The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter IX.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "From that point onward, the Inspector drove us hard at investigating Lilith and her vampires. He did not speak of it, but I suspected he suffered guilt over allowing Dracula to go free. When I tried to speak with him about it, he changed the subject and his stern demeanor prevented me from raising the issue again. "Most days I stood watch outside empty buildings or scoured property records with Inspector Johnstone and Henry Armitage. "At night, I conducted experiments on Miss Westenra, significantly advancing our knowledge of vampires. "It was one of the most productive periods of my career. I kept her busy with a variety of tests to measure her physical attributes and abilities, her mental abilities, and her vampiric nature. She especially disliked the pin prick test with different metals. But through it I determined that whilst the lead from bullets could not penetrate a vampire’s skin, the steel blade of a dagger could. Silver also was effective. I could not determine why one worked, but not the other. There are questions science cannot answer. I experimented on Miss Westenra nightly from dusk to dawn, leaving her no time for writing in her diary or for playing card games with others. "But at least she got to sleep during the day. I had little time for sleep or meals. I snatched naps at odd intervals; I ate sandwiches in carriages or whilst posted outside possible vampire lairs. "I eagerly waited for the arrival of the others, particularly Rabbi Metzner. I knew that he frequently traveled across the globe to assist those in need so his delay did not surprise me. But I also looked forward to the assistance of Captain Albion and Jacob Wetzel for Inspector Johnstone, Dr. Armitage and myself had stretched our selves thin carrying out our tasks. "Then, on the 10th of October, Lord Godalming wired me to meet with him at his estate. I cursed the time the trip would take, but since he was generously financing my work, I was obliged to answer his summons. The meeting was surprisingly formal. He wanted to inform me he had met with a solicitor to establish a trust fund to care for Miss Westenra’s financial needs. Shortly before her death, Mrs. Westenra had selected Lord Godalming, then Miss Westenra’s fiancé, as the guardian of the considerable fortune. "As he spoke, I deduced the reason for his formality. "Lord Godalming was arranging his affairs before continuing the pursuit of Count Dracula because he did not expect to survive the encounter. Yet he meant to have his vengeance and to rescue Mrs. Harker from Miss Westenra’s fate. "Lord Godalming also had received a note from Miss Westenra releasing him from his marriage proposal since, as an Un-Dead, she was no longer a suitable match for him. "Though he agreed with her decision, there remained strong emotions between the two. "When I mentioned my meeting with Lord Godalming to Miss Westenra two nights later, it led to a disagreement between us just before a fateful event occurred. "I was trying out a new camera apparatus on Miss Westenra. I could not focus my thoughts, however, because earlier in the day I had received telegram from Van Helsing. Information on the Czarina Catherine’s movements had arrived at last and Van Helsing and his group had departed that morning, the 12th, for the Continent to continue their hunt for Count Dracula. "I was thinking of my meeting with Lord Godalming and how he resembled a man getting his final affairs in order before dying. Preoccupied with my thoughts, I listened inattentively to Miss Westenra as she discussed something about the taste of blood. "‘Mr. Carnacki, you are not paying heed,’ she said. "‘I’m sorry, Miss. What were you saying?’ "‘Never mind,’ she answered. ‘You seem distracted. Is everything well?’ "‘Yes,’ I said, though inside I felt a terrible sense of foreboding. ‘I forgot to mention to you that when I met with Lord Godalming, he told me that he established a trust fund for your financial care.’ "‘I am touched to see Arthur cares so much,’ she said icily. ‘Why did he do that?’ "I did not want to worry her that Lord Godalming made the arrangements because he believed he would not survive his quest to avenge her death. Instead, I recalled my conversation with Quincey Morris. ‘I wanted you to know, Miss Westenra,’ I said, ‘so that you may prepare for your future.’ "‘My future?’ she said, her voice rising in irritation. ‘What sort of future do you envision for me? Spending the rest of my existence in this room, in this circle, undergoing your experiments?’ "‘This is why it is important for me to study you, Miss Westenra,’ I said, trying to assuage her. ‘It is not only to learn how to defend us against vampires. It is also so you may learn to live with your vampirism to the fullest extent. "‘You merely wish to study me to learn more about the Un-Dead,’ she said in a sharp tone. ‘You care more about the dead than the living or else you would not have spent so much of your life buried in books about specters and hauntings. Why is that, Mr. Carnacki? Do you fear living? Does your past haunt you more than ghosts?’ "‘You do not know me,’ replied I, shocked by her demeanor. "‘Yes, I do, Mr. Carnacki,’ she replied with a wicked, wanton leer. ‘I have tasted your blood. I have drunk from your life. I know you.’ "I rose in anger. ‘I do not understand your mood tonight, Miss Westenra. I am going to bed.’ "Miss Westenra began to reply, but the howl of the dog tied outside interrupted her. "I stood still and listened. Miss Westenra again began to speak, but the sound of the dog growling interrupted her. "The beast’s snarls grew louder and fiercer. I went swiftly to the window, but before I could pull the curtain back the dog’s snarls suddenly stopped without a whimper or whine, just an immediate cessation like a phonographic record switched off. "I peered outside, but could see nothing in the darkness for the outside lamp had gone out. I glanced at Miss Westenra. Her face had turned even more pale than usual. She began to speak, but I held a finger to my lips so I could listen. I heard only silence. "A moment later, Lucy whispered, ‘What was that?’ "‘What do you hear?’ I asked. "‘The rattle of a chain outside the front door,’ she said. "I started for the hallway, but then I heard the creak of the front door as it slowly opened. I noticed the flames from the candles and lamps dimmed. "‘Please, do not go out there,’ Miss Westenra said. ‘Do not leave me.’ "I stopped and looked at the open door to the bedroom. Truth be told, I did not want to go out there for I sensed a terrible, malignant, apparition had entered the home. The hairs on my arms stood on end and a shiver ran up my spine. "‘Who is there?’ I called out, my voice sounding strange to my ears. "The candles and lamps darkened even further, casting the room in a shadowy gloom. I felt like a frightened kid, sick with fear. "‘Who is there?’ I shouted again. "I heard no reply, but I knew something utterly monstrous approached. "I lit my lantern with trembling hand. When I did, it scarcely cast any light, as if the fuel was nearly spent. "My mind told me to flee, to crash out the window and to run as fast as I could away from the dreadful Horror! I took a step back. I had trouble looking away from the bedroom door. "But when I did glance to the window to make my escape, from the corner of my eye I saw Miss Westenra with her hands clasped in front of her, the whites of her eyes wide and her lips drawn back in fear. She stared in stark horror at the door to her room. "Seeing her pulled me up. Dead though she was and a vampire at that, she was still under my protection. "I thought of erasing the barrier so that we could flee together, but, in a flash, I knew it would take too long and the entity would be upon us before we could escape that way. "And then, the candles on the shelves nearest to the door went out and the other lights around the room began to expire like a collapsing line of dominos. "I did the only thing I could do. I stepped into the ‘Defensive Circle’ with the vampire. "Even in the midst of her terror, Miss Westenra turned to me with a look of genuine surprise. For so many nights I had been on the other side of the barrier that my decision to join her astonished both of us. I gave her my lantern and stood in front of her with my revolver pointed to the door. Nothing appeared, but we both knew something had entered. "It gave me a queer feeling to stand there with my back to one danger whilst in front of me was another. "Her left hand clutched my left arm with a vise-like grip. The last of the lights on the tables and mantle went out. The only light left was my lantern and the glow of it did not penetrate past the ‘Defensive Circle.’ "The room had an absolute silence and my breath sounded loud and rapid to my own ears. "Lucy — Miss Westenra — trembled behind me. ‘Do you want to go into your coffin?’ I asked her. "‘I could not tolerate being alone right now,’ she whispered. "I put my left arm around her. At that moment, she was no longer a vampire to me. She was a frightened 20-year-old girl in desperate need of protection and comfort. "The terror bore down on us. Whatever it was, I knew its power was intense. You chaps all know from experience I’m not cowardly, but I tell you, there was an unholy presence in the air before us and I feared for more than just my life. "The wood floor under the ‘Defensive Circle’ seemed to groan. Whether it was my overwrought imagination or the entity settling down on the barrier I could not tell. "I whispered a prayer and I could hear Miss Westenra doing the same. "I could sense a staggering force hurled against the circle. As it did so, the windows of Miss Westenra’s bedroom exploded outward and the drapes flapped like flags blown by a stiff breeze we could not feel. "‘Look!’ Miss Westenra cried out. The lantern’s dim glow penetrated even less than before as if blackness pressed down ever closer on us from above. "We clutched each other and knelt, huddling in terror together for an awful eternity. Miss Westenra buried her face against my chest. In the faint lantern’s glow, I looked at her face. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut. In the core of my being, I knew the Horror represented not only a threat to my life and her existence, but to our very souls! I felt the undiluted evil of the ghostly apparition as its essence began to seep past the magical defense. "The horror became maddening until I was beyond panic. Every nerve ending in my body was screaming. Death began to seem an escape from the terror. "I could sense the barrier had weakened and the loathsome horror seemed mere inches above us. Once before, I told you chaps how when I was trapped with the horror of ‘The Whistling Room,’ I had nearly used my revolver not on it, but on myself to escape a fate a thousand times worse than death. That was not the first time I had faced such an awful choice. Yet as I raised my revolver to my temple, I knew I could not leave Miss Westenra to face the horror alone. A sick, gasping sob shook my body and I lowered the gun. "Then, from a far distant roost, a cock crowed and the faint call carried like a triumphant trumpet in the wind to announce sunrise had arrived. "Just like that, the Horror that had filled the room vanished as if the crushing press of a hydraulic machine had suddenly lifted up. I glanced up and noticed the darkness gone. The candles and lamps were still out, but a soft glow filled the room as the drapes flapped in the breeze through the shattered windows. "My heart continued to pound in my chest and I panted for each breath as if I had run a long race. "Miss Westenra relaxed her grip upon me. Until then, I had not realized how tight her grasp had been. My body ached with pain. Afterwards when I examined myself, I found black and blue bruises on my arms and ribs. "Yet each inhale was a delight at being alive. By the time my heart had slowed to a more normal rate and my trembling had stopped, the room had grown considerably brighter. "Presently I said, ‘Miss Westenra, you should go into your coffin. It is time.’ "‘No,’ she said, shaking her head sluggishly. ‘I would rather end my existence now than experience another night like that.’ "‘Please, Miss Westenra,’ I begged. "‘What was that, that horror?’ she gasped. "‘I am uncertain,’ I replied honestly. ‘A ghost of incredible power, perhaps. But I shall try to find out and erect a stronger defense to keep it away.’ "‘Can you promise me it will not return?’ she asked, her eyes pleading with mine. "I met her gaze, but said nothing. "‘You cannot,’ she said with a downward glance. "Suddenly, before my sleep-deprived limbs could react, she shouted ‘God forgive me,’ and stood directly in the sunlight shining through the open window frame. "She put her hand up to shield her eyes from the glare, but contrary to her expectations and mine she did not burst into flames. "‘The sun,’ she said. ‘I thought sunlight destroyed vampires. Why am I not burning, Mr. Carnacki?’ "I did not know and told her so. She did not appear to hear. I watched as she held her left hand in a sunbeam and looked at the light shining between her widespread fingers, moving her arm slowly. ‘I forgot how beautiful the sun is.’ "Then she turned to look at me. ‘Why did the sun not kill me?’ she asked. ‘Has God forsaken me to such an extent that he won’t even let me end this cursed existence?’ "‘Perhaps it is because God has not forsaken you,’ I said. ‘Perhaps you are not truly evil. You did not kill the children you fed upon. You drained enough of their blood to satisfy your thirst, but you allowed them to live. That is not what one would expect of an evil creature.’ "She looked thoughtful. ‘Not the action of a truly good creature, either,’ she said in a low voice. "‘Maybe,’ I continued as if she had not spoken, ‘only truly evil vampires are denied the light of the sun. It is something to consider.’ "‘Perhaps my not being evil is only wishful thinking on your part,’ she said. ‘However, that will have to wait for another time. You must find a way to protect us.’ "She stood next to her coffin with a look of concentration on her face. ‘Mr. Carnacki, what has happened to me? I cannot slip into my coffin.’ "I held the lid up for her and she climbed into her coffin and laid down. ‘Maybe you are too tired,’ I said. "After she retired, I sat cross-legged and watched the rose-colored hues of the morning sky. After the strain of the night, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks, pure tears of happiness at being alive, of having survived an unimaginably terrible fate. "I thought of many things. It was too soon for me to meet the Inspector as we had earlier planned so I leafed through Van Helsing’s notes. A reference jumped out at me. When the vampire hunters ambushed Dracula at his lair on Fenchurch, he had been moving in open daylight in the afternoon. I felt a sharp pang of disappointment that the theory I had expressed to Miss Westenra was wrong. "I could not linger over my disappoint. I had too much to do: Van Helsing’s telegraph had told me to expect Captain Albion and Miss MacKenzie this morning; the Inspector and I planned to continue our investigation of Lilith; I needed to send another telegram to Rabbi Metzner to let him know of the desperateness of my situation; and I had to find a safe location to move Miss Westenra to escape the haunting of Hillingham. "I reeled from the lack of sleep, my mind fraught at the number of tasks before me. "I walked to the window to feel the cool air on my face. As my eyes took in the yard outside, I added another task to my list: there was a dog to bury. "The