MOONSTONE MONDAY-CLIFFHANGER FICTION!!!
This week, Cliffhanger Fiction from Moonstone takes a different turn into the pulpiness of HORROR! And who better to do this with than the Lord of Vampires himself in the capable hands of Martin Powell! If you’re interested in getting the whole collection this story of Dracula appears in, then follow the link at the end of the tale…
THE EVIL OF
A Prequel to
Bram Stoker’s Novel
The night fog glided in like a dimly glowing ghost, brushing wetly across the weathered window sill. A soft grey drizzle droned through the empty branches scratching against the single pane as the cottage girl hummed a sweet sigh alone in her bed.
Outside, the darkness was waiting to get in.
Through dreamy half-closed lids the girl’s eyes dilated slowly, engorged with the night, sleepily shuddering in her intimate invitation. The small room grew suddenly colder, despite the crisply crackling hearth. Without a sound, except for the thunder in her veins, a looming black presence filled the bedchamber eclipsing the firelight.
She drew down the bedclothes languidly, breathless in her anticipation. A pale luminescent face separated itself from the mist as if it had been a part of it, the feral nostrils pulsing with the girl’s moistened fragrance. Shining eyes the color of polished pennies smoldered in the shadows of hollow sockets. The creature bowed and poured its long black form across the bed, caressing the heaving hips and panting bosom of the girl like a carnally weighted shadow. They both wanted this.
Her delicate features winced only slightly at the sight of the sharp white teeth between livid lips the colour of bruised wine. Shuddering against the chill of the gaping mouth fastening upon her naked throat, the girl tightly curled her toes against the gentle hurt.
Hours passed and the dark thing remained with the girl, nursing at the slope of her whitening neck until she was gone. Drawing upon now hollowed veins the creature remained fixed, unsatisfied, with the life it had stolen. No matter how beautiful, how bountiful the woman, it was never enough.
Only the crow of the impending dawn slaked the passion of the daemon’s thirst. The black shroud of its cloak melted and leathered into scalloped wings swimming the shadows in the sky, returning to the oppressive castle upon the jagged mountain.
Alone, within the great stone sarcophagus deep beneath the ancient battlements, Count Dracula’s eyes stared wide in his unholy sleep, bloodily bloated with his spent lust. The terrible face lined with fear, knowing the horror of Purgatory which claimed his monstrous soul during the seeming eternity of the daylight hours.
There was an escape from Hell, Dracula knew. His great brain burned with the brilliance of his inspired scheme. Soon his perennial fiery tortures would cease forever. Even in the throes of agony the ancient vampire’s cruel lips fixed upon a triumphant, leering smile. This much the Count was certain, more than anything else…
Time was on his side.
The locomotive emerged through the icy London fog with a pungent hissing halt of oily steam. Monsignor Russell’s weathered bulldog of a face brightened immediately upon spotting an energetic wide-shouldered, reddish-haired man of forty departing the train. The passenger’s fierce blue-grey eyes darted about, straining to see through the clinging mist.
“Abraham!” the Monsignor heartily waved him down, “Abraham Van Helsing!”
The two men vigorously shook hands.
“It’s so good to see you again, Leslie,” the severity instantly left Van Helsing’s eyes, although they remained as piercing as ever. “What has it been…nine years, isn’t it? As a physician and as your friend, I must say that you’re not looking very well. I suspect you sent for me just in time.”
Monsignor Russell hailed a cab, taking his companion by the elbow and clamored inside its relative warmth.
“I didn’t bring you from Amsterdam to discuss my health, Abraham.”
Van Helsing nodded and fondly tapped his friend’s shoulder.
“Quite right,” he affirmed. “Your cable was very sparse. I need to know more about this man before I can arrive at a possible prognosis.”
The elderly Monsignor’s face grew graver still.
“He’s staying at the Rectory. Says he doesn’t feel safe anywhere else. I dare not admit him to Saint Bart’s, they would deem him insane and have him put away. Still, as I said in my telegram, I’m convinced his malady is more of the spirit than of the mind.”
The suspended fog softly muffled the clatter of the hooves upon the cobblestones, and the streetlamps skulked by the cab windows looking unreal. Van Helsing sat in silence admiring the eerie beauty of the common London street, made most extraordinary by the elemental pallet surrounding them.
“Is he still having the nightmares?” he asked at last.
