This week, Cliffhanger Fiction from Moonstone brings you the next terrifying chapter in a horrifying tale of the Lord of Vampires himself written by 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
Van Helsing studied the uninvited visitor with a quick sweeping study.Although peculiarly pale, and possessing fiercely probing eyes, the stranger seemed normal enough at first glance.In fact, despite an undeniably commanding demeanor, the gentleman seemed quite congenial, even cultured in his manner.Still, there was something oddly foreign about him that even the worldly Van Helsing couldn’t quite place.
“I have never heard of you before in my life, Count,” Van Helsing said curtly.“Yet, you say that you know me.If that is so, then you must realize that I am a man pressed for time with many other duties.May I ask why you have disturbed my privacy this evening?”
Dracula took a single silent step forward, suddenly a prowling black-draped panther of a man, losing some of his amiable comportment.
“Physician, anthropologist, attorney, theologian, student of the occult, and master of a dozen different scientific disciplines…I am fully aware of your accomplishments and reputation, Doctor,” he spoke excellent English, though with a strange intonation as if unpracticed in speaking aloud.
“Indeed?” Van Helsing scowled.
“I know, for example, that many years ago as a curious student you investigated an infamously haunted monastery in Tibet.Although your initial purpose was to scientifically disprove its supernatural reputation, you came away from that terrible place a very changed and enlightened man.You had learned…too much.Although kept largely secret from your learned brethren, your true life’s work is the scientific pursuit of the unnatural, the unearthly, of Life beyond Death.It has become the engine that drives you.”
The scientist was stunned.
“How…do you know these things?I never wrote of my Tibetan explorations.Never spoke of them to a living soul.”
Count Dracula paused for a brief moment, a sinister smile on his sensual red lips.
“Rejoice, Dr. Van Helsing, your long search has ended,” he moved nearer, black cloak writhing.“I am your obsession personified.”
The floor seemed to sway and the gaslight faded.Van Helsing caught the edge of a chair to steady himself.There was something about the stranger’s eyes, with their weird ruby illusion reflecting the firelight, which pierced and drained the doctor’s strength.He felt suddenly drugged.
“I…I don’t understand,” the doctor found it difficult to speak as the Count continued to stare with his knowing, animal smile.
Dracula glided closer still, placing a sharp-nailed hand upon Van Helsing’s shoulder, inducing an involuntary shudder.
“Don’t you, Doctor?Then, allow me to help clarify what you oddly fail to realize.There is an old adage, I believe, very close to the heart of every scientific man,” the Count explained, indicating the large heavily framed mirror behind them.“Behold—for in seeing there is believing.”
Van Helsing breathlessly gazed at his astonished reflection.The Count’s hand had continued to grip the doctor’s coat.He was fully aware of the uncannily controlled, hideous strength contained in that white bloodless talon.
Yes, there was no doubt, Van Helsing still felt that dreadful grasp, and yet, somehow, unbelievably…Count Dracula’s own image was utterly absent in the glass!
The scientist’s blood pounded icily in his temples.There was but one implausible explanation.
A single, weighted, alien word escaped Van Helsing’s learned lips.
“Van Helsing has betrayed me,” Renfield couldn’t remain still, stalking a visible trail across the rug.
Muttering and constantly crossing himself, he was persistently in motion, twitching and agitated like a beast in pain.No less than three times during the past quarter hour Renfield stabbed a hated, frantic glance at the clock, and contemptuously shook his head.He had grown leaner and wilder-eyed during the past several nights.
Monsignor Russell frowned for a long moment, finally forcing a kindly smile.
“Dr. Van Helsing said that we might not see him for a while,” the elder priest offered.“His last telegram spoke of some great emergency, but he also prescribed that you remain safely here in the Rectory.Above all, he accentuated that you should never lose hope.He will find a way to help you, Mr. Renfield.”
“Ah, yes, of course.‘Hope Springs Eternal’…” Renfield growled, beneath clenched teeth.“But Eternity scoffs back at us, Monsignor.It mocks me with its empty promises.Just as Van Helsing humiliates me by his negligence.”
Renfield spun, savagely tearing open the curtains to stare up at the moon.Almost at once, his breathing slowed, his nervousness diffused.Monsignor Russell had seen this effect before with Renfield.Sometimes the moon alone seemed to be the only thing capable of calming him, if only for a moment.
