The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter XII.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "As a precaution against any supernatural visitation, I wanted to prepare ‘Defensive Circles’ before going to sleep. I was fortunate that Adena had come along. She kindly offered to do it and sent me off to bed for the night. "I collapsed in a heap and slept straight through the morning. "I awoke disoriented in a strange bed in a strange room. I opened an eye and examined my surroundings, a washstand, a pine dresser, and a row of hooks on the wall. The bed creaked as I turned to face the wall to escape the bright sun shining through the window on my face. "A moment later the door opened and Adena sat down on the corner of the bed. "‘So you’re awake at last,’ she said. "‘Don’t you know you should knock before entering a gentleman’s bedroom?’ I replied, pulling the pillow over my face. "‘If I ever meet a gentleman, I’ll try to remember that,’ Adena said. ‘All the housecleaning is done and tea is ready so it is safe for you to wake up.’ "Throughout childhood, we had bantered like this, more like siblings than friends. "Neither of us had much in the way of family growing up. We were both only children. My father had died when I was a boy. Her mother had died in childbirth. Her father had instilled in her exuberance for life. He had been a tolerant, kind man. "I shaved, washed up and put on clean clothes and as you know sometimes those simple routines along with a good night of sleep are enough to make a man ready to tackle the world. "We gathered around a long wooden table with benches on either side. "Captain Albion turned to me and asked my orders. After the success of his planning our escape the day before, I had assumed he would take charge. But instead, I could see he and the others expected to defer to me. "I told them our first order of business would be to gather more information. We had been operating in the dark and Lilith had the advantage in the shadows. We needed newspapers from the past month from throughout England and we needed access to a good library. "‘York should be able to supply both,’ he said. "I nodded and told the Captain, ‘Your trick of last night should buy us time. Though Lilith is powerful, she is not omnipotent. She must rely on agents, human or otherwise, to help her.’ "‘What makes you think so?’ Armitage asked. "I told him I based my reasoning on several factors: the haunting of Hillingham before the main attack upon the house; her use of Count Dracula; the Count’s use of human solicitors to make housing and travel arrangements for him. "I then made plans for he and I to read the newspapers for indications of unusual events that might provide a clue to Lilith’s activities. I assigned Adena and Miss MacKenzie the task of looking in medical and scientific periodicals for doctors or scientists seeking volunteers to donate blood for research or experimentation. "‘Lilith has several vampires in London, but they apparently are under orders not to draw attention to themselves,’ I said. ‘When the Inspector and I visited Highgate Cemetery, there were four vampires with a picnic basket and bottles filled with blood. They are obtaining the blood from somewhere.’ "Then I asked Jacob and Captain Albion to take an inventory of our weaponry and to modify the ammunition to make it effective against vampires. "‘Regular bullets did not penetrate Dracula,’ I told them. ‘I want you to turn our rounds into ‘dumdum’ bullets and press as much garlic as you can into the hollow spots. Dracula hated garlic. The garlic bullets may not kill vampires, but it may hurt them.’ "They nodded. "‘Also, could you make silver bullets?’ I asked them. ‘In some legends, silver is effective against vampires and other creatures of the night that may attend Lilith. I have also read several books of ancient lore that describe vampires and werewolves as in league together. The legends disagree on this, however. But just in case, silver works against werewolves.’ "Albion folded his hands in front of him. ‘I would need molds and reloading equipment that I do not have here, but I could make silver rounds,’ he said. "‘Shotgun shells,’ Jacob suggested. "‘Yes,’ the Captain nodded. ‘We could put silver into shotgun shells easily. Shotguns do not have the range or accuracy of other firearms, but it would be a way to blast silver at them.’ "‘Excellent!’ I said. "Then I asked Albion to plan ways for us to sneak into London and escape routes out. ‘When we have determined where to strike, we may want to stage hit-and-run attacks to disrupt her plans as much as possible,’ I told them. ‘I believe she has a time frame she must keep and if we can delay her enough we may defeat her without having to directly face her.’ "‘Why do you think she is under a deadline?’ Armitage asked. "‘Some rituals can be performed only at certain times when the stars are right,’ Adena told him. "‘We also need to return to London to gather information,’ I said to Albion. ‘Count Dracula conducted business through several solicitors, but Jonathan Harker’s firm is the only one the Count required to come to his castle in Transylvania to perform the required services.’ "I explained a theory that Inspector Johnstone and I had discussed, but had not had the opportunity to pursue. ‘Dracula purchased several properties across London to use as hiding places for his coffins and crates of native earth,’ I explained. ‘Lilith may have required Dracula and the other vampires to obtain properties as places to hide until she was ready for them to act. Dracula used the firm of Mitchell, Sons & Candy to obtain most of his properties. But he was cautious and apparently bought additional properties to hide even from Lilith. Dracula used another solicitor, Jonathan Harker, to obtain those properties. He summoned Harker to Transylvania and planned to keep the man there so he could not inform others.’ "‘If your theory is correct, then Lilith may have directed other vampires to Mitchell, Sons & Candy,’ Armitage said. "‘That is my thinking exactly,’ I said. ‘I find it curious that when Lilith wanted Dracula’s slain, the firm of Mitchell, Sons & Candy conveniently provided Lord Godalming with a list of addresses of properties that the Count had purchased through them despite the fact that doing so violated their professional code of conduct.’ "The others nodded in agreement and our meeting broke up. That afternoon, Miss MacKenzie, Captain Albion and Sergeant Walekar took the wagon to the hamlet to lay in additional food supplies. Jacob Wetzel saddled a horse and galloped across the fields. Henry Armitage opened a book. That left Adena and I at the table together. "‘You should sleep in more often,’ Adena told me. "‘I see you left one of the protective circles unfinished,’ I said. "‘Yes, so Lucy can enter if necessary,’ Adena said. ‘I’ve given her a piece of chalk. All she’d have to do is complete the outer circle.’ "We talked about Miss Westenra at length and then Armitage joined us. I left the two of them in conversation and explored the house. The dust and cobwebs had been swept away. The dust covers had been folded and stored. There was a kitchen with a large fireplace, the front room with another fireplace and simple, but solidly made chairs and other furniture. The house was located on a sloping meadow of heather and tall grass with a stream running through the strip of trees behind it. "Through the window, I spotted Jacob as he led the horse to the barn. I stepped outside to join him. "We spoke for a time about the horses as he rubbed them down. It was hard to picture him acting with the savagery Quincey Morris had described. "I left him and decided to take a walk across the property. The leaves of a tall oak tree near the house had turned orange and skittered in the warm breeze. I rambled up the hill and gazed at the meadow below. Thin plumes of smoke drifted up from the farmhouse’s chimneys. A moss-covered stone wall connected the main house to the closest barn. The rutted road had once been used by drovers driving cattle and sheep to market, but had long since fallen into disuse. From the top of the ridge, I could see other meadows and sloping hillsides, but no other human habitation. "Though I stood in the North Yorkshire, my mind was in London where I imagined Inspector Johnstone’s funeral was likely taking place. I should have been there with his wife and two children. "I had spoken with confidence before the others about our plans. But as I stood on the lonely hilltop, I knew others would die. Possibly all of us would. "The sun crept lower on the horizon. As the bottom of the sun lined with a distant hill, I began to walk down. Our meadow was hidden in twilight by the time I stepped through the back door. "That night, as we gathered round the fireplace, we came to know each other better. Dr. Armitage’s Journal. October 14, evening. Osmotherley. — I am in a house filled with strangers. How long ago did I meet Carnacki? Has it only been a month? It seems a lifetime ago. Compared to the others, Lucy Westenra is like an old friend. Yet I cannot forget her warning to me. She is bewitching, but there are times when instead of seeing a beautiful young woman, I see the predator lurking within her. There is something about her eyes. Often her blue eyes sparkle with laughter and delight. Yet on occasion, something else is there, something frightening. I would dare not tell the others, but her eyes on occasion call to mind an experience from the time I went out to sea to fish for marlins with a friend. I was 19 and home from college for the summer. I hooked something big and it nearly broke my line. However, the boat’s experienced skipper guided me until the monster lay along side the boat, thrashing in the water, but held fast by my line. I had caught a shark. The shark’s eyes were cruel and remorseless. They were the eyes of a relentless, efficient killer. We tried to haul the monster on board, but the captain told us to cast it loose. The