mastiff hung by his chain near the front door. His pink tongue stuck out from his massive jaws. The chain had been snapped in two with one end was wrapped around the dog’s neck and the other around a wrought-iron lamp." "Good Lord!" Jessop said, breaking one of Carnacki’s unspoken rules on not interrupting him. "What a horrific spot of trouble." Carnacki puffed on his pipe and blew out a cloud of smoke. "I did not know how bad it was going to become or else I might have joined the dog voluntarily," Carnacki said. Arkright refilled his glass and Carnacki’s and Taylor stood up to throw more wood on the embers. Sparks flew up briefly. We waited in silence for Carnacki and listened to the wind howl outside. "I found a ladder and a shovel in an outbuilding," Carnacki continued after a time. "I unwrapped the chain, lowered the dog and carried the beast to a flower bed on the side of the house. I placed him in a hole and covered him with the soft earth. "I washed up and ate a stale sandwich for my breakfast and made myself a cup of tea. At eight o’clock I heard the front doorbell. "At the door stood a tall man in a black coat and hat with a willowy woman in a dark green coat and hat at his side. Behind them stood an Indian servant in a thick gray coat, holding their bags. "‘Mr. Carnacki? I’m Captain Edgar Albion," said the man. He had a narrow, long scar from his left brow to his chin line. "This is Miss Anne MacKenzie and my batman, Sergeant Premkumar Walekar.’ "‘Please come in,’ I said. "They stepped into the front entrance hall. I hesitated, uncertain how to begin and stammered, ‘Did Lord Godalming … did he explain … do you know about the situation?’ "‘He told us everything,’ Albion said. "‘How much do you believe?’ I asked. "‘Everything,’ Miss MacKenzie answered. "‘She is right,’ Albion said. ‘Arthur and I have known each other since boyhood and I know Jack and Quincey as well. I would trust the three of them with my life. I know what they say must be true.’ "‘Good! Then I won’t lose time having to convince you,’ I said. ‘Here’s the current situation. A horrific entity haunted us last night. The Defense I erected to contain Miss Westenra barely kept it out. We’ll need to find another place to stay. I am to meet Inspector Johnstone this morning at his residence. He may have some idea.’ "‘Right,’ Albion said with tone that suggested a man accustomed to quickly grasping chaotic situations. ‘Then we won’t unpack. We do have Lord Godalming’s coach waiting outside with our trunks aboard. You may take it.’ "‘Excellent,’ I said, feeling my spirits perk up with the arrival of the reinforcements. ‘I apologize for having to rush off, but there is much to do. Please make yourselves comfortable until I return. I shall try not to be long. If you go into her room, be careful to not step on the chalk marks on the floor.’ "Captain Albion and Miss MacKenzie nodded in comprehension. I wondered what Lord Godalming had told them exactly. ‘You are aware of the risks?’ I asked. "They again nodded solemnly. ‘I shall return soon as I can,’ I said. "I departed with a renewed spring in my step as the horror of the previous night slowly, but steadily, faded. "I sent my telegram off to Rabbi Metzner then told the Coachman to take me to Inspector Johnstone’s address. The traffic was light and we sped through the streets. "When I stepped out onto the curb, I heard the crunch of broken glass under my shoe. Instinctively, I looked up to the Inspector’s apartment. Lace curtains fluttered in the open frames. "A police constable walking his beat looked at the glass on the sidewalk and his gaze followed mine up. "My heart began to race and I dashed inside, sprinting up the stairs three at a time. My mind fought down the fear that surged up like a sick man’s bile. "I pounded on the door, telling myself that the Inspector would answer any second. I would explain why I was out of breath, how I had run up the stairs frightened that something terrible had happened to him. He would laugh at me in his good-natured way and tease me for the rest of the day. "There was no answer. "I pounded harder, his teasing be damned and a small price to pay to see his face. "No answer. "I swallowed. My mouth had suddenly dried out and my palms sweated profusely despite the chill of the hall. "‘Inspector?’ I called. "The door was painted a tan color. The paint at the bottom was chipped from years of boots and shoes bumping against it. In the center of the door, the brass apartment number, 4, hung slightly askew. The Constable had followed me up. ‘This is Inspector Johnstone’s home,’ he said. "I nodded. "An unasked question hung between the Police Constable’s yellowed teeth. "I backed up and slammed my shoulder into the door and bounced back. The Constable joined me. On the third try, we heard a splintering sound and the door burst open. "In the middle of the room, Johnstone’s body lay in a pool of blood which had oozed out from the small hole in the right side of his head. A revolver lay next to his right hand. "I stared at him, my mouth open, my eyes unblinking. Time stopped. The Inspector was dressed in a white undershirt and a pair of pants, the suspenders dangling loose. His feet were bare. "A heavy knuckle-duster lay on the floor