Renfield continued his reverie of the shimmering orb for several minutes, his lips moving without noise.
“Did you know, Monsignor,” he finally spoke low, trance-like.“That the moon doesn’t possess any actual light of its own?Moonlight is merely reflected sunlight…no matter what else we may choose to call it.”
The Monsignor didn’t recognize the subtle shift in Renfield’s voice.The hysteria had dimmed, and something of the man’s former scholarly nature returned.It was a welcomed, if sudden, change after many nights of wild proclamations and tremulous seizures.
“Why, that’s quite interesting, Mr. Renfield,” the old priest sounded relieved.“I didn’t realize that you included astronomy among your other many areas of scientific expertise.”
The moonlight felt cold upon Renfield’s skin, raising gooseflesh along the hackles of his neck.When he turned again to face the Monsignor, the icy light of madness glowed silver-blue upon his twisted face.
“Merely pointing out one of the innumerable ways that this world lies to us, Monsignor,” he said, lurching toward the old man.
“Mr. Renfield…what…what’re you doing?Stop—stay back!For the love of God—”
Monsignor Russell sought retreat, but the madman’s hands were already at his throat.Renfield wanted to wrench and wring, but he released his grip once the old man ceased to struggle, letting him flop unconscious on the hard floor.
“I’m doing what your God will not,” Renfield flung on his cloak, emerging out into the blue moonlight.“No matter the price, no matter what I must do…I am going to save my daughter.”
It was a little before when Adelaide’s demon awakened her, both boiling lungs erupting into her throat.She coughed up a spasm of pink fluid, certain for many long minutes that she was drowning within herself.Ever paler and trembling, she fought fiercely for breath.Dr. Van Helsing’s crucifix offered only a cold weight upon her breast.
Adelaide fought the compulsion to call out for Sister Charles, knowing it could all be over much sooner this way.Perhaps, at last, this was the end.Death was only a door, all the priests had said.She had been chained as a prisoner in its terrible threshold for much too long.
Concentrating persistently against the pain, Adelaide struggled hard to think of happy little memories as a small girl, and finally found a few.Unlike her daydreams, desperately uttered prayers only seemed to sink impotently away into the ether.
Adelaide was more than half-dreaming of the briny, gull-fluttered air of Dover when she perceived a tiny cry.There!She heard it again, now fully awake.Was it reality, she puzzled, not merely the pleasured caw of the seagulls of her girlhood?There, again!More like the cottony coo of a dove.And it was real, was it not?She had to know.
The cold floor bit Adelaide’s bare feet, her dressing gown remained at the end of the bed.Both of her dancing hands traced the wall to the door, and with a weakened wrench she opened it.Again, there were the stifled sobs, this time very near.Adelaide’s practiced, sensitive fingers found a soft-tressed, quietly quavering child curled into a corner of the icy corridor.
“Poor thing!Why, you’re only a little girl,” Adelaide gasped.“Hush now, don’t be frightened.What’s your name?”
There was a pause as the child gathered courage.Looking up in the dim light she was comforted by Adelaide’s sweetness, though was puzzled that she didn’t quite look at her.
“Lucy…Lucy Westenra,” she sniffled prettily.“I awoke and was lost.”
“It’s all right, dear.I’m Adelaide Renfield, you’re not alone now.Are you a patient here, Lucy?” she lightly touched the girl’s trembling cheek.
The girl nodded, but then sharply realized that Adelaide couldn’t see her.
“I was…walking in my sleep, Miss.I do that a lot…during bad dreams.That’s why I’m here,” Lucy admitted, her shoulders slumping.
“Sleepwalking is no reason for shame.”
Both turned to the low, cultivated voice behind them.Little Lucy looked at the gentleman standing in the arched corridor, and she smiled.
Warily, Adelaide stood slowly upright, sensitive to the abrupt drop in temperature.She tightly clasped the girl’s small hand.
“Your voice is unfamiliar, sir.Are you the physician on duty?” she felt, for some reason, quite unexpectedly apprehensive.
There was much too long a pause.
“Not a doctor at all, are you?I think you are a king,” Lucy offered, bravely stepping a bit forward.
A shorter pause.
“How cunning for one who has not yet begun her own lifetime,” he replied, amused.