captain feared the shark, in its death throes, would damage his boat and injure us (and those were his order of priorities). I took a last look at the shark before I cut the line. The shark’s eyes were black and Miss Westenra’s blue, but there the difference ends. Now she is free and walks among us. She is almost always a pleasant companion. But there are times when even as I look at Miss Westenra’s pretty face I feel the hair on the back of my neck rise. The shark also had a graceful beauty of its own. Then there is the scar-faced Captain Albion. He certainly was skilled at organizing our retreat. But what do we know of him? He is a friend of Lord Godalming. He is 30, a widower. He’s about 6 feet tall, three inches shorter than I. He has a thin mustache and an Indian manservant, Premkumar Walekar. But the Captain has not mentioned any details of his past. Other than a brief mention that the house belonged to his late wife, he’s made no other comment on the matter. Nor has he told us where he served and why he is not with his regiment now. There is also the mysterious 18-year-old Anne MacKenzie with red hair the color of glowing embers. She too has not mentioned her past. The other lady with us, Adena Metzner, is in mourning for the loss of her recently buried father. From what I gather from her and Carnacki, the Rabbi would have been a most interesting man to meet. His daughter is striking with shoulder-length curly hair and dark brown eyes. Carnacki tells me that she is fluent in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, French and Italian. Our other companion is a fellow American, Jacob Wetzel, a cowboy from the West and a friend of Quincey Morris. He is about 20 years old, 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 140 pounds. Though amazingly strong for his size — apparently from the physical labor of a cowboy — he seems a gentle soul. This morning as we cleaned the long-empty house, we came upon a spider on its web. Instead of squashing it, he caught the spider in his hand and carried it to the barn. I’m sure he is a good man, but he may be too tenderhearted for the desperate fight we face. We are strangers thrown together by fate and bonded by terror. Carnacki has just motioned for me. I must put down my pen for now. Later. — My arm aches. It was my turn to provide sustenance to our vampire. Carnacki hooked me up to Dr. Seward’s transfusion device and withdrew enough of my blood to fill a narrow glass bottle. At least he had Miss MacKenzie to help him with inserting the needle. She succeeded on the first try unlike when I drew blood from Carnacki. He poured the blood into a tin cup for Lucy, who drank it in my presence. I could not repress a shudder at the sight of her lips touching the blood fresh from my body. She watched me out of the corner of her eyes, lowered the cup and smiled with a puckish delight. My limbs shook at the sight of her long white fangs. For a moment, she had that look. "Thank you, Henry," she said with a false coyness. (Lucy insisted that we call each other by our first names now.) "What does his blood taste like?" Adena asked. She picked an awkward time to satisfy her curiosity. "Like autumn," Lucy answered. "Henry’s blood tastes like October when the leaves have changed colors and a hint of smoke hangs in the air and you walk past a cemetery at dusk, the fallen leaves swishing under your shoes." "I would have guessed his blood tasted like dusty old books," Adena said as Lucy poured more from the bottle into her glass. "What does Carnacki’s blood taste like?" Adena asked. I found the conversation not to my taste and did not stay to hear Lucy’s answer. Instead, I walked out of the bedroom. Feeling slightly light-headed from the bleeding, I sat in a chair near the fireplace. Captain Albion handed me a glass of brandy and leaned against the mantle beside me. Soon the others gathered around the blaze much like primitive man must have done in his cave — except we had liquor. I glanced up as Lucy entered. Our eyes met and the tip of her tongue licked her lips. I looked away, hoping I had not shown my fright. My earlier attempts to draw out the others about themselves had failed and I thought we would spend an uncomfortable evening together. Then inspiration struck me either from the presence of Lucy or our gloomy setting. "Why doesn’t someone tell a ghost story?" I asked. Miss MacKenzie and Carnacki shared a glance. For a moment, I thought I had committed a terrible faux pas. "I beg your pardon," I said. "It is too soon after the recent events." "Father always loved ghost stories," Adena said. "Who has a story?" "Why don’t you?" Lucy asked me, suddenly standing to my right. She had moved so fast and quietly I had not seen or heard her approach. Her speed is incredible. I suddenly could not recall any stories to mind and I began to stammer out a response. Then Captain Albion came to my rescue. "I have a true ghost story," the Captain said. "This is a good time for me to tell it since Sergeant