Categories > Books > Dracula

Baron Olshevri's vampires

by BaronOlshevri 0 reviews

in 1912 an unknown author told the story of Carpathian Dracula. I am only a humble soul retelling it

Category: Dracula - Rating: PG - Genres: Horror - Published: 2015-11-14 - 83626 words - Complete

0Unrated
Originally published in 1912.

Dedicated to E.L.H.


If you don’t like it, don’t listen, but don’t get in the way of my lies.
-traditional proverb of Russian storytellers.


Prologue



For the first time in many years the main room of the village inn was aired and cleaned out as if in anticipation of a celebration. Tonight it was blazing with lights as a large and obviously wealthy foreign company made themselves comfortable inside.

A week ago the entire inn was hired by the American millionaire, Mr Harry Cardie.

Wild tales preceded his arrival, and the village gossips wasted hours whispering among themselves about his untold riches, his fabled cotton plantations and Mexican mines and even more so about his mysterious origins. According to rumours Harry Cardie was not only a direct descendant of the Mexican emperor Montezuma but was also a secret worshipper of Huitzilopochtli.

Of course, the stories contained more fantasy than fact, but one thing remained certain, - Mr Cardie is wealthy, young and an avid hunter, whose passion for the big game took him to Africa and India.

It was both business and traveller’s curiosity that brought Harry to Europe.

The village tongue-waggers maintained that the arrival of this fairy-tale prince to the remote Carpathian Mountains had something to do with the ownership of the ancient castle Dracula that stood abandoned for over forty years. All the previous owners had died, the last one renouncing the world and entering a remote monastery, where he later died.

Some said that Harry bought the castle for the sake of the title, yet others swore that he inherited it, and that one of the previous owners had travelled all the way to India where he studied black magic under the guidance of Brahmins and later his descendants made their way to America.

Harry was accompanied by a large entourage of friends, servants and hangers-on. Among his closest friends were Doctor Weiss, short and tubby gentleman, jovial and a charming conversationalist, Captain Wright, an Englishman who cultivated his cold-bloodedness to a point of religion. The gossips said that he was once taken captive and imprisoned in a subterranean dungeon by the bloodthirsty followers of the goddess Bhowani. While awaiting the inevitable death, Captain Wright didn’t change his habits and never parted with his customary cigar and after a miraculous release only asked for a glass of rum, which he drank as calmly as if he were at a party.

Another addition to of this inseparable trio was James Watt.

Although he was an American, James had enough French blood coursing through his veins to account for his liveliness.

Always moving, obsessed with solving every mystery that came across his pass, James could never keep his hands off anything that fascinated him. Once he nearly paid with his arm for a desire to touch a golden lotus on the chest of an Indian deity. To this day, a bright red scar coils around his arm like a serpent, a memento of a blow from an outraged devotee.

Because of James’s passion for observation and deduction, Doctor Weiss nicknamed him ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

Harry was accompanied by his manager, Smith, his personal butler Sabo, a cook and a footman. Doctor Weiss’s assistant, Joe was in charge of the medical supplies and the first aid that is so necessary during dangerous hunts.

The rest of the staff was made up of hired locals and was to be dismissed upon departure.

Harry’s company of friends and hangers-on also changed according to his place of residence. Right now, he was surrounded mostly by young people, lovers of hunt and adventure, or simply those who love to live on someone else’s account.

To give him his due, Smith was an expert at entertaining Harry’s guests. A new hunt was planned every single day, each one better than the last and in the evening a magnificent dinner, accompanied by expensive and abundant wines awaited the hunters.

Wine loosened tongues.
After dinner, the guests liked to chat, and as the evening wore on, the usual talk of women and horse races would be swapped for hunter’s tales of adventures in American forests and the jungles of India.
Tonight Harry came up with a new form of entertainment; reading.

Recently he had hired an elderly librarian, Karl Ivanovich Schmidt, tasked with locating a missing document witnessing the burial of one of the Counts Dracula, in the archive of the village’s church.
Every evening the librarian gave Harry report of documents found during the day, and tonight he brought in a pile of old papers and diaries. Harry found them interesting and he asked Karl Ivanovich to read them aloud after dinner for the amusement of his guests.


Part 1
The Schoolteacher’s diary.

1
No one had seen him since that night.
What is it?
Is it a mere coincidence or is he a new victim?
I said “victim” but a victim of what?

2
It has been six months since I’ve picked up this notebook. Everything was quiet, peaceful. My suspicion that there was something strange linking the ‘incidents’, something sinister, left me.
I was even ashamed of myself for giving in to such silly superstitions.
And then yesterday my doubts came back.
Heinrich the hunter had disappeared.
Young, handsome and fearless he is adored by all the girls in the village. Ever cheerful, he is the first villager to join in the dance and the first man to face danger. The folks are saying that he fears nothing, not even the devil himself, yet worships the Holy Virgin, protectress of our village, with outmost devotion, wearing her image around his neck on a green cord.
Heinrich went hunting early on Friday morning, promising to return in time for the Mass.
He still hasn’t returned by either Sunday or Monday.

His sister, Maria fears that he may have been in an accident. She came to us, sat crying in the kitchen and asked for advice.

3
Wednesday- Heinrich is still missing. The village is already awash with rumours that Heinrich is dead and his body will turn up in the Witches’ Valley sooner or later....
But why should he be there?
Even though Michel, the ironsmith, was found in the Witches’ Valley, it was only because he was dead drunk.
Heinrich doesn’t drink and his rout lies far from the road, in the mountains...”


Karl Ivanovich paused and pushed his glasses on top of his head

“Here a few pages have been torn out”, he said looking at Harry.