The Monsignor’s frown saddened and deepened.
“Worse. Now he’s hearing voices.”
At the Rectory, he paced the hardwood floors like a caged animal. A large middle-aged man with wild eyes, mumbling Latin incantations beneath his breath, while continuously crossing himself with madly twitching fingers. Some great, nameless fear seemed to quicken and swell within him like a living thing. Incessantly, he darted glances of dread at the dimming light behind the stained glass windows. Daylight was fading.
The Monsignor and Van Helsing had hardly stepped foot into the door before the man crumpled to his knees in front of them.
“Why did you leave me? Night is falling and I was alone!” he gasped, his eyes wilder than before.”
“Calm yourself, sir,” Monsignor Russell scolded gently. “I brought a man whom I believe can help you. This is Dr. Van Helsing from the Continent.”
The quivering wild man shot Van Helsing a venomous glare.
“There’s nothing wrong with me that your pills can cure,” he spat out contemptuously.
Van Helsing’s eyes hardened, then brimmed with pity. His strong, intelligent face lifted in a soothing smile.
“I am more than merely that kind of doctor and I am confident that I can help you, my poor friend,” Van Helsing offered his sun-bronzed muscular hand. “Please tell me your troubles, Mister–?”
The man immediately lost much of his wildness, the glazed eyes slowly softening into brimming tears. With a trembling gesture he clasped Van Helsing’s hand.
“Renfield,” he murmured low. “Roderick Matthias Renfield. Forgive me, Doctor. If you can truly save me, then I am your obedient servant.”
Transylvania, the Land of Phantoms.
Nightfall swallowed the Carpathian valley, letting loose all its moving, hunting shadows. Pale things, dead by day, crawled forth, shrouded in grave-dirt as howling bristling horrors lurched through the haunted forests.
Looming over all with trident spires of diabolical majesty was Castle Dracula, whose unholy foundations were old when Eden was new. No one spoke of the dreadful place. No one went there.
Except a man with nothing more to lose.
“All is prepared for you, my Master,” the peasant bowed within the gloom of the courtyard, cold sweat blurring his vision. “The Vesta sails in two days. The crew has been bribed as you directed. Your…cargo is already onboard, bound for London. The one you seek is there.”
Count Dracula stood at the top of the time-worn stairs, unmoving. Only his smoldering eyes seemed alive on the grim, waxen face. For a long moment there was a terrible stillness, as if the world had stopped. Then, abruptly, the Count glided down, his boots soundless upon the cold stone of the steps.
“Master…?” the peasant dared to follow. “My…my daughters…my girls…you promised to release them if I served you…”
Dracula paused, the moonlight turning his long shadow into something unnamable. He nodded slightly toward a darkened crevice in the ancient stone, and then, inexplicably, his imposing figure shimmered into nothingness. It was as if Dracula had become the Night itself.
The peasant drew in a shuddered breath, turning slowly, following the icy prickles running down his spine. Six glowering eyes burned at him from the shadows of the edifice, followed by three emerging figures resembling young women. Their low, savage laughter was almost musical in the stillness of the castle. Flesh, pale and bloodless, took form over their ghostliness like the guttural drip of a melting candle. Voluptuous lips, purpled from famine, curled back over their glinting animal teeth.
The peasant screamed only once, as fiends who were once his daughters fed deeply and lustfully from their own flesh and blood.
“I’ve actually heard of you, Doctor,” Renfield sat uncomfortably, repetitively glancing at the great ticking clock in the Monsignor’s book-lined study.
Van Helsing listened intently through his stethoscope, nearly finished with Renfield’s physical examination.
“Ah, your heart is rapid, but strong. A good sign,” the doctor amiably nodded. “Please follow my finger with your eyes, Mr. Renfield. Now then…how is it that you know me?”
Renfield’s face brightened suddenly, making him appear rather younger and more intelligent.
“You’ve been published, sir,” he beamed. “I’m quite a voracious reader, especially upon scientific matters. In fact, I am something of an amateur entomologist, the species Psychodidae being a particular specialty of interest.”
Peering deeply into his patient eyes, Van Helsing smiled quite satisfied.
“Of course, the common moth fly. They can be quite a nuisance, can they not?” he gave Renfield a gentle, comforting pat on the knee. “Now then, you’re vision and reflexes are normal. In fact, except for being somewhat malnourished, overall your health is quite excellent.”