Walekar is outside on sentry duty. He does not like remembering. Though on further reflection, the tale may not be proper for mixed company." "Is it spiced with salacious details?" Lucy asked with a nearly lurid excitement. "Not really, no," he replied. "I’d like to hear it anyway," she said. With the others adding their encouragement, Albion agreed and we formed a half circle around him. Captain Albion’s Tale (as recorded by Dr. Armitage). When I was a lieutenant of 22, I joined my regiment in India. Most of the regiment had been sent off to the Northwest Frontier to fight the Pathans, but my company was held in reserve. Stirred by so many of the soldiers off to fight a distant campaign, a local bandit chieftain called for holy war and used the chaos to rape and pillage. With many of my men off-duty due to an illness raging through the camp, I was sent to capture the chieftain and to put down his uprising before it spread to a general conflagration. I had 36 healthy men under my command to stamp out 100 rebels. Such is the British Army! We marched after them, tramping through the jungle and bamboo for days, huddling behind makeshift pickets at night. The sweltering heat and the drone of insects were constant companions. Unfortunately, we were caught in an ambush. I rallied the men and they retreated in good order, but the enemy encircled us as evening fell. We escaped past them in a desperate night march, moving silently through a waist-deep stream. We heard them thrashing through the bamboo and ivy searching for us. A thick fog helped cover us as we climbed up the embankment and came upon a clearing with a large plantation house where light streamed from the windows. Fearing what the bandits would do if they came upon the plantation, I ordered my remaining men into a defensive perimeter and knocked on the door to warn the residents. Worried the attack would begin at any moment, I barged in without waiting for an answer to my knocking. A tall gentleman greeted me at the entrance. I uttered words that can send shivers of fear through the stoutest colonists: "There’s an uprising." The handsome gentleman, with graying hair and formally dressed for dinner, told me not to worry. He smiled at my exasperation and invited me to dine. He ignored the squad of men I ordered to take positions upstairs at the windows. As a young lieutenant facing terrible odds, each minute seemed like an hour, each hour a day. I could hear the sounds of a table being set and food prepared. Soft violin music came from the library. But the attack never came. I spoke in whispers to Prem, who was the ranking sergeant. We suspected the residents had paid protection money to the bandit chieftain to leave them alone. We had heard of such things. The gentleman announced to us that dinner was ready. I told Prem to allow the men to eat their rations at their posts, and then I joined my host, eager to learn more of the situation. Candles flickered over the clean white tablecloth. Servants poured wine. I was bloody, muddy and sweat-stained in my fatigues. My host introduced me to his lovely wife and daughter, who had been the source of the beautiful violin playing. They were elegant and well dressed with the manners and grace of the wellborn. They introduced me to friends and distant relatives, about a dozen in all. Between courses, I excused myself to check on my men. After dinner, the men moved to the library to smoke cigars. I felt out of place, but the men, who spoke of past battles and distant fights in the Great Game on the frontiers, treated me as an equal and soon I overcame my shyness. They quite understood as I left occasionally to walk the perimeter. The enemy never came. I hesitated to question whether protection money had been paid, not knowing whether it was proper to ask. I thought it also quite possible that the bandits had overlooked the plantation, surrounded as it was by thick jungle and the heavy fog. I told Prem to set sentries, but to allow as many men as possible to sleep. I returned to the library and the men welcomed me back. My host offered me a guestroom. At first I refused, saying I should stay with my men. But when I mentioned to Prem the offer I had turned down, he nearly threatened to lead me back at bayonet point. As those who have served in the military know, although I outranked him, a raw lieutenant has only nominal authority over a veteran sergeant. He told me opportunities to sleep between clean sheets did not come every day. Somewhat shame-faced, I asked my host if his offer still stood. He had overheard some of Prem’s more colorful language and grinned. Without a word, he led me to a room where I took a hot bath in a copper tub. I put my worn boots by the bed, slipped my revolver under the pillow and made sure my rifle was within reach. I crawled into the canopied bed, closed the mosquito netting and slipped between the crisp sheets. I had just shut my eyes when I heard the door open. In a flash, I had my hand on my revolver. I saw Yvette, the