“Good, we can have a break and drink one more glass of wine. Hey, Sabo!” Harry shouted cheerfully, “by the way, gentlemen, according to the schedule, tomorrow, after the hunt, we are spending the night at the Hunting Lodge. The lodge is situated on top of the hill, near the entrance to the Witches’ Valley. So, Captain Wright, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate your fearlessness”.

“Right now I have no idea what you are talking about,” mumbled Wright

“You will understand once a witch gets hold of you”

“What is it, the famed Witches Valley?”, asked James.

“The valley is a beautiful place,” interrupted one of the local guests, “yet there are stories that all sorts of unclean spirits gather there and the witches celebrate their ghastly rites in the valley. Anyone, who values his soul’s salvation, should not look at such things”.

“You see, my friends,” continued Harry “Witches’ Valley is a small and beautiful place located at the foot of a mountain, on top of which stands our castle. The mountain is so steep that the access to the castle from the valley is impossible. One side of the valley is framed by a chain of wooded mountains and at the other, you will find a road. At the end lies our Hunting Lodge, and in the valley’s centre you will find a very small lake, completely covered with water lilies, nenufares, the ‘dead roses’ as they are sometimes called. The lakeshore is very swampy and at sunsets mists rise from its waters”

Doctor Weiss snorted:

“It was, of course, this very mist that gave rise to all the legends in my opinion.”

“Don’t listen to him, there isn’t a single drop of poetry in his soul” interrupted Harry “the mist, especially in the moonlight, takes on fantastic forms, often of those of young, beautiful women. They wear wreaths of dead roses on their heads, and thin transparent robes that move slightly in summer’s wind. Their eyes shine like stars and their skin takes on mysterious warm glow...”

“Not too bad” mumbled Wright.

“Yes, and yet few will want that kind of love. The village lore says that everyone who ended up- willingly or not- in the Witches’ Valley on full moon was found dead in the morning, and even if he did survive, he died a month later, at the next full moon. The lake women drink his life with their kisses. The victim will grow weaker, paler until he finally dies”.

“Of course he will die, the lake water is stagnant and rotten and the mist carries only God knows what kind of poisonous gasses,” added doctor

“Watch out, Doc, or you may end up paying for your lack of belief”, said Harry, laughing.

“On the contrary, I do believe that if a drunk makes his way to the swamp he will either drown, or, after spending the night on wet soil, catch a fever and swamp fevers are not something to be laughed at”

“What will you make of small wounds found on the bodies of those who had perished in the Valley? Say, they are very small, and barely noticeable?”

“That’s easy, - a bite of small snake or a leech. You said it yourself that the wounds are barely visible”

Harry smiled pensively:

“Well my friends, there is little point of talking of a long gone things, because, for over thirty years nobody has perished in the Witches’ Valley, and our brave Captain Wright will have no opportunity to distinguish himself. Regretfully, our generation lives in the world where there are no dragons or sleeping beauties or even the most common of bloodsuckers.
All that is left for us are the tales of other’s heroics. All right, gentlemen, one more glass of wine and back to the story!” finished Harry.

The librarian lowered his glasses and continued reading:

“It was only after he regained consciousness that we were able to pry open his fingers and found the medallion of Holy Virgin that he always wore around his neck.

15th
Today Heinrich spoke for the first time. He appeared terrified of something and his words came out in broken sentences. I could barely understand him, but after much thinking, I was able to piece his story together: he must have lost his way, which is very unusual for Heinrich, and by the nightfall found himself in the Witches’ Valley.
Being superstitious like all the common folk, Heinrich was terrified of the lake and chose to run. He found a high rock, too high for the mist to reach, and climbed all the way to the top. Deciding to stay awake, he sat down, and like a good Catholic that he is, recited Ave Maria. Gradually he calmed down and became lost in his thoughts.

The moon was bright and the night air was filled with silvery light. Mist was rising from the lake and the fragrance of the hawthorn flowers gave off a strange intoxicating scent.

“As if the smell was piercing my brain,” said Heinrich.

The night air was humid and Heinrich felt strange, pleasant tiredness.
Suddenly a gust of wind shook the hawthorn bush and a small branch struck Heinrich on the chest. In an instant, a shower of white fragrant flowers covered him.

“I felt as if I were covered by a white veil” said Heinrich.

The moon went dark.

Everything swam before Heinrich’s eyes.

The white veil shone with strange light and in the middle of it, Heinrich saw beautiful female face, pale and wondrous, with huge greenish eyes and pink sensual lips.

“‘It’ kept moving closer to me and I was unable to take my eyes of ‘It’” he told us “I wanted to pray but the words jumbled in my head. I tried to reach for my medallion and, can you imagine my horror, when I couldn’t find it. ‘The demon must have torn it off with its veil!”

“The demon came close to me, kissing my lips and I felt ill. Everything around me started to spin and...I must have lost consciousness, I don’t know”, he added.

Heinrich awoke from the sharp pain in his neck, but before he could open his eyes, he felt sick again as the pungent smell of blood filled his nostrils. His head started to spin as he tried to rise.

“I felt dizzy and I stumbled,” said Heinrich and, while falling, he felt his fingers close around something, which was the last thing that he remembered before loosing consciousness again.

Heinrich is convinced that the Holy Virgin herself descended from heavens to save him from the vampire. He swears that he saw heavenly light shine around her face and heard demonic laughter of the conquered devil. Because the object that he grabbed so desperately turned out to be his precious medallion.


16th

It is improper for me as a schoolteacher and a representative of enlightenment, to believe in vampires.
Besides, if I were to think about Heinrich’s tale in a calm and rational manner then everything will have its logical explanation.

