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Dracula's Demeter

Dracula's Demeter

Book excerpt

Thirty-eight nights earlier, Tuesday, 29 June, 1897, in Transylvania, in eastern Austria-Hungary where… a flying shadow beat the air with its leathery wings.

Below in the country dark, the trees, the black ribbons of river, the rolling fields… turned into sparse, barren foothills, then rose to rugged peaks frowning down upon the beaten road heading northeast from Bistritz, Austria-Hungary to Bukovina, Romania. The flying shadow flitted, rolled, darted down then up again, stroking the air as it soared over the narrow, rocky Borgo Pass, the juncture in that dusty road offering men their last opportunity to escape the dreaded unknown and return unharmed, sane, to their world of daylight.

Its wings worked rhythmically, unceasingly. The flying shadow issued a shrill scream and climbed above the craggy slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, higher still beneath the fading moonlight to the broken battlements of an ancient castle. Its only approach from the ground was a disused coach trail on the north leading to a narrow courtyard. From the other sides the castle was impregnable. Massive windows in its walls, out of reach of sling, bow or cannon, looked out from the rock upon which it was erected, sloping sharply away to the east, and falling to a precipice to the south and west. The shadow dove, soared low over the dilapidated, seemingly deserted stronghold, and disappeared between her towers. An instant later, a tall man emerged from the darkness - in its place - and strode the castle rooftop.

He was clad in flowing black from head to foot. His thick hair and tremendous mustache were both a dark iron-gray. His full cheeks, as the moonlight hit him, were ruby-red beneath pale white skin. His lips were intensely red and marred with maroon splotches of drying blood. Even his eyes, like burning coals, seemed buried deep in swollen flesh. The tall man, like a filthy leech, was gorged with blood. This thing was Count Dracula.

He stepped noiselessly to the edge of the roof and leaned over the parapet. With keen eyes and ears he saw and heard a pack of wolves, monstrous even from that height, padding and panting about the dark courtyard. Earlier he'd found it necessary to summon them to put a young Englishman in his place and to help that guest understand exactly who commanded there. He smiled at the memory and his sharp, oddly protruding teeth dented the surface of his bloody lower lip.

The wolves, his children, had served their purpose. Now, with a courtly gesture, Dracula released them. He closed his eyes and relished their melodic howls, clamorous at first then fading, as one by one they abandoned the courtyard and mountainside, returning to the dense wooded foothills. A remarkable stillness overtook the land.

Dracula stared out over his Transylvania, his empire, his lifeblood for the last four hundred and fifty years. To the west, where the valley was backed by the peaks of jagged mountains, the cracks in their rock faces studded with ash and hawthorn. To the south, where the expanse of distant hills, bathed in moonlight, melted into the velvety blackness of the peasants' fields. Endlessly beautiful but devoid of life. The land, despite the fresh blood on his lips, was drying up.

His decision was the only one possible. He would leave his homeland, travel to distant shores, insert himself into a modern world ignorant of superstition and its protections; a world begging to be fed upon. He knew also he'd chosen his new home wisely. The British Empire controlled one-quarter of the world's population; one-quarter of its land. If Transylvania could no longer sustain him, where but England did a conqueror belong?

His journey had been long-planned. Through the machinations of the greedy and the stupid an estate awaited him in London, a receiver awaited in Whitby, and the ship that would carry him in Varna. The well-paid gypsies, the Szgany, were encamped below. In the morning would come the Slovaks to aid them. In darkness, on the voyage ahead, he would sleep… and bring to full flower his great experiment.

Among his growing powers was the ability to communicate with lesser beings; animals, yes, and those especially compliant humans. For centuries he'd wondered at their sensitivity to his thoughts and tested the distances at which subjects could be influenced. It was necessary, for he would require assistance in his new home.

To that end…

He'd been weeding through the voices of humanity that floated on the wind, deciphering, selecting the speakers and their thoughts over ever-increasing distances. Once he'd learned the trick, the miles melted like wax and the words rang like bells. Among them, he found that one particular voice. He heard his subject, read his thoughts and, finally, learned to actually experience his subject's surroundings. When he could hear and feel in the man's place, the Count turned the table. He returned his psyche on the same mental stream and gave the subject his thoughts, his words. This experiment had one goal; absolute obedience. Body and soul, this man would serve Dracula.

The one selected for greatness, a nobody called Renfield, had just over a month since been hospitalized for a mental breakdown. He was morbidly excitable, suffered periods of melancholy and, with his great physical strength, was quickly judged a danger to himself and others. None of that mattered to Dracula. Renfield had a pliable consciousness. It was no coincidence the sanitarium was just outside of London.

So began the instruction. He stressed secrecy, loyalty, obedience. He had even suggested a hobby. With the natural streak of cruelty he'd found in the subject, Dracula's suggestion was taken up eagerly. It became a need and, soon after, an obsession. The hobby? Simply that Renfield should catch and collect flies.

Renfield was instantly rebranded a lunatic. His hobby, in two short weeks, drove his attending psychiatrist, a smarmy know-it-all called Seward, to demand he cease and desist. On Dracula's order, Renfield begged for three days more to purge himself of his horrid collection. And, of course, the bleeding heart doctor relented.


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