daughter of my host, tiptoeing into my bedroom. The young woman put a finger to her lips and slid in next to me. I had never been with a woman before; the thought I could die on the battlefield the next day eroded my hesitation. Her hair smelled of honey and her skin felt like silk. When I began to speak, she stopped my words with kisses, but we remained locked in conversation. I woke at dawn when I felt Yvette leaving the bed. As I opened my eyes to drink in the sight of my seductress slipping away, wanting a final image to recall during the long nights on battlefields, a ghastly sight met my eyes. The sheets were moldy, the bed and floor covered with years of dust. A bird’s nest sat on the corner of the windowsill. I screamed in terror and I soon heard others elsewhere in the house. I threw on my boots, grabbed my uniform and weapons, and raced down stairs. Prem stared in disbelief at the signs of decay throughout the house. We raced outside where the men stood looking at the plantation in wide-eyed fear, their backs to the jungle. As if an unspoken command had been issued, the men and I sprinted as one into the bush away from the haunted place. We ran straight into the rebels, catching them entirely off-guard. They scattered and fled at the sight of us charging. Our momentum carried us all the way to the robber chieftain who promptly surrendered. I had won my first victory in battle out of uniform save for my boots. That afternoon, as we marched through the jungle with our prisoners, I had almost managed to convince myself that I had dreamt the entire experience and that the men and I had shared a hallucination about the plantation. But when I reached into my rucksack at dinnertime, I found an ornate locket. I opened it and to my surprise saw a small, faded portrait of Yvette. Dr. Armitage’s Journal. (October 14, evening — continued.) Albion finished his tale in a low voice with us leaning forward to listen. "Is that really a true story?" Lucy asked. "On my honor," the Captain replied. "I visited a district official afterwards and showed him the locket. He recognized the girl. She and her whole family had died in 1858, wiped out with their guests in the Great Mutiny." Carnacki leaned back in his chair, his fingertips pressed together. "It sounds like a form of —" Adena interrupted him. "Must you analyze every ghost story you come across?" she asked, laughing. "But it is important to classify —" he began again only to have her cut him off a second time. "What is important is the story," she said. "If you overanalyze it, you ruin the mystery. I enjoyed your story, Captain Albion, and I thank you for sharing it." Captain Albion bowed and said, "You are most welcome, Miss Metzner." Jacob placed another log on the fire. Soon all of us were speaking at once, creating the din of a pleasant party. When the conversation subsided, Adena asked: "Who shall go next?" Carnacki began to speak, but Adena held up a hand. "Your stories take too long and you usually end up discussing some obtuse element about the number of vibrations per second generated on your spectermeter," she said bluntly. "Honestly Carnacki, you need to learn to simply tell the story and leave the scientific details for the lecture hall and academic papers." Carnacki laughed, a sound I had not heard from him in ages. "I shall try to remember that," he told her. "Miss MacKenzie, how about you sharing a story?" Captain Albion asked. She gave him an enigmatic smile. "Not tonight. Perhaps another time," she said. Talk turned to Indian spices and dishes. Albion promised to ask Sergeant Walekar to make us curried chicken for dinner. I sat back to write. We are strangers facing horrible danger. But we are not alone. And there is comfort in that. Lucy Westenra’s Diary. 15 October, 4 a.m. Osmotherley. — I am so wicked! Anne and Adena have both pointed it out to me. They say I positively frightened poor Henry Armitage earlier tonight after drinking his blood. It is his fault. He is such a good man that he brings out the devil in me. We had a delightful evening with Captain Albion telling a ghost story. I feel so very alive! Terror hangs over us like a shadow cast by clouds on a sunny day, but it also accentuates the sheer exhilaration of existence. We are like frightened children clinging to each other and giggling to hide our fear. Anne and Adena cannot replace Mina, but I have grown quite fond of them in a short time. Even though we were up late with the men, the three of us stayed awake even later until the wee hours of the night. We sat on the bed in our room, whispering like girls without a care in the world. And the others are such a strange, wonderful assortment of men, all good fellows, brave and true. I do not know why I had to die. (Ah, there is that cloud again.) I know the others may soon die as well. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I have come to intensely love them. I wish I did not lust so for their blood.


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