The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter VII.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "My days and nights had begun to blur together from the lack of sleep so it proved a blessing of sorts when Miss Westenra’s slept for two straight nights in her coffin. "On the third evening, at dusk, Armitage returned from the British Museum and we waited anxiously for her. We discussed the vampiric lore he had discovered. He was a dogged researcher, the perfect companion for me. Van Helsing had said repeatedly that when needed God sent men to help. It certainly seemed the same had happened to me with Armitage’s arrival. "Miss Westenra assumed her corporeal form next to her coffin and I introduced her to Armitage. "She nodded to him and then asked for a moment alone with me. We spoke for a time on different matters. "Then she thanked me for repairing her room. She inquired of the Inspector’s injuries and she asked about Count Dracula. I told her of our adventure on the Thames and that Dracula had fled the country by ship. "Then I left her in Armitage’s charge for I had a meeting to keep with Inspector Johnstone. "Earlier in the day the Inspector had brought over a fierce mastiff. He also asked me to meet him at 7 o’clock at the corner of Highgate Road and Swain’s Lane. "We had planned to meet Professor Van Helsing and the others at Dr. Seward’s office that night and I reminded the Inspector of our appointment. He told he wanted to confirm an idea he had before the meeting and then we would go together to Seward’s. "I took a cab, leaving behind thoughts of Miss Westenra and Dr. Armitage. I hopped out of the hansom and saw the Inspector leaning against a lamppost, smoking a cigar. The quiet suburban neighborhood appeared a strange place for him to summon me. "‘Hello, Inspector,’ I said as we shook hands. "‘Walk with me,’ he said. ‘I’ve been thinking about our investigation.’ "‘And?’ I asked. "‘If Dracula spoke the truth about Lilith, she probably summoned other vampires as well,’ Johnstone said. "We turned up the steep hill. ‘And you’re thinking if you were a vampire, you might consider hiding in Highgate Cemetery,’ I said. "Johnstone smiled and said, ‘Seeing a vampire would not confirm Count Dracula’s tale, but it would give it more credibility.’ "My mind recalled the unpleasant memory of being in the dark hold of the ship with Count Dracula. ‘What do we do if we see a vampire?’ I asked. "‘Nothing, unless it attacks us,’ he said. ‘At this stage, we do not want to do anything that might let Lilith know we are on her trail. Otherwise, she could hide even further in the shadows and prove even more difficult to find. Destroying one vampire would not be worth it in the long run if we cannot find her.’ "‘But Dracula did not make his lair at a cemetery,’ I said. "‘That is true and there may be other steps we have to take,’ the Inspector said. ‘Dracula used several solicitors to buy his properties. Perhaps other vampires have done the same. I do find the property angle curious and we can discuss it at another time. But if you were a vampire from out of town, where would you hide? In a cemetery where a wagon hauling a coffin to an unvisited crypt would not be cause for suspicion. And of all the cemeteries, which is the most fashionable and has the most crypts?’ "‘Highgate,’ I said. ‘Inspector, you would be a most dangerous vampire.’ "‘Or a criminal,’ he said. ‘It takes imagination. You have it, too. You have the makings of a fine detective. You showed it with that trap you made at End House.’ "I swelled with pride and thanked him for his kind words. "He told me not to mention it. ‘If we do not see a vampire tonight, it does not mean one has not moved in here,’ Johnstone said. ‘I know from following Lord Godalming and his friends that Dracula had several lairs prepared. A vampire using Highgate as a hideout may be at one of the other places tonight. As a precaution, I brought along vials of holy water and wooden stakes if we are ambushed.’ "‘I believe we do not need to worry about a vampire attacking us,’ I said. "‘Why not?’ he asked. "‘Lilith sent Dracula away for drawing attention to himself because of his attacks,’ I said. ‘She does not want her creatures attacking people, at least not yet. Her vampires must either be feeding off animals or slaying more discretely than the Count.’ "‘Your reasoning makes sense,’ he said. ‘You do not want a wooden stake then.’ "‘You suppose wrong,’ I said with a grin. ‘A theory is one thing. Going unarmed in a dark cemetery is another.’ "We arrived at Highgate and walked through the open iron gates. I had forgotten how vast the cemetery was, a veritable city of the dead. The thick line of trees and shrubs isolate the graveyard from the surrounding neighborhood. "‘I hate to say this, but we should split up to search,’ Johnstone said. ‘It should be safe enough. Many people cut through Highgate at night and we have had no reports of attacks.’ "‘If there is a vampire here, I believe I know where.’ "‘Oh?’ the Inspector asked. "‘Egyptian Avenue,’ I said. ‘Too many crosses on tombstones elsewhere.’ "‘Right,’ he said and handed me a sharpened wooden stake. I pushed it up the right sleeve of my coat so that if needed I could let it slide down into my hand in an instant. "‘Act casual. Just two men out for a stroll,’ he said. "We followed a winding gravel trail with the wall to our right, moving slow, our senses keen for any sound. We paused next to a large statue of a sleeping lion and listened. Insects chirped, but no other sounds of life could be heard. The air smelled of the sweet decay of autumn’s fallen leaves. "As we passed a stone angel, the figure reminded me of Miss Westenra’s. "Our path curved and we neared the foreboding entrance to the area known as Egyptian Avenue. "In the fey light of the nearly full moon, the stone archway with its curious runic symbols carved above and flanked by tall obelisks looked like the gateway to the Netherworld. "I leaned against the fluted carvings of a column as the Inspector peered around the corner up the narrow, sloping alley between the crypts. We listened, holding our breath. We tiptoed to the edge of the entrance. "The Inspector turned to me and whispered, ‘I sense something up there.’ "With my left hand, I fingered the crucifix in my coat pocket. "I swallowed hard. ‘Let’s go look,’ I said. "He exhaled sharply. ‘Right,’ he said. "The metal hinges on the gates shrieked in the quietness of the night. We halted then moved forward, past tomb entrances on either side of us in the narrow lane. "The creeps came over me as I expected at any moment for a skeletal hand to reach out and grab me. I looked behind me twice. The muscles on the back of my neck tightened involuntarily from fear. "We entered the Circle of Lebanon and looked to our left and then our right at the crypt entrances carved into the surrounding hillside. "‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ said a French-accented voice behind us. Within arm’s reach stood a man in a black cape. "The Inspector and I both gave a frightened shout and literally jumped in the air. Though the moon shined overhead, the stranger cast no shadow. "‘You gave us quite a fright, sir,’ said the Inspector, pulling out a dog leash from his pocket. ‘Out looking for our dog, Max, and you startled us, I don’t mind admitting.’ "‘I have not seen a dog,’ the man said. "‘Then we’ll look elsewhere,’ Johnstone said. ‘A good evening to you, too, sir.’ "We walked swiftly down the slope and took a different path. "‘Here Max,’ called the Inspector and he whistled. "‘As we walked, flickering light glowed through the skylight of a tomb built into the slope. As we passed it, I could clearly see a man in black tie and tails and two women in gowns sitting around a casket draped with a linen tablecloth. Their macabre table was set with a candelabrum and four milk bottles filled with dark red fluid. "As they tossed their heads back in shared laughter, I noticed all three had sharply pointed fangs. The Inspector spotted them at the same instant. "We quickened our already fast pace as we passed the large, ornate, bronze doors of their crypt. Once we walked through the cemetery gates, I inhaled deeply. "‘Come on,’ the Inspector said, holding a finger to his lips, but speaking loudly. ‘The dog will have to find its own way home.’ "From the corner of my eye, I spied the French vampire following us though he must have been late for his gruesome picnic supper in the crypt with the other three. "My skin tightened from the sense of being watched. I fought the urge to run. "We walked for two blocks and then hailed a cab. The Inspector had the Cabbie drop us off and we walked into a public house, passed through the crowd and out the back door where we hailed another cab a street away. "We had traveled without exchanging a word. At last, the Inspector leaned back into the leather seat and sighed. "‘Followed still?’ I asked at last, wiping a heavy sweat off my brow. "‘I do not think so,’ Johnstone said. He leaned out of the carriage window and gave the driver a change of instructions to take us to Fenchurch Street Station. ‘Good Lord, that man gave me a fright!’ "By Jove! you handled it well, Inspector. I think he believed you or he would have followed us further.’ "‘Let us hope,’ Johnstone said. ‘Otherwise he and the others will find another place to hide.’ "‘The crosses on the tombstones must not be much of a deterrent to a creature that can fly above them as a bat,’ I said. My breathing began to slow to normal. "‘I am sending my wife and children out of the city until this is over,’ the Inspector said. ‘Four of them! We may need help. I may have to talk to the Chief Inspector about this.’ "We caught a train to Purfleet and walked the short distance to the asylum. When the Inspector and I arrived at Dr. Seward’s, a servant directed us to the Doctor’s private study, a book-lined room filled with the clutter of a busy medical man. As we waited, Johnstone asked me about Miss Westenra and I told him that she had finally risen. Then we sat back and listened to the oddly comforting hiss of a leaky steam radiator. "After a time, Dr. Seward entered, followed by Van Helsing, Lord Godalming and Quincey Morris. I had wondered if they would at last introduce us to the Harkers, but the four had decided to keep our involvement secret. "They had been meeting with the Harkers to discuss their pursuit of Dracula to the Continent. "‘We find only one Black Sea-bound sailing ship, the Czarina Catherine, and she sail from Doolittle’s Wharf for Varna,’ Professor Van Helsing told us. ‘A man boarded that matches the Count’s description.’ "I glanced at Inspector Johnstone, but he kept his face blank. "‘What do you plan to do?’ I asked Van Helsing. "‘We will go after him,’ Van Helsing said. ‘We must. He has cursed our Madame Mina Harker just as he did Miss Westenra.’ "‘Mrs. Harker is dead?’ the Inspector blurted out. "‘Not yet. But I fear for her life and soul,’ Van Helsing said. ‘When we returned from hunting for Dracula in Carfax Abbey, we find him in the Harkers’ room. Count Dracula forced Madame Harker to drink of a wound he had scratched upon his breast whilst her husband slept as under a spell. The drinking of his blood must be how he transforms the women into vampires. If we can kill him in time, it may free her.’ "The Inspector’s head bowed low and he looked at me from under his bandaged brow. His chest rose and fell with a sigh; he folded his arms. "The others continued without noticing the change in our demeanor. "‘We nearly had him, but he escaped our ambush,’ Lord Godalming said. ‘He moves faster than a panther.’ "‘When I was there, I felt a power from the crucifix strike him,’ Dr. Seward said with awe. ‘Professor, why does the crucifix frighten him so?’ "‘In St. Luke, Jesus says: ‘Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy: nothing by any means shall hurt you,’ Van Helsing answered. "‘Dracula has hurt us,’ Lord Godalming said. ‘He called us sheep and told us his revenge has just begun. He said that the girls we love are his already and that through them we would become his slaves.’ "‘Mrs. Harker is not his — not yet,’ the Professor said. ‘She is helping. Dracula holds a mental link to her, but we shall follow it back to him so we know his movements.’ "‘Miss Westenra is not his, either,’ I said. ‘Dracula returned to Hillingham for her, but she drove him off. Her fury was incredible.’ "‘Good for her!’ Morris said. "The Inspector glanced at me and said, ‘We have learned Dracula has not acted alone. Lilith summoned him here.’ "‘Gott in Himmel!’ Professor Van Helsing cried out. "‘Who is Lilith?’ Lord Godalming said. "‘She is a demon, possibly the first vampire,’ I replied. ‘A cabalistic scholar described her as Adam’s first wife, cursed for refusing to submit to his will. Another legend tells of Lilith encouraging Eve to listen to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden to bite the forbidden fruit. Both the Bible and the Talmud mention her. Most stories agree that after God banished her from paradise, she became the Queen Mother of evil beings — vampires, ghosts, witches, the jackals of the desert and the ghouls in their crypts — they all answer to her.’ "The others sat around the crowded room in quiet contemplation. Lord Godalming looked up at me with grief-stricken eyes. ‘So she is responsible for Lucy’s death?’ he asked. "I could not answer his question fully without divulging more than the Inspector and I intended. ‘Count Dracula killed her,’ I said. "‘How did you learn of this connection between Lilith and Dracula?’ Van Helsing asked. "‘From an informant,’ Inspector Johnstone replied quickly. ‘We too have been busy. We have not yet uncovered her plan. But we have every indication that at least four other vampires have joined her in London.’ "Van Helsing rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers. ‘I am torn. We must pursue Count Dracula to save Madame Harker, but London itself may be in peril from such as Lilith.’ "No one spoke for a long time as we sat lost in our bleak thoughts. When I considered the danger we faced from Lilith and her children of the night, I wanted the hardy band of vampire hunters by my side. But that would condemn Mrs. Harker to a fate worse than death. "Van Helsing broke the silence at last. ‘The answer as usual lies in the Bible,’ he said. ‘My friends, Madame Harker is our lost sheep and we must be the good shepherds. Though the wolves prowl, we must leave the fold to save her. But we shall not leave the flock alone. Inspector Johnstone and Mr. Carnacki your task is here whilst the rest of us chase after Dracula.’ "Inspector Johnstone and I nodded in agreement to the Professor’s plan. "‘You will not be alone,’ Lord Godalming said. ‘My friend Captain Albion should arrive soon. I intend to ask him to escort Miss MacKenzie to Hillingham. She will be a good companion for Lucy." "‘Jacob should be here any day,’ Morris said. ‘I’ll send him to help you or, if we are gone, leave word for him to join you.’ "‘See? What have I always told you? When needed, God sends us men!’ Van Helsing exclaimed, clapping his hands with excitement. "At that, the meeting began to break up. The Inspector and Van Helsing stood in a corner in close conference. Lord Godalming drew me aside to have a word with me. "‘If Captain Albion is delayed, I will send Miss MacKenzie ahead to join you,’ Lord Godalming said. ‘Miss MacKenzie is eager to meet Lucy, but Jack believes the poor girl should have a few more days of rest. I hope that suits you?’ "‘Certainly,’ I replied. ‘But Miss Westenra would like a visit from her old friend, Mrs. Harker,’ I said. ‘She could offer Mrs. Harker encouragement in this trying time.’ "‘Professor Van Helsing does not think it is wise,’ Lord Godalming said. ‘He believes secrecy should be kept.’ Then Lord Godalming struggled with his emotions. ‘Van Helsing says we might yet have to destroy Lucy. Involving Mina would only add to her suffering. I have to trust his counsel on this.’ "‘She saved the lives of the Inspector and I when she could have fled with Count Dracula,’ I said. "Lord Godalming met my gaze and nodded. He was one of the finest men I’ve ever met. We spoke for a time of a private matter. Afterwards, Lord Godalming and I shook hands. He told me he would trust my judgment regarding Lucy and not just Professor Van Helsing’s. "Inspector Johnstone and I bid our farewells. As we stepped out the door of Seward’s asylum, Quincey Morris caught up to us and asked if he could meet with me on the following evening to discuss his adopted brother’s arrival. "‘Come by Hillingham,’ I said. "He shook his head. ‘I’d rather not,’ he said. ‘Do you know the Spaniard’s Inn in Hampstead?’ "I told him I did and he made an appointment with me to meet him there. "The Inspector and I caught the train back to London. On the short ride, the Inspector stared out the window in a grave mood, but I sat filled with exhilaration. We were locked in a desperate battle against an unknown supernatural evil. It was the type of case I had imagined when I created my profession of detective of the occult. The Inspector and I parted at the station. "When I caught a cab back to Hillingham, I asked to speak with Armitage. Armitage told me that he and Miss Westenra had passed a pleasant evening together. I told him what had transpired at the cemetery and at the asylum. I shared with him the news that I had to break to Miss Westenra about Mrs. Harker and he kindly offered to go with me. I thanked him, but told him it was my responsibility. "I returned to Miss Westenra’s room. She had just closed her diary. The sight of it made me wish to have another chance at reading it, but she had made me promise not to. "‘Your friend Dr. Armitage is a good man,’ she said. ‘I have always been fortunate with the men in my life.’ "‘I am glad you like him,’ I said. ‘Miss Westenra, I have news to pass on to you. Before Count Dracula departed the country, he infected Mrs. Harker with vampirism.’ "Miss Westenra gasped. Suddenly I felt guilt over my earlier exaltation over the case. Though professionally the case was everything I had ever hoped for, I had allowed myself to forget that innocent people were unwillingly entangled in the events. "‘I am sorry, Miss Westenra,’ I said quietly. ‘Professor Van Helsing believes your friend can be saved and the process stopped before she becomes a vampire if Dracula is destroyed in time.’ "Miss Westenra’s eyes flared a baleful red. ‘You should have killed him when you had the chance,’ she growled with menace. "Before I could respond, she lowered her eyes and held up a hand: ‘Stay. I did not mean to frighten you,’ she said. ‘You and the Inspector did not know and that was unfair of me to say. Forgive me. What does the Professor plan to do?’ "‘Professor Van Helsing, Lord Godalming, Mr. Morris, Dr. Seward and Mr. Harker will pursue Count Dracula across Europe and to the ends of the Earth if necessary,’ I said. "‘They will find him in time,’ she said. ‘I know it. Arthur, Quincey and Jack are excellent hunters and have traveled together on many an expedition. They will save her.’ "‘I believe you are right, Miss,’ I said. I discussed a private topic with her and then retired for the night. "I spent the next day with my own research at the British Museum. Armitage and I had tea together and then we continued our separate efforts. He was tracking down information on Lilith. I was looking into the nature of souls for Miss Westenra had been deeply concerned about her fate. I hoped to also find understanding of the very nature of vampires. My research, however, did not provide any answers. "That night, I again had to leave Miss Westenra alone with Henry Armitage, who arrived shortly before sunset. He used Dr. Seward’s transfusion device to pump out blood from my arm for Miss Westenra. "After she drank, I bid them a good evening together and left to keep my appointment with Quincey Morris. Lucy Westenra’s Diary. 7 October, 1 a.m. — When I awoke at sunset, I was aroused by the scent of fresh blood in the goblet on the desk. My hesitation at the thought of drinking blood last night had been replaced by my dark thirst. Dr. Armitage and Mr. Carnacki knocked and entered. They looked attentively at me. "We were just discussing you," Dr. Armitage said. "Really?" I asked, trying to hide my eagerness for the blood. "Yes," Mr. Carnacki said with a slight smile. "I had worried you would sleep for days again and then my pain and suffering — caused by inexperienced hands attempting to insert a needle into my arm — would have been for naught. Please drink whilst it is still warm." "I am sure I will become better with more experience," Dr. Armitage said. "Pardon me, gentlemen," I said, turning my back to them. I could feel my fangs growing longer in my mouth, the tiny points brushing against my tongue and bottom lip. As I looked through half-lidded eyes, I placed the goblet to my lips and drank deep. The blood tasted of Mr. Carnacki’s life. It had flowed through his veins. His heart had pumped it. The blood was delicious. "Mr. Carnacki and I have been debating the nature of evil," Dr. Armitage said. "Though your diet is certainly unusual, I have found you a delightful young lady." Mr. Carnacki’s blood made me euphoric like the time I drank too much champagne with Mina toasting her engagement to Jonathan — only better. I closed my mind to all thoughts except the sense of floating with giddiness. I wanted to prolong my enjoyment