Petro, at this hour, she would be powerless to do so.
We hid on the choir balcony. It was very quiet.
Last rays of the setting sun lit up the dark draperies in the chapel, dried roses on the floor and the casket.
Petro pulled up two chairs for us, drew a circle around them with a piece of white chalk, and then, mumbling something, drew a pentagram in its centre.
Half an hour passed. Everything is silent and the sun has set.
The shadows grow darker.
Below us the casket’s outline grew less and less visible, the candlesticks, draped in black fabric, the open pulpit with its bible are swallowed up by the night. I felt vague, inexplicable fear.
Petro from time to time touched my knee as if trying to reassure me.
I closed my eyes in the darkness.
When I opened them a while later, the moon had risen and the chapel is filled with its silvery light. Familiar objects seem to change shape. Even dead roses on the floor seem to come alive. I swear I could smell their fragrance.
Petro squeezes my knee again, inviting me to pay attention.
What is this? The door leading to the crypt, securely closed a moment ago, stand wide opened and a dark figure appears in the doorway. I see a tall old man, dressed in velvet with an expensive thick gold chain around his neck. I swear it is old Dracula.
If, instead of the dark background of the chapel he was surrounded by a golden frame, I could have sworn that I am looking at the portrait that my father banished to the forest house so many years ago.
The old man slowly approaches the coffin. His steps are unhurried and measured.
The lid slides off. In the casket, dressed in her favourite blue dress, with fresh roses adorning her, lies Rita.
She opens her eyes, happy smile lights up her face:
“It’s time, my dear”, she says, stretching her arms out to the old man, “You are my master, you made me so strong and I love you”.
Rita pushed herself and sat up in the coffin. A moment more, and she is already standing on the floor.
“Why do you insist that I continue living with them? I want to be with you in the crypt. They disgust me, and I suffer among them. Even now, I swear I can sense their presence”, she said, looking around.
“Enough, they wouldn’t dare to come here!”
We sat quietly, holding our breaths.
“But what if they are here?” said Rita, looking up at the balcony.
At the same moment, I saw Petro pull out his small box of communion host.
“Let’s leave this place”, said Rita. They embraced and, effortlessly lifted their feet of the floor, melting in the beam of moonlight. For a moment, their bodies blocked the window and then disappeared.
Petro and I clearly saw that the door to the crypt and the coffin were now closed.
I felt as if I saw a dream.
“We will wait”, said Petro, “summer nights are short. She will return soon”.
I don’t know how long we waited. I was tired, my back sore, my legs wooden. My head was heavy with dull pain.
The air was thick with the smell of death, as if a rotten corpse was lying next to us.
Sun was about to rise. There is no sign of Rita.
Only a large black cat is sitting on the windowsill. I want to get up, but then the cat jumps into the chapel and a moment later, it is no longer a cat, but Rita.
She walks towards the coffin with tired steps. Her eyes shine with pleasure and her lips are stained with bloody foam.
“Hurry, we must leave”, whispers Petro, taking my hand.
“Yes, let’s leave”, I whisper, “I’ve seen enough”.
I barely made it to my bed, falling down as though dead.
Last night was even worse than the night when Rita first rose from her grave.
Let me explain.
After a sleepless night, spent in the chapel, tormented by my thoughts, I fell upon my bed and was soon sinking into a deep, dark, dreamless sleep.
Suddenly I feel someone push me angrily. I open my eyes and see Rita standing before me, her face contorted in anger, long nails digging into my arm:
“Get up! What insolence, your fools broke into my chapel and are refusing to leave. Throw them out immediately! And order them to take down the bars and idiotic flowers!” she is shouting.
“What bars and flowers are you talking about?”I ask.
“I knew it! They did it behind your back. Let’s go”, and she is puling me towards the chapel.
It turns out that the lunatic left for the city to order several wooden grills made of mistletoe and installed them in the chapel’s windows. Petro completed the picture by hanging wreaths of small flowers from them. Their strong smell revealed them to be garlic.