Adelaide tilted her head, mystified. True, the cultured masculine voice was unknown to her, but the stranger’s silent stately presence seemed to stir half-forgotten memories of her own untold dreams.Was she dreaming now?Who was this man?
Van Helsing clamoured before them, his boot heels creating a chorus of hollow echoes.
“Dr. Van Helsing?” Adelaide felt flushed, and suddenly warmer.
The scientist darted quick nervous glances at the odd trio in the arched hall.Jaw muscles flexing, he glowered at the Count, then back to Adelaide.
“Miss Renfield…this child…what on earth—”
“Please, don’t be cross with me, Doctor,” Adelaide held Lucy close.“This gentleman and I are merely escorting little Lucy back to her room.”
Again, Van Helsing studied both patients, then looking down at the pretty dark-eyed child he forced a smile.
“Allow me to accompany the both of you, my dear,” he gently clasped their elbows, again narrowing his eyes at Dracula.“Meet me in the laboratory, as we had previously arranged, Count.I will join you presently.”
Van Helsing could feel the vampire’s stare through the back of his collar.He was careful not to return the gaze.Adelaide found comfort in the doctor’s firm grip.Little Lucy couldn’t help but glance back at the tall, black-clad figure behind them.
“Where is he from, Doctor?” Adelaide wanted to know.“There is something so strong, yet also so sad in his voice.”
He frowned a long moment, then patted her hand.
“The Count is quite ill,” he offered.“He has come here from a very great distance seeking a cure.”
“Then, why don’t you make him better?” Lucy scowled, snatching her hand away.
The doctor nodded seriously, his face reflected a steely inner strength.
“I will, my dear young lady.As God is my witness.I swear it.”
Something that wasn’t blood drew slowly from Dracula’s veins into the hypodermic syringe.Repressing a shudder, Dr. Van Helsing forced himself to focus on the routine of his examination.Count Dracula had stood in stilled silence for several hours, like the stopped hands of a clock.
Van Helsing’s highly trained concentration finally snapped, broken by the eerie atmosphere radiated by this macabre patient.
“I must insist upon punctuality, Count,” he warned, finally finding his nerve.“We were to meet here at sunset.Did you not agree upon your honour to place yourself in my hands, when I granted to help you?You must never again be late for these appointments.If I am to have any effect here, any at all, I must be master or I can do nothing.Do you understand?”
Dracula remained motionless, at certain moments he seemed more shadow than man.
“I understand that you don’t trust me, Doctor.”
The scientist attempted to face the creature, but could not endure the piercing glare of the red eyes.
“I know what you are,” he said, flatly.
Returning to the laboratory work, Van Helsing handled the specimen with all the reverence of a religious artifact.He had lost all perspective since his initial encounter with this most rare and unusual patient, disregarding many others.How long had that been?Days, at least, surely.Possibly more than a week, he couldn’t be certain.He’d hardly eaten, or slept.Blindly absorbed with each impossible fact he had discovered, the great scientist grew ever voracious for more knowledge.The existence of Dracula had become both Van Helsing’s greatest passion and also, possibly, his most profound weakness.He realized this painfully.Still, he couldn’t stop now.
Meticulously smearing the vacuous fluid on a glass slide to scrutinize under the microscope, Van Helsing again audibly gasped peering into the eyepiece.
“Progress, Doctor?” the Count’s words were like low, distant thunder.
“It’s nothing less than miraculous,” Van Helsing shook his head in disbelief.“You are without blood pressure.No respiration, except when you speak.There is no pupil contraction under the influence of bright lamp light.And, I have never seen such anemic blood cells as these.There is no life within you, yet the presence of decay is also extinct.”
Van Helsing rose from the instruments and slowly, warily, circled Dracula as he would a savagely caged animal.
“Dead and yet immune to Death.You are truly not of this world, Count Dracula,” he admitted in whispered awe.
The flickering gaslight played strangely upon the vampire, moving shadows into macabre shapes that exist only beyond the wall of sleep.He remained in his ghostly silence.
“You possess the physical strength of more than a dozen mortal men,” Van Helsing spun upon his heels, lecturing as if to further convince himself.“There is something akin to mesmerism about you, as well.Frequently I have found it difficult to see you, except in my direct line of vision.I’ve also detected biological evidence indicating that you are indeed just as staggeringly, unimaginably ancient as you’ve attested.Inexplicably, the elements of fog, wind, and storm seem enslaved by your mental command.I am frankly astounded.And yet, I also suspect that you possess even more supernatural prowess, which you have decisively kept secret from me.”