Again, Renfield stabbed a look at the clock. His face grimaced for an instant, as if in sudden pain, then smiled sadly at the physician.
“So, Doctor,” he flushed in shame, “you’re telling me that this is all in my mind?”
Van Helsing rinsed his hands in a water basin, and blotted them with a clean towel. He regarded the question silently, and seriously, for a moment and then smiled again. There was something calming, something comforting in his manner. He had an inner strength about him and Renfield clearly and gratefully felt it.
“I notice that the clock worries you, does it not? Why is that, pray tell?” it was peculiar how Van Helsing’s Dutch accent sometimes grew more pronounced when he was concentrating.
“The night…” Renfield started, then sadly shook his head.
“Ah, then. It is the coming of night that you fear, Mr. Renfield,” Van Helsing offered at last. “Is that not so?”
Renfield nodded, reluctantly.
“You say you suffer from lucid nightmares,” the doctor continued, “which I also have experienced from time to time. They can be, I know, very terrifying. However, there is something much more than merely bad dreams tormenting you. You’ve complained that something is following you, devouring your very thoughts. You feel weakened and empowered at the same time. You don’t trust your own mind. All this started, you tell me, when your only daughter became tragically stricken with consumption. Now you feel something has, how again did you say it? ‘Invaded your soul’, you said. You feel as if someone, or something, is looking out through your own eyes. Spying on the rest of us. Yes?”
Renfield’s haunted eyes glazed with tears.
“Am I…am I quite insane, Doctor?” he managed, at last.
Van Helsing frowned, narrowing his eyes. The sudden hush in the room was jarring.
“You’ll find that I differ considerably from my esteemed colleagues, sir. I believe a metaphysical explanation may be in order, something along the lines of clairvoyance or precognition,” Van Helsing turned grimly to Renfield, his strong, bronzed face grown a bit grey. “In all truth it is even possible that you may be possessed.”
“I refuse to believe in such rot,” Renfield flushed, defensively.
“These things, and more, exist in this world as few others would ever begin to suspect. I have spent my lifetime, such as it is, in pursuit of these obscure truths about the world. I have journeyed far and wide, seeing things with my own eyes that defy intelligent explanation. To those ends, I have, myself, become convinced of the reality of the unearthly and the unnamable. The Supernatural will not go away simply because we disapprove, or even disbelieve in it, Mr. Renfield.”
Van Helsing paused a moment, then clasped Renfield by the shoulder.
“Tell me about these voices.”
Renfield peered at the clock, stood and took to pacing. He hesitated for a full minute, then Van Helsing’s patient smile brought out his trust.
“Only one voice!” he, at last, stated desperately. “Something dark, terrible…it’s knows all my secrets. God help me, Dr. Van Helsing…it promises that after my daughter dies— she will live forever!”
“You needn’t be so shy about it, Dr. Van Helsing…I know that I’m dying.”
Miss Adelaide Renfield smiled with blind, beautiful eyes. Though weak, her voice had retained a bit of the music it must have possessed before her illness. She scarcely moved in her hospital bed, but her faded pallor still bloomed with some of its delicate sweetness. Although she could not see him, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing couldn’t take his own saddened eyes off of her.
“I am so sorry, my dear young Miss,” he managed, pressing her forehead with his palm. She was burning up.
Adelaide smiled again. It was both uplifting, and heartbreaking, that smile.
“There’s nothing for you to feel sorry for, Doctor,” she gave his sinewy wrist a whispered squeeze. “Death is a natural thing. I find it almost comforting now. I only wish my poor father was not so direly affected. I know he feels guilty for not visiting me. He shouldn’t. I understand. When my mother died, it nearly killed him.”
Van Helsing studied her shining grey-green eyes which, despite their sightlessness, warmed with an inner light.
“How long have you been blind?” he presented his comforting, professional tone. The girl very visibly responded to its quiet strength.
“Almost since birth,” Adelaide’s pale lips curled in a bit of humor. “I had scarlet fever as a baby. You’d think there could be nothing more wrong with me, wouldn’t you?”
Van Helsing lightly stroked her hair, which fell so very dark and silken about her shoulders, with spun threads of blued sapphires.
“What I think,” he said after a long moment, “is that you are a very brave young lady.”