“Order for this to be removed! Now!” screamed Rita.
“All right, Rita. I will order for it to be removed tomorrow”
“No, right now!”
“Rita, it is already late and the sun is about to set. And I promise you no servant would agree to work after dark in a room with a coffin, even an empty one”, I answered in an even tone, “Take the key to the chapel if you want and tomorrow I will have it cleaned”
Rita took the key, unsure.
Petro, without addressing anyone in particular said softly:
“We should read “Ave Maria”, the sun is setting”
“Get out, I am locking the door”, said Rita.
We left. Old men were smiling and nudging each other.
“So, Carlo, time for a fight. While you were asleep, Petro and I prepared everything”, said the lunatic, his voice sure and determined.
I looked at him, surprised. His eyes appeared strangely light, his gaze direct.
“Yes, dear Carlo, I am better now. I am no longer alone. Petro is here to help me. And you. Now you know I was telling the truth. I know from my helplessness my head spun and I felt as if I were loosing my mind. And today, when I saw Petro and we spoke I feel as if a great weight fell off me. I will help you both, and when I am done, I will go to the monastery Petro told me about. He says it is like heaven there”.
“Yes, we will, but now it is time”, interrupted Petro.
“Yes we decided to close the windows with mistletoe as a precaution. No unclean spirit can pass through it. All the doors except the entrance we sealed shut and filled every crack with lead, into which we mixed the communion host, so that they will have nowhere to go except through the front door.
We have two aspen stakes and hammers ready. We will leave in quarter of an hour.
I will guide the stake, Petro will hold the sacrament and you, Carlo, will have to strike the stake with a hammer. Don’t worry, I will guide it straight through the heart, I am, after all a doctor. After we’ve dealt with the woman, we will go down to the crypt, All right?”
We went back to the castle. The rooms were empty, the servants were given a day off.
The old men went off into a corner to pray and I sat in the open window, watching the setting sun.
Image after image played themselves in my mind.
Another sunset, dark canal and a long shape of gondola gliding quietly and the eyes, black and beautiful. The church. Organ is playing softly and the same eyes are so close to me, but they are looking away. And again she looks at me her face shining with love and tenderness, I feel her hands caressing me, the fragrance of roses and soon she will be mine, my beloved wife.
“Let’s go”, a voice says and someone takes my hand, leading me away...where?
Forbidding walls are hung with dark fabric, decorated with white pungent flowers. Silver coloured coffin is covered with a richly embroidered tapestry. Dried roses crumble into dust under my feet.
The sun has set and the dying rays fill the room.
I am hot and it is hard to breathe.
Two dark figures move towards the coffin. Silently the roll up the cover and slide off the lid.
Inside the casket, resting on the silk pillow, lies my beloved, her black hair is held, as if by a crown, by the high edge of the jewelled comb. Her white teeth glisten between her moist lips. Memories of our meetings on the canal and in the old church rush through my mind.
My pulse is echoing in my temples.
One of the dark figures gives me something long and pushes its end into my fiancé’s chest. Someone gives me a heavy hammer and I hear a voice ordering me to strike.
I obey, lifting my arm and then...her beautiful beloved eyed open, her lips part and she whispers: “Carlo”.
“Strike! Strike!” orders the voice and I lift my arm once more. Her eyes are full of pain and sadness, her lips are closed tight and she clutches helplessly with her hand. A moment more and the hammer falls from my hand. I want to move, but all strength leaves me and I fall at the foot of the coffin.
I hear an angry cry and a burst of laughter....and I lose consciousness.
I woke up late at night in my own room. Petro and Doctor are standing next to my bed. Petro is changing a wet towel on my forehead and Doctor is talking to him:
“It is nothing. She bewitched him, but he will be all right”
Suddenly a terrible gust of wind blew over the castle. The shutters banged, the doors closed and I heard the sounds of servants running. Another gust.
“The roof has been blown off and the old oak is split by lightning!” shouted someone outside my room. I leaped to my feet.
“It is “their” doing, it is “their” hour”, confirmed Doctor.