So this is what I believe really happened:
Heinrich went hunting. He lost his way. Saturday night was very dark. Finding himself in the Witches’ Valley, Heinrich, like any other peasant from our village was terrified, and rather than quickly cross the valley and make his way home, he decided to run to the mountains, since the way across the valley would have taken him past the lake and that was above his courage.
Perching himself on the rock, Heinrich fell asleep and saw a dream. While sleeping he must have fallen and hit his head on the stone which caused him to loose consciousness. So far so good.
Only one question remains: why is he so weak?

Our village medic says that this kind of weakness is caused by a massive blood loss.

He has no wounds on his head and the medic thinks that maybe the hot weather and nerves caused him to have a nosebleed. It all makes sense since the front of Heinrich’s shirt was covered in bloodstains. The only thing that surprises him is that, judging by the stains, the loss of blood was very trivial and yet Heinrich, who is so young and strong, appears to be so weakened by it.

17th
Today I went to the Witches’ Valley and found the exact spot where Heinrich fell asleep. It wasn’t difficult, - his rifle was still leaning against the boulder and his hat was on the ground nearby. As I sat down on the boulder, I understood how easily a gust of wind could have pushed the hawthorn bush towards Heinrich, and how it could have torn his medallion off. At the same time, one of the thorns could have caused the wound on his neck... I looked closer and saw something hanging from the bush. It was the green silk cord of Heinrich’s medallion.

I inspected the foot of the rock and found the impressions of Heinrich’s hands and knees on the soil.
As he was falling, he must have grasped his medallion on the ground.
If only I could find traces of blood on the earth, everything would be explained logically.
To my disappointment, I discovered none.

Tired, I sat on the rock for a while, thinking.
Everything around me was peaceful and quiet.
On my way back home, I saw a water lily lying on the ground, little wilted but still beautiful. I wondered how it got there.
Heinrich didn’t mention that he picked a flower, besides he told us that he didn’t go anywhere near the lake.
I took it home with me.
Tonight, as I sit writing, it is standing on my desk in a glass of water. It is so beautiful, fresh again, with petals that appear almost translucent.
Inside the flower, small droplets of water shine like precious gems, no like beautiful, beloved eyes. It is so strange but I feel as if the flower was a living breathing creature.
I can smell the fragrance in the night air.
No. My imagination is playing tricks on me water lilies have no scent.
It is time to go to bed. Thank God, I am finished with vampires, - everything is explained and the case is closed.

21st
For three days I haven’t picked up my pen, there was so much nonsense going on.

After coolly analyzing Heinrich’s adventures, I felt calm and went to bed. I must have fallen asleep straight away.

How much time had passed I cannot say, but eventually I thought myself awake.

The room was filled with silvery light, shimmering and alive.

It wasn’t the cold light of the moon, but strange, full of vibration and desire. Where did the light come from?
It is as if it was born in my room.
Following the silver waves of light, I saw that the glow was coming from my desk. I sat up in my bed.

I saw the flower no longer floating helplessly in its glass of water, but swaying tall and proud on its high stem. I stare at it, transfixed. It shimmers and twists amid the waves of light and soon I see a ghostly woman’s face where the flower had been. The stem transforms into a slim body. Her face is ashen and has sad eyes that look straight at me. The lips are pale pink and her golden hair falls in beautiful waves upon her breasts.
She sways, and with every movement grows bigger and bigger until she is the same size as a normal woman, yet her body stays translucent as if it were woven from silver threads.

She moved away from the desk and the room filled with strange scent and almost inaudible sounds. I cannot see her movements; it is as if she is floating on air.

She comes closer and closer, soon her body is swaying beside my bed. She is whispering something but I cannot make out the words.

She leans over me and I feel cold. She wants to lie down on my chest. The fear gives me strength and I push the ghost aside, shouting.

I hear a crash and sound of breaking glass.
Frightened Mina appears in the room and soon I can make out her complaints:

“Yelling in the middle of the night, what is wrong with you? Why did you push the table over, breaking the decanter, and a new one at that, less than two years old!”
So, it was a dream.
I eye my desk suspiciously. Poor water lily is dying helplessly in its glass.
Only a dream.
I feel ashamed and embarrassed.

22nd
The day passed as usual.
By the nightfall, it seemed to me that the water lily was coming to life once again. I undressed and got into my bed with a book and started to read, looking up at the flower from time to time.
At first, I thought that I was seeing things, but after a while, I became certain that the flower was changing its colour, becoming lighter and more translucent as if filled with its own inner glow.
Few minutes more and it started swaying on its high stem.
I sat up in my bed.
I am not asleep.
It is no longer a flower but a woman. I hear strange ringing in the air; I smell pleasant scent once more.....

But she doesn’t come to me; she stares and stares, as if she is begging for something.
What does she want?
It occurred to me that she may be a restless spirit of a suicide, who is asking for a prayer to be said for her soul. I lay very still, watching her.
The ghost moaned and vanished.
I do not remember when I fell asleep.

23rd
Morning.
The flower is almost dead.
Did I dream again?
No, it was not a dream.
I am haunted by the thoughts of her. What did she want? What was she asking for?
Tonight I will ask her.
In the evening, after the supper, I went into my room to look at the nenufar but it was gone.
When I asked Mina about it, she told me that she threw away the dead flower. Pity, I got used to it.
That night, sleep avoided me. I lay awake in my bed, waiting.
But everything was quiet. My desk stood dark and empty. The air felt suffocating and stale.
I waited, but everything was in vain.