At that the Count smiled, slightly.
“I confess it,” the doctor continued, wearily defeated one second, fervently vibrant the next. “This unprecedented investigation has given ponderous weight to my own ignorant arrogance.Obviously, we scientists are fools—understanding very little of the true world and we have, all of us, long believed in many wrong things.Now, however, I begin to see the light.I am admittedly…very much in your debt, Count Dracula.”
Van Helsing offered a brief, formal bow to the vampire.
“You have learned enough, then?” Dracula glided forward, his expression and inflection suddenly more human.
The room itself seethed with tension.Dr. Van Helsing pondered the question thoughtfully.There was still so much he didn’t understand.
“Before I answer,” he rubbed his chin,“there is something more I must know.I’m afraid that it’s a philosophical query, rather than a physiological one.Yet I sorely need to understand before we continue forward.”
The Count nodded, pensively.
“Ask your question.”
Van Helsing drew in an excited breath.
“Why should an immortal being,” the scientist began, “himself not subject to the established laws of nature or society, wish to become…human again, even if such a thing was essentially possible?”
Dracula moved closer, his flowing cloak a living part of the room’s gloom.
“I would think that was obvious to a theologian brilliant as yourself, Doctor.You see before you a semblance of a man who has roamed the world for centuries, seeking the ruin of souls, feeding upon Christian blood,” the Count said, hollowly.“My long-past human life seems now little more to me now than a dimming dream.Suffice to say that certain secrets must forever remain my own, however,I have indeed succeeded in surviving my own grave and have buried many, many enemies…but now the wars of old are over.”
Van Helsing started to speak, but Dracula raised a commanding hand and continued.
“Make no mistake, I fully acknowledge that I am a monster,” the vampire stated.“And, as such, I am aware of much more, besides.What you take on mere blind religious faith, is unrelenting reality to me.The soldier that I am has long accepted the inescapable inevitability that I will one day be destroyed, most likely by a learned man of knowledge such as yourself.Much more than any mortal man, I know that literal Hell is waiting for me.”
The chamber resounded a moment, the vampire’s pronouncement ringing in the stone walls, although the words had not been of great volume.Dracula remained impassive and proud, seeming now even taller, a magnificent devil in black.
“Yes…yes, I see.I believe I am dimly beginning to understand,” Van Helsing nodded.“You hope for redemption, Count Dracula.”
Rising autumn wind scratched a tree branch across the window pane with a scuttling cackle, pouring through a crack with a low lonely howl.The lights dimmed, the fire dying in the hearth.Palpable evil smothered the chamber.
“I seek only Escape,” the creature corrected.
The scientist lurched backwards, feeling the dampness of the grave from the Count’s whispered hiss.He wanted to flee, to dash wildly into the London back-alleys, losing himself to madness.Then shaking his head sorrowfully, he ached with a sudden pity.A monster, a daemon stood before him, truly.Yet, the doctor’s own faith taught that no soul was lost which also sought mercy, whatever its stains of sin.No one was past hope or beyond forgiveness.Van Helsing could not do less than follow that testament.
“I know not how this terrible curse came to you, Count,” he began, softly.“Only you know the full degree of your own liability for the many, many terrible things you’ve done.I will not—I cannot judge you.We physicians are blessed, sometimes we are permitted by Providence to heal those who are sick in body or even in mind.However, your disease is a malignancy of the spirit, quite outside the realm of my meager influence.It is not in my power to help you.”
Livid rage twisted the Count’s waxen face, only to gnarl into a mask of such anguished passion as Van Helsing had never before witnessed.He found himself clasping Dracula’s shoulder, in an unconscious effort of comfort.
“Do not despair,” he said softly.“True, my poor methods are limited in these matters, but there is another scientist, a colleague, whose own metaphysical experiments have shown great promise.”
Dracula’s eyes flashed.
“Bring him to me.”
Van Helsing gestured slowly, speaking low as one would to calm a wild animal.
“Never fear, I have already sent a telegram, and today I received a response,” he explained.“He will arrive tomorrow evening.We are very fortunate, indeed, to have such a mighty brain on our side.In all of London there is no scientific adventurer more brilliant than Dr. Henry Jekyll.”