He and Petro told me that after they carried me, unconscious, from the chapel they sealed the remaining door with lead into which they mixed crushed sacrament. And now the “unclean”, are creating a storm in it’s’ rage.
As if to confirm his words, a massive bolt of lightning crashed into the rock. I felt as if the castle were about to break apart.
The old men ran outside, to the doors of the chapel. The massive doors were shaking as if someone was trying to break out. I heard something crashing inside, again and again. The sound of breaking windows and smashed metal was barely audible above the roar of the storm.
Inside the chapel, something was howling and moaning, dark shadows flashed in the window. I saw a white cloud and something green and unearthly.
The storm was growing stronger. The doors were about to break from their hinges. I stood, waiting for the chapel wall to crumble, burying us beneath its rubble.
Petro, his grey hair wild, his monk-like robes blowing in the wind stood up in front of the doors, holding up his precious box of sacrament.
His face shone with deep faith and conviction. The old doctor was lying on the ground with his arms outstretches as if trying to block the way with his own body.
Another flash of lightning, brighter and stronger. The ground shook and I fell down.
The old men started singing psalms in horribly uneven voices. Servants rushed past us, fleeing towards the village.
Suddenly everything grew quiet.
And then in the silence, more frightening than the storm I heard a voice, gentle and sweet, calling my name. The voice broke up in tears, so full of love and tenderness.
I got up, without thinking, against my will.
At the same moment, something heavy pinned me to the ground and Doctor’s harsh and threatening voice hissed in my ear:
“Don’t move. Or I swear to God I will cut your throat”, and I felt the cold steel pinch my neck.
The voice behind the door kept calling me, its sweet promises and entreaties growing more and more passionate. It was as if the old Rita was standing before me.
A moment longer and I don’t know how it all could have ended.
To my salvation, a sound of the bell broke through, then another.
The sound came from the village church, rising up to heaven, begging and demanding, blending the sounds of supplication and alarm.
Our servants ran to the village and told the old priest of our horrors.
The old priest had long suspected that there was something wrong in the castle, rushed to his church and ordered for the bell to be rung, and started to gather people for a procession towards the castle.
As soon as they approached the gate, a bright ray of sun broke through the clouds.
Instantly the voice inside the chapel fell silent.
The bell rang triumphantly.
“We are saved! Saved!” whispered Doctor and Petro, and all three of us sank to our knees. For the first time in my life, I prayed from the bottom of my heart and with complete faith.
I have very little to add to these notes. Once we’ve calmed down we decided no to risk opening the chapel again. To weaken the “unclean” we thought to separate them, by barring old Dracula from the chapel. Petro and Doctor realised their mistake in not sealing the door between the chapel and the crypt thus allowing the ‘unclean’ to act together. We dug a deep grave in the crypt, and lowered the coffin, inscribed ‘Brought from America’ into the earth. Petro and Doctor bound it with a spell, the same way as they did my mother many years ago”
“So, James, this is the reason you were unable to find the coffin”, interrupted Harry, “carry on, Karl Ivanovich”
“There are only few lines left”
“All three of us are leaving for the monastery where we will pray for the salvation of the souls of those that were once beloved to us. May the Lord, in his infinite mercy grant them eternal peace of the grave. Perhaps Petro will return to watch over them. And the time itself will destroy their terrifying power”
Everyone stayed silent for a few moments, thinking about the tragedy of Carlo’s life.
“This was their error”, Harry finally spoke, “by the way, I almost forgot”, he added, pulling something long and white out of his pocket.
It was a pearl necklace, its golden clasp shaped like serpent’s head with pair of emeralds for eyes.
“Where did you get it from? This is Maria Dracula’s necklace”, asked James.
“On the night when we were breaking through the wall I found it on a pile of rubbish at the bottom of the well. I put it inside my pocket and forgot all about it. And only today I came across it again”, replied Harry
Everybody is admiring quality of the pearls and the mastery of the clasp.
“Still it would have been better if it had stayed at the bottom of the old well!” sighed James.