Van Helsing continued speaking with quiet, paternal patience as he answered the girl’s grim questions considering her consumptive illness. He held nothing back, telling her everything of what to expect. She never flinched, not even at the worst of it. Afterwards, they passed a peaceful silence for a number of minutes. Then, for the first time, Van Helsing saw a fretful frown crease her supple brow.
“Doctor…I’m fearful for my father,” she whispered at last. “When Monsignor Russell comes to give me Holy Communion, I feel he is trying to protect me from something. Is my father ill?”
Van Helsing took her hand, warming the chilled fingers.
“What makes you ask that?”
She stared passed his shoulder at nothingness and her eyes slightly rounded.
“I…I’ve been having dreams. I suppose you could call them nightmares. In my sleep, I sense something following him. Something wild and vicious, like a thing from the jungle. It…wants something from him. Something terrible.”
Dr. Van Helsing leaned forward a bit. Her voice was getting tired and fainter with every fitful breath. The sudden shift of anxiety alarmed him.
“Sometimes a dream is just that, my dear Miss,” he gave her wrist a gentle pat, keeping her father’s similar malady to himself.
Adelaide’s eye grew wider, more pronounced in their catlike glimmer.
“But—sometimes, Dr. Van Helsing…sometimes my dreams come true.”
“Oh? In what form does this happen?”
She took a slow, hurtful breath. Van Helsing much too easily noticed the fluid rattle from her chest.
“Last night…I dreamt of a sea vessel. A rank, creaking ship pushed by evil winds toward our shores. There was a hideous stillness on board. Hushed voices of the crew stammered in horror. The Devil was on that ship.”
“Ah, yes. You heard the grim news about the unfortunate Vesta, which docked late last night with its crew of madmen.”
The girl winced, painfully swallowed, and then coughed a bit of blood into her hand.
Van Helsing was glad the girl couldn’t see his sudden apprehension. Her slight consumptive hemorrhage quieted and he spoke soothingly to her. Just the sound of his voice seemed to take away much of the pain.
“Sister Charles reads the morning papers to me,” Adelaide finally managed, nearly recovered from the spasm.
Solemnly, Van Helsing reached into an inner pocket of his coat.
“I have just the cure for these nightmares,” he withdrew a small silver crucifix and draped its thin golden chain around her neck. “This was blessed by his Holiness in Rome himself. Never take it off.”
Adelaide’s unmoving eyes gained more brightness as they moistened.
“I must leave you, my dear,” Van Helsing lightly caressed her flushing cheek, renewing its warmth. “However, I will return again tomorrow, to be charmed by you all over again.”
The girl’s questing fingers caught at his sleeve.
“Doctor,” she asked with an expression like a child, “is it still daylight?”
“Yes, Miss. It’s late afternoon. A beautiful day.”
Her face lifted again in a girlish smile.
“Could you open the curtains, please? Although I’ve never seen it, I can still remember the sun on my face. It always felt friendly.”
Left to herself, Adelaide Renfield was softly smiling, privately treasuring her own wild imaginings of what colour might be like.
Van Helsing arrived at his room at the Northumberland Hotel some hours after sunset. He had walked long and thoughtfully through the rattling, humming London streets pondering the events of the past few days. As the long shadows cast themselves across the cobblestones, a chill of dread crawled over his skin. Somehow the great city was different. Tainted, he believed. Something unnatural had mixed itself into its thundering swirl and rush of life.
Twice, Van Helsing felt certain he’d heard a voice softly speak his name. Two times he turned, and no one was there. For the first time in his observant life, the eminent scientist took intimate notice—and was unnerved by—the darting shadows of the moths fluttering around the streetlamps.
He felt colder than he should as he turned the key and stepped into his rented flat.
He was not alone.
The chamber was well-lighted, but somehow Van Helsing needed to strain his eyes in order to fully take in his unknown visitor. He observed the towering figure of a man all in black, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. Motionless as an obelisk, only the figure’s unblinking eyes looked alive.
Finally, the bruised lips curved and spoke.
“Dr. Abraham Van Helsing…the great scientist, whose name we know even in the wilds of Transylvania. I have crossed land and sea to make your acquaintance. Only in you may I find salvation.”
Van Helsing took an uneasy step forward, toward the invader.
“How did you get in here?” he demanded. “Who are you?”
White wolfish teeth smiled.
“I am Count Dracula.”