Eventually I grew restless, got up off the bed and opened the window.
The moon was bright. Far off in the direction of the Witches Valley I saw coiling clouds of mist. They twisted and turned taking on grotesque shapes. I sensed that that she was there, waiting for me.
What does she want?
I peered into the mist but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. And yet I knew that she was there, waiting.
Should I go there?
What if all those things that the villagers say about the valley are true?
While I was arguing with myself the sun rose and with the first light the mist had vanished taking with it all of my doubts and desires.
Today I will ask the medic for some sleeping drops.

24th
Today I went to the village, complained about a headache and asked the medic for something to calm the nerves.

He laughed: “Don’t tell me that you are also dreaming of beautiful maidens with water lilies in their hair and bodies woven from moonlight, just like Heinrich?”

By the way, Heinrich has become an assistant to the church watchman. He says that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood anymore and that he has to pray for his soul. Of course, the old watchman is encouraging him as much as he can, which is understandable since he is awfully ancient; the villagers claim that he is over hundred years of age.
No wonder he wants a younger helper.
He convinced Heinrich that once a vampire had tasted blood, the victim rarely escapes. And at the church, besides the protection of the Holy Virgin, he offers his own help.
“I know how to deal with these bastards!” he swears.

25th
I drink my drops and sleep soundly. Isn’t it proof enough that the problem was my nerves and not vampires?

Why did I act so cowardly?

I should have observed what would have happened next.

Everything had returned to normal in the village save for Heinrich who spends his days kneeling in the church or ringing the bells up in the tower. I tried asking him a few questions but he was reluctant to talk, admitting only that his wounds are not healing well.

“And they wouldn’t heal, until she bites somebody else” mumbled the old watchman who was eavesdropping nearby.

The old man must have, as they say, ‘a screw loose’. His little room is quite a sight. Above all his windows and door, on the windowsills, doorframes, everywhere he drew a sign of a cross. Every keyhole and crack is filled with dried garlic. He gave the same treatment to Heinrich’s room, adding the wreaths of mistletoe and garlands of garlic above the young man’s bed. The church garden is also full of this foul smelling plant.
I asked him why he bothered with all of this.

“She doesn’t like it” was all I got in reply.

When I tried to explain to him that the science does not recognise existence of vampires, and that the dead cannot rise from their coffins, he gave me a filthy look and mumbled with his toothless gums:

“You are still young. Wait till you get to my age”.

Mina tells me that the old man knew better life. Long time ago he was employed up at the castle and helped to raise one of the young heirs. But the family suffered some sort of misfortune that resulted in the death of nearly all its members. The castle was abandoned and gradually it went to wreck and ruin. There are rumours of distant relatives somewhere in America, but no one knows where they are.”

“Hold on”, interrupted one of the young men, “Harry, could you be that American heir? I’ve heard something to that effect.”

“I think you may be right”, replied Harry “I think the writer is referring to me, or rather, to my maternal uncle. He died, leaving me his cotton plantations and some kind of rights to a castle and a title in Europe. At first, I had no time to think of either the castle or the title. A worldwide crisis had hit the cotton industry, and I needed to rescue the money first.
It was only six months ago that I decided to come to Europe. It turned out that the land and the castle do exist, but everything is in a terrible state. The castle, judging from the outside, is a wreck. I haven’t seen the inside yet, especially since I cannot officially take possession of it, as I am lacking the necessary papers proving death or burial of one of my great-uncles, twice removed. This is why I’ve asked Karl Ivanovich to search in the school and the church archives. He hasn’t found the right document yet but managed to fish out a pile of notes dealing with local vampire lore. To be honest with you, I’ve barely had the time to listen to them all, besides the local priest blames everything on the superstitious folk and the village headman assures me that for over thirty years the village hasn’t had a single instance of mysterious death or murder. Only once a drunken handyman attacked his wife with an axe, but she lived for another year after that.

As you know, I spend last winter in Paris and in the spring, I decided to go hunting, and invited all of you to my, though still unofficial, Carpathian estates. The castle itself looks too depressing and I decided to renovate the Hunting Lodge instead. Karl Ivanovich arrived here before me and has been swallowing archive dust for a while now”.

“If only Mr. Cardie would let me take a look at the Castle’s archives,” said the librarian.

“Of course, in due time. Soon we will all go and take a look at the castle. Friends, lets have one last cigar”, offered the host “please continue, Karl Ivanovich”.

27th
The nights are dark now and I am sleeping soundly. I am calm.
Yesterday I went to visit Heinrich. He is very pale but also seems to have calmed down.
Old man redoubled his efforts in garlic propagation and is constantly touching up his crosses.
After my jokes about the garlic, he said:

“Ah, I don’t want to get involved with your young lot, otherwise I could have told you a story or two!”

Maybe if the old man got a little tipsy his tongue would loosen. Worth a try.

28th
Everything is calm and boring; at night, the stench of garlic from the church garden reaches as far as my bedroom.

29th
Today the old watchman came to our house, bringing some church objects for Mina to clean.
I lured him to my study and gave him a cup of tea into which I poured at least two tablespoons of rum. The old man loosened quickly and started to orate in no time at all.
He rambled on and on about the castle, about the olden days, hunting hounds and the ‘poor beautiful Countess’.

“And then, who would have believed such things”, said the old man waving is arms helplessly “she almost mauled me!”

“Who, the hound bitch?” I asked.

“What bitch? The Countess herself! She died and come full moon, she starts to stroll around again. If she gets stuck on someone, poor devil’s sure goner. Some may last a month or two, but most kick the bucket straight away. She’d suck out their lives. Many folks ran from the castle back then. And once we were walking together on the clearing, and the damn wolf, a grayling at that, jumped on me! Knocked me over flat! I already gave my soul up to the Lord! And she, my Nettie, my beauty, darling, she flew in the rage and grabs the bastard by the scruff of his neck......”

“Who? The dead Countess?” I asked surprised.