before I answered. "Dr. Armitage, you may be right," I said, my back still to them. "Other than harming four small children for their blood, I have committed no evil acts. And though I watch the beating of your pulse above your collar and imagine placing my lips on your neck and drinking your life’s blood, it does not mean I would do so if given the opportunity. Nor should I be considered evil for desiring to soar into the sky as a bat and hunt humans as prey. We do not judge the eagle as evil when she swoops down on a rabbit and slays it." I drained the rest of the cup, licked my lips and turned towards the men. Dr. Armitage looked aghast at me with his eyes wide and his face drained of color. "Dr. Armitage, do not forget what I am," I said. "Mr. Carnacki does not, I assure you. Some humanity remains in me or else I would not warn you. But for the sake of your soul and, possibly, mine, please do not forget." Dr. Armitage nodded, his lips drawn tight and his brow furrowed. Mr. Carnacki, standing beside him expressionless, said dryly that he hoped the two of us would have a pleasant evening together. He told us he would return in a few hours. After Mr. Carnacki left, Dr. Armitage looked uneasily about him. The ticking of the clock and the pounding of his heart sounded loud. "Dr. Armitage," I asked, "would you like to play cards with me?" I picked up the deck and began to shuffle. Dr. Armitage stared at me for several moments then sat down across the table. I dealt the cards and we played a few hands without speaking to each other. Then Dr. Armitage took a deep breath and told me he did not understand me. I glanced down at the cards I held. "My dear man, you are filled with goodness," I said. "You cannot begin to understand me. I know. I was a good person in life." I recalled Mina once chastising me for my flirtatious behavior around men and a wicked smile came to my lips at the memory. "Relatively good, at least." No longer, however, can I claim to be good now that I am dead. A decent man like Dr. Armitage could not begin to comprehend that a vampire’s natural impulse is to kill. I restrain myself because if I harmed another living soul, Mr. Carnacki would destroy me like a wolf caught in a trap. He keeps me in this cage for good reason. Yet I am constantly torn by conflicting desires. Even though I want to bite into Dr. Armitage and feel the shower of his blood spray over me, I also enjoy his companionship. I suspect Count Dracula must have the same contradictory longings. When Jonathan visited the Count in Transylvania to perform legal services, Dracula treated him as an honored guest for several nights. The Count went well beyond what was required to lure Jonathan into a trap. Even though Dracula’s heart is as black as night, he was lonely for another to converse with. I was tempted to confess my thoughts to Dr. Armitage. The memories of my life have helped kept me anchored against the evil tide rising within. Yet each night the temptation grows. Last night I felt terribly sad for Mina being infected by Count Dracula. Tonight I could not wait to drink blood. I fear the anchor is slipping and I shall soon be cast adrift. When that happens, what direction will I go? "I must play the hand I am dealt," I said to myself. Dr. Armitage raised a brow. "Is something troubling you? Is there anything I may do to help?" "I am sorry, Dr. Armitage, my mind is not on the game after all," I said. "I apologize. I fear I am not good company this evening. If you would not mind, and I mean this as no reflection upon you, but I should like to be alone for a while." "Of course," said he, standing. Soon after, I heard Inspector Johnstone stop by. He greeted Dr. Armitage and asked eagerly after Mr. Carnacki. Dr. Armitage told him that Mr. Carnacki was meeting Quincey, but he did not know where. The Inspector asked for paper and pen to write a note. He knocked on my door and I told him to enter. He wished me a good evening, but told me he could not stay. I asked him to return any time he wanted. His weary faced brightened briefly then he left. I opened my diary to write. I wish I could confide the turmoil raging inside me with someone. But if I did, I fear I would be slain for being too dangerous to allow exist.


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