near the hall. "I pictured the scene in my mind. The Inspector had heard a sound, slipped on his pants, and went out to investigate. He encountered a foe no earthly weapon could stop. "A gasp escaped me and then my hand covered my mouth. Tears welled up in my eyes and I angrily wiped them away. On the mantle behind him, I could see photographs of his wife and two children. I looked at the sofa in the neatly kept room where I had napped days earlier. "A breeze from the open windows ruffled his hair. A corner of the bandage on his face flapped loose. "I backed up to the door frame and leaned against it as I suddenly felt lightheaded. The room spun and I tried to wake up from the nightmare, to claw the sheets and blankets off and to bolt upright in bed. "My fingers grasped the doorframe and kept me from falling. The doorframe had a large piece of wood broken off near the lock where I had burst through. There was no nightmare to wake up from. I looked back at the Inspector. I had not known he had a tattoo on his right arm, the blue ink marks nearly indecipherable from having faded with the years. "I backed into the burly Constable. He spoke to me, but the words were lost to me. "He guided me to the sofa, leaned out the window and blew his whistle to summon help. "I ran my fingers through my hair and sat with my head bowed. I mumbled something about covering the body up, but the Constable shook his head. He passed a message to another Constable, who ran off, white-faced after seeing the Inspector. "Soon, though it seemed at the time that hours had passed, other police officials arrived. A detective told the crowd of officers to stay out. Then he came over and asked me a few questions about how I discovered the body. "At first, I feared I would be a suspect in the Inspector’s death. "Chief Inspector James arrived and looked at the body. ‘Cover him up,’ he said in a low growl. "The Chief Inspector looked at me in anger. ‘You! You’re responsible for this!’ "I did not speak, but stood. ‘A good man has killed himself,’ the Chief Inspector roared, ‘and it is your fault.’ The din in the hall silenced. "‘He did not kill himself,’ I said. "‘What? Are you going to tell me a ghost or a vampire did this?’ The Chief Inspector stood in front of me, glowering. ‘Oh yes. He came to me with an insane story. You put crazy ideas into his head about the supernatural. Now a good man — a good friend — is dead! He must have realized how insane he has behaved of late and felt he disgraced himself.’ "With a selfish heart, I thought of myself at that moment and how much I had needed and relied upon Inspector Johnstone to stop Lilith. "I wanted to scream in rage at the Chief Inspector for ignoring the evidence before him that showed Inspector Johnstone did not kill himself. But the Chief Inspector was a rational man. It was easier for him to ignore the evidence before him than to accept the possibility that Johnstone had spoken the truth. I hoped Rabbi Metzner received my telegram and awaited me at Hillingham. With Johnstone dead, I needed the Rabbi’s help more than ever. "‘You should have believed him,’ I said to the Chief Inspector. ‘Johnstone told you the truth.’ "‘You’re insane!’ the Chief Inspector shouted. ‘Get him out of here before I order him committed to Bedlam.’ "Constables and detectives pulled me out of the room and led me down the stairs. A detective said, not unkindly, that he thought I was right that Johnstone had not killed himself. "I stepped into the coach and told the Driver to take me to Highgate Cemetery. "I kept my anger burning on the ride over until by the time I arrived it was a white hot blaze. I walked swiftly to the crypt where the vampires had sat laughing. When I looked at the massive, ornate door, I cursed myself. I did not have tools to break in. I hit my fist on the heavy door in frustration — and it swung open. My teeth bared with a vicious grin. "I pulled my dagger from its sheath and entered the dim darkness inside, eager to swing my blade in fury. I smelled the decay of mortal remains. In the gloom I saw a sheet of paper. In a fine cursive script was written: ‘Your friend died bravely. Will you? Lilith.’ "I pushed open the stone cover and raised the coffin lid just to make sure. A moldering corpse lay undisturbed. "I sheathed my weapon and stepped into the sunlight. "An epiphany struck me with the force of a thunderbolt. Lilith or her spies had been watching us. She had waited to strike until Van Helsing and the others had departed. She wanted Count Dracula killed for disobeying her. As long as we hunted Dracula, Lilith let us be. But once word reached her that the other vampire hunters had left, Lilith decided to eliminate those of us that remained. "I knew I could track Van Helsing to bring him back, but it would be the same as signing his death warrant. "There also was the risk to Mrs. Harker. If the other vampire hunters returned to London, she would be cursed to become a vampire since they could not stop her transformation in time. "At our earlier meeting, Van Helsing had left Lilith to the Inspector and me. I had others to rely upon. Then a frightening thought occurred. Lilith would know of Henry Armitage, too.


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