“To hell with you, all you do is confuse things. The hound, Nettie, I raised her myself, and for nothing, I tell you for nothing, perished the poor dog! She died on the very nigh the snake bit young Countess! You know the one with green eyes....”

The longer he carried on the more confusing his tale became, and soon I had no idea who he was talking about, - the bitch Nettie, the Countess or the snake. Who bit whom and who had green eyes I still have no idea.

“I drowned her in the old well!” he concluded triumphantly.

He went back home and I didn’t stop him. Standing in the doorway, he turned around and, laughing, asked,

“So, it helps, doesn’t it?”


5th
Full moon.
I am depressed, filled with unexplainable strange desire and everything around me seems empty and void of meaning.
What did she want, what was she asking for?
Every night, against my own wishes, I lie listening, waiting for her.
All is silent.
Only the disgusting stench of garlic lingers in my room. Even open window doesn’t help, though the flow of air is completely unobstructed.

What am I waiting for? A dream? A vision?

During the day, I am absolutely calm but towards the evening, I become irritable, unable to find peace.
Something is calling me somewhere and I feel the need to move, to go, but where?
Everything is unclear and confusing and this very uncertainty is torturing me.
I find my condition unbearable.
Tomorrow I will go and bring another flower.

6th
During the day, I was crawling out of my skin and at dusk, I made my way to the village, ran down to the valley and picked the most beautiful water lily I could find.
I lost my footing and stumbled into the swamp, dirtying myself up to my knees.
Like a thief, I sneaked into my room and put the flower in the glass of water on my desk.
I sit by the window and I wait.
Nothing.
Maybe I should lie down.

7th
I couldn’t sleep the whole night, I waited and waited. Nothing.

The flower stands unmoved and only the garlic stench pervades the room.
What can I do to get her to come back?
I know, I feel, that she is suffering, but how and why?

11th
I went to the lake several times, but came back with nothing, except for my wet feet and dirty boots.
My despair is growing...she is not a ghost or a vision. For me she is my beloved, my desired one.

13th
I visited Heinrich.
The old man smirks slyly. I asked him about the bitch Nettie and he explained with surprising clarity, that the counts had fine pack of hunting dogs, and Nettie was the Countess’ favourite and had the privilege of lying at her mistress’ feet.

“The old American devil did away with her,” said the old man “from the first time she laid her eyes on him, she hated him. She sensed evil in him. As soon as he’d come around her fur would stand up, she’d bare her teeth...and on that night when Countess fell ill, she looked terrifying.
As soon as I ran into the room, I saw Nettie shaking, her hair standing on end, foaming at the mouth, teeth snapping. I had no time for her then, but I remember, clear as yesterday, that I opened the terrace door. Nettie ran out as if she’d lost her marbles and vanished in the direction of the old chapel. We never saw her again”.

“Do you think the snake bit Nettie?” I asked

“No, the snake bit Countess”

“How could a snake have gotten into the castle?”

“From the jewel box that the Old Devil had brought with him”.

When I was leaving, the old man asked me if I was sleeping soundly and if I stopped going to the lake.

“Who told you that I was going to the lake?” I asked, surprised.

He gave me a knowing toothless smile:

“Where else could you have dirtied your boots so much? I can see they are filthy with mud, completely ruined! Don’t worry, you will sleep well,” he added, laughing.

When I came home, I was still thinking about his sudden interest in me. Why does he care so much whether I go to the lake and whether I sleep well?
Thinking, I began to pace my room and accidently moved the window curtain. Something slid to the floor and I picked it up. What do you think!?
A wreath made up of garlic cloves and flowers!
So this is the source of the stench in my room, and I though that it came from the church garden.
It appears the old lunatic is the culprit.”

Karl Ivanovich stopped reading and turned the page:

“Here is another interruption,” said the old librarian, clearing his throat.

“Good. Time for bed, gentlemen. It looks as if half of our guests are snoozing already and Captain Wright is beginning to snore”, said Harry, rising “Goodnight and May you have many pleasant dreams”.

The rigours of an all-day hunt had taken toll on many and everyone agreed readily. The guests bade each other goodnight and left for their bedrooms.


IV
In the morning, at coffee, Harry was in a cheerful mood and jokingly asked:

“So, Gentlemen, have any of you been harassed by the local ghostly maidens last night?” he said looking at his guests, “What? Nobody?”

“I was”, said one of the younger guests, a pale and sickly boy of about sixteen named Georges.

He was immediately overwhelmed with questions. Not knowing whom to answer first and embarrassed by all the attention, the boy reddened:

“She came to me last night and asked to unlock the door and release her from where she had been held captive. She said that she chose me as her rescuer”, he mumbled.

“What door are you talking about?” asked Harry

“I don’t know. She said ‘find it”.

Doctor Weiss gave Harry a knowing smile:

“Of course your maiden had long golden hair and wore a garland of lake flowers?” he laughingly asked the boy.

“On the contrary, Sir” answered Georges “I got a good look at her and will recognise her from a thousand. She has dark hair and big tortoiseshell comb that holds them high on her head”.

”Hallucination” said Doctor softly.

A young servant appeared in the doorway and bowing in Harry’s direction told him that the horses were ready. Immediately the guests got up from the table and reached for their rifles, bags and cartridges, and in an instant all the women and vampires of the world were forgotten.

V
In the evening, the hunters had gathered together once again. The hunt went well and the mood matched the results. After a noisy supper and many empty bottles later, the conversation shifted from hunting tales back to the bloodsuckers.

Harry called for Karl Ivanovich and the youngsters assailed him with questions and requests. Harry took advantage of the brief second of silence to ask the old man if he had managed to find the continuation of the schoolteacher’s diary.

“Not yet, Sir”, replied the librarian “the church is being prepared for the Feast of the Holy Virgin and the archive is temporarily closed. But, if Mr Harry wishes, I can read you some of the old letters from the Hunting Lodge. I was there with Mr Smith today. As you all know the lodge isn’t yet ready and we were unable to move in tonight, as planned. Even by tomorrow, only a small portion of the bedrooms and the dinning hall will be suitable for living quarters.
While he was helping to clean up one of the bedrooms, Mr Smith discovered a pile of letters in an old desk. I looked through them and it appears to me that they have a connection to the schoolteacher’s diary. So, if it pleases the gentlemen, I can read them right now”

“Please do, Karl Ivanovich”, said Harry.

“In my understanding the letters are between two university friends. The place of posting, judging by a mark, on the envelopes is Venice, Italy”, continued Karl Ivanovich.

Letters to Alf.

First letter.

Dear Alf,
You could never imagine my happiness!
I am finally allowed, no, I am finally able to return to my motherland, which I left as a seven-year-old boy.
To this day, the reason for my exile from my parents’ home has remained an absolute mystery to me.

I must have told you hundreds of times about my happy and privileged childhood in my father’s ancestral castle, and yet, I was somehow embarrassed to tell you of my last days there. Tonight, I want to tell you about it.
I don’t know myself what is driving me to do that.

I remember a beautiful evening in early spring. The sun hasn’t set yet, and our garden was filled with fragrance of flowers. My parents and their guests had gathered on the terrace. My little sister Lucy and I were allowed to stay with the adults and even my mother’s favourite dog was present, dozing quietly at her feet

Suddenly a footman appeared and told my parents that an elderly gentleman wished to see speak to my father.

Father nodded his head in agreement and the footman returned with the old grey-haired man, dressed in long monkish attire. As he made his way towards the terrace, I noticed that he had strange red tinged eyes and fleshy purple lips that contrasted strangely with his pale skin.

As soon as he spoke, Nettie, my mother’s favourite dog, jumped up and rushed towards him with her fur bristling. I thought that she would sink her teeth into his leg, but the long stick brandished by the old man held her back.

Mother sat up straight in alarm.

“What’s happening to our Nettie?” she asked, puzzled.

“Please forgive us”, she said, turning towards the stranger “it is the first time that Nettie has behaved in such manner”.

“Petro, take out the dog” ordered my father.

The old man appeared to have hardly noticed the dog’s behaviour. He bowed low to my father and handed him a large sealed envelope.
My father tore it open.
He glanced at the letter inside and leaned over to my mother, explaining the contents to her.

I, of course, heard little and understood even less. Eventually my parents offered the stranger to take a seat and agreed to whatever he was asking.

Ignoring the chair, he remained standing.

“When will it be suitable to bring the coffin?” he asked.

“Tomorrow, if you wish” said my mother

The old man bowed deeply and left.

When he was gone, my parents continued talking but I was too young to understand the conversation.

They mentioned the burial crypt, grandfather and the old painting in the gallery but I had no idea how all of these things were linked together.

I couldn’t finish my letter yesterday. Silvio came and asked me to go with him to Lido. It was a wonderful evening.
Our gondola was gliding soundlessly on the water. The last rays of the setting sun lit the clouds with a golden glow. All around us, I heard laughter and singing from neighbouring gondolas.
My mind was full of memories and I was thinking about my mother and her premature death. She was so beautiful and she died so young!
I was already in Nuremberg when I heard of her passing. To this day, I know nothing of an illness that took her to her grave.
My father refused to answer my questions about her death, just as he refused to tell me the reason for my banishment from home.

“It was your mother’s wish” was all he would say.

But why? Why would she send me away? She loved me so much!
I remember her so clearly. Tall and slender with her heavy blond hair in two braids. I remember her blue eyes looking down on me with tenderness and love...
I can still feel them watching me...but...What is this? I feel other eyes looking at me, but they are black and full of passion and fire.
She was there one moment and then she was gone. And I cannot forget her. Forgive me, Alf, I cannot finish this letter today, I must find her!
Goodbye for now,
Yours,
D.

Second letter

Dear Alf,
It has been almost two weeks since I had written to you.
I barely noticed the passage of time. I am sure you would forgive me if I were to confess that I am Happy, insanely happy.

I’ve found her, the girl who was looking at me on the Lido. Believe me those eyes look even better by sunlight. And the entire girl is beautiful too!
Just think of the descriptions of the legendary Venetian beauties and then you will have some idea, but think not of her but only of her shadow.

Though she is of noble lineage, her family fell on the hard times and she is poor. She is an orphan and lives with her old nurse, and this is all I know so far...

I’ve already told you that my unwilling exile has come to an end and I now can return to my birthplace, my home.

And yet, my happiness is mingled with sadness, because the ban has been lifted with my father’s sudden death. For many years, I’ve had no news from him, and he forbade me to return on my own under a threat of disownment.

“When the time is right, I will send for you myself” was all he would say.

And now I’ve received a letter from my parents’ trusted servant Petro, telling me that my father had died suddenly of what the doctor said was a heart attack.

Petro helped to raise me and he took me to Nuremberg when I was a boy.
He asked me in his letter to send a lawyer to help him facilitate the sale of the castle, adding that it was my father’s wish.

He never even mentions the possibility of my return home.
Damn, no!
I will go back home, no matter what it will cost me... I want to uncover the mystery surrounding my mother’s death.
And, if you let me tell you a secret, I do hope that I will not have to travel alone.
Goodbye,
Yours,
D.

Third Letter
Dear Alf,

Can there be a more wretched creature on this earth than I?

Since I was seven years old, I have been deprived of both my mother and my home, and I felt as if no one had ever loved me. You may say that I never lacked for anything and that I lived in luxury, but I swear to you, these things count for nothing.

Even ‘she’ doesn’t care for me. Yesterday she walked right past me, without as much as a glance, and yet, she knew that I was waiting for her behind the pillar, longing for her to look at me. And she walked right past.
I feel so depressed. Alf, you have your mother’s grave to mourn at, and I? I am going home!

You’ve asked me about the coffin I mentioned in my letter.

The coffin belonged to my grandfather and it was brought from America by his old servant.
Why grandfather went to America and what happened to him there I don’t know. There was a family legend surrounding the whole affair, but my child’s memory could not retain it. All I know is that had grandfather ordered in his will for his body be brought back home from the land of Aztecs”.


Harry stopped Karl Ivanovich:

“Aztecs?” he exclaimed, surprised “I am from the land of the Aztecs, or more accurately, I am descendent from them”

“Maybe this is the relative you’ve been looking for. You said you needed a death certificate of an ancestor of yours, to prove your rights of inheritance”, added Doctor.

“Pity my lawyer isn’t here... Please go on, Karl Ivanovich” rushed Harry

Karl Ivanovich resumed reading:

A day after the visit from the strange red-eyed old man, in the late afternoon, a funeral cortege, bearing a huge coffin, stopped at our gates.

My parents had spent most of the morning preparing for its arrival.

Our private chapel was decorated with wreaths and flowers, and the doors leading to the burial crypt beneath it were flung open. The crypt itself was aired and cleaned and my father ordered for one of the spare stone coffins to be brought out and inscribed with grandfather’s name, with a note underneath it saying that his body was brought home from America. My parents also invited the local priest to say the Mass.

We spent a long time waiting for the red-eyed servant to appear and only saw him and his sad burden as the sun was already moving towards the west.
The coffin was unbelievably heavy and the old man looked doubtfully at the narrow entrance to the winding staircase.

“There are too many tight turns there”, he said to my father “it would be better to use the western doors to the crypt, the ones that open onto the garden”, he added.

“How can you know all of this?” asked my father, surprised.

“From my master’s stories” he replied dryly.

He was right and we were forced to forego the funeral service, which disappointed my mother.

The western doors were opened in a hurry and the coffin was lowered into the crypt.

When it was time to lock up the doors, the key to the crypt’s ornate lock was nowhere to be found. I could still remember the lock. It was shaped like a cross and the old folks said that it was brought here all the way from Rome and was blessed by the Pope himself.
The servants were running around and arguing among themselves, trying to find out who was the last person to have the key, but all their fuss led to nothing and the key was never found.

The red-eyed old man asked my father for his permission to move into the small guardhouse near the crypt, saying that he wished to guard his master’s last resting place.

My father shook his head, doubtfully:
“The guardhouse is hardly fit to live in” he said.

“It will do. I will repair it myself. After all, I have nothing more left in this world, except to visit my master’s grave”

“As you wish”

The old man made a deep bow and, addressing my mother, pulled a long dark case from his pocket:

“From a spoken order of my late master, in remembrance of him”, he said giving her the case.

Inside, resting on the light blue velvet, was a magnificent pearl necklace, its intricate clasp fashioned in the shape of the serpent’s head, with two large emeralds for eyes. The green stones glinted mysteriously, and the whole thing appeared very unusual and must have cost a small fortune.

Harry held up his hand, stopping the reading:

“I don’t know if any of you know this, but the famous statue of the god Huitzilopochtli had a large pearl necklace around its neck. It was shaped like a snake with green emerald eyes and was supposed to posses some supernatural power. The necklace vanished when the Spaniards looted Huitzilopochtli’s temple”.

After waiting a moment, to see if Harry had finished, Karl Ivanovich continued:

“Mother looked up at father and he nodded his head in consent. She accepted the gift. I wish she had refused it....

Goodbye, Alf, she sent for me!
I am so happy!
Yours,
D”

Fourth Letter
Alf, my Dear Friend!
She loves me!
We had a chance to talk and explain everything. She had deliberately walked past me on that day; she wanted me to follow her! I am so happy! She and my home, what else can I ask for?
Goodbye, I am off to buy the roses,
D.

Fifth Letter

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Sixth Letter

As I have written, even if my mother was upset by the sudden death of the gardener’s little girl, she was still well physically.

“What death?” interrupted James.

“It appears we are missing a letter”, replied Karl Ivanovich

“Carry on” said Harry

...still well, until that fateful night.
Though I was never able to understand them fully, the events of that night are forever carved onto my memory.
Lucy and I were sleeping one bedroom away from our mother, under the watchful eye of Caterina, our nurse.
In the middle of the night I was awaken by a terrifying scream, where it came from I could not tell. I sat up on the bed and listened. There was a commotion in the house; I heard the doors opening and closing, footsteps and loud voices.
I called Caterina and realised that she was not in the room.
Suddenly scared, I ran out, barefoot and clad only in my nightshirt. I found my way to my mother’s bedroom and saw that the door was open.
The room was filled with people.
My mother, her face as white as her nightdress and sheets, lay unconscious on propped up pillows. On her chest, on the white fabric, I noticed bright red spots of blood. My father was bending over her and our old family doctor was pouring medicine in her mouth.

Frightened servants crowded the room.

Few minutes later, my mother regained consciousness. I saw her eyes, wide with fear, dart around the room, but then she saw my father and clutched at his arm:

“Freddie, is it you Freddie, did you chase him away?”

“Whom, my darling?”

“Him, the Grandfather, don’t let him in!”

“Calm down, dear, Grandfather is dead and you’ve had a bad dream.”

“Dream...yes a dream, but how vivid”, mumbled mother. She was quiet for a moment, but when she spoke again, her voice was firm with conviction:

“No! It was not a dream”

“It is true, I was asleep, but soon I sensed another presence in my room... The votive light in front of the holy image hissed and died...
No... Maybe it had died earlier and I heard the hissing of the snake...I don’t know...The room was dark...” she paused as if trying to remember.

She resumed after a brief silence:


“I recognised him, Grandfather. The same velvet dress and the gold chain, and, the most importantly, the same evil eyes, shining with red flecks in them, like blood. Aquiline nose and thin lips. It was him, and yet, not him at all!”

“Enough, you must rest,” interrupter father

“No, listen. He bent over me-“Why don’t you want to wear my gift?” he asked softly. “Try”. He had the serpent necklace in his hands. He put it around my neck, kissing my lips” my mother wiped her mouth with back of her hand, “his lips were wet and cold, like frogs and he smelled bad, of mould and decay. And then I felt it. Instead of the necklace, a real snake was winding around my neck and it bit me...I fainted and after that, I remember nothing....

I couldn’t remain silent:
“Where is the snake, Mama?” I asked.

At that very moment, two very familiar arms lifted me and carried me out of the room.

“Where have you seen little boys running around barefoot at night?” grumbled Caterina

“Where is the snake, nanny?” I kept pestering.

“What snake? The Lady had a dream and screamed”

“And blood on her shirt, I saw blood?”

That I don’t know. Must ask the Doctor. Sleep now, sleep” she grumbled, covering me with a blanket.

In the morning, the sun was so bright in our room and Lucy was laughing so joyously that I forgot both my fear and the snake. Once we were ready, Caterina, as usual, took us to greet our parents, warning us beforehand not to make too much noise, because mummy wasn’t well.
My mother was lying on her chaise lounge, propped up on a pile of cushions,
Even my child’s eyes noticed just how pale and thin her face was looking.
Barely giving us any notice, she addressed the footman:

“Where is Nettie, why haven’t you brought her here? I have been waiting for her for half an hour already.”

“Nettie isn’t here,” answered the footman, stammering, “We have been looking for her since early morning and still haven’t been able to find her”

“Where can she be? What could have happened to her?” worried mother.

The footman stood silent.

“Find out who was the last to see her” ordered mother.

The footman bowed and left.

The dog’s absence surprised me, as I was used to seeing her at my mother’s feet, but the snake’s fate interested me even more and with the impatience of a spoiled child, I interrupted:

“Mama, have you found the snake?”

At the same moment my father angrily pulled on my arm and hissed:”Be quiet”.

Confused, I looked up at my parents. My father’s eyebrows were knotted together in anger, and my mother sighed and fell back on the pillows.
Before I could react, father asked me in a normal voice if I wanted to ride down to the village, a treat that has been promised to me long ago.
My joy at the promise of a ride overshadowed everything, and with a cry of delight, I flung myself on my father’s neck.

“Order for Carago to be saddled and for Petro to accompany you. Once the horses are ready, come in, I have an instruction for Petro”, he said.

I was already halfway out of the room.

-“and ride carefully, no galloping down the slope” finished father.

One hour later, we were leaving the castle. The gate watchman stopped Petro and asked him to find out in the village if anyone had seen Nettie.

“We still haven’t found her and the Countess is getting angry”.

Petro mumbled something that sounded like the ‘Old Devil’ and we made our way carefully down the slope.
I am tired, Alf. Till tomorrow,
Yours,
D


Seventh Letter

Memories, like swarms of angry bees assail me and I know that the only way to escape them is to write.

All right, Petro and I went to the village.
Petro, our old servant, adored our family, especially my father and me. I remember him as a kind, cheerful old man, always ready to help me with all of my pranks and pursuits, whether it was bringing down a bird’s nest, making a fishing rod or finding a live rabbit. I could always find ready helper in Petro.

But, lately, strange change came over Petro. He was no longer interested in our rabbits, or fishing, or even in the young crow with a broken wing given to me by the coachman.
Petro wouldn’t speak for hours on end, only his eyes darted right and left and glowed with pure hatred whenever he saw the old servant who came with the grandfather’s coffin,
He would always mumble curses under his breath and the words “Old Devil” would leave his lips more often than not.
All of the servants knew of Petro’s hatred for the “American” and were puzzled by it because Petro was usually very helpful and polite.

What provoked such hatred was hard to tell; the ‘American’ was very quiet and unobtrusive. He spent his days in the old guardhouse, which he repaired, or down in the family crypt near his master’s coffin. On rare occasions, he walked quietly in that part of the garden that was closest to his quarters.
He never ate with the servants or spent any time in their common room. He also refused my father’s offer of allowance.

“My Master left me enough money not to starve” he explained to my father.

Some of our higher-ranking servants tried to make friends with the old man, but were rebuffed by his cold and proud answers.
His refusal to share the common table was seen as an insult by some and the phrase “Left me enough not to starve” became butt of many jokes.

“Look at him! Arrived here all grey and dry, and now? So fat, soon he wouldn’t even fit through the doorway! And his lips! Red as your blood!” giggled Marina, our young floor-scrubber.

Petro chided her:

“Don’t you squeal!” he scolded, “Once he‘d mauled you he will get even fatter!”

“He will choke first!” laughed Marina.

Enough for today, Alf.

You are asking, how are things with Rita... wonderful, once I put down my pen, I live the past behind and belong only to my wonderful fiancé.

Sometimes I think, is this the right time to bother with the past? I should enjoy the present.
But sometimes, in the silence of the night, after passionate kisses, I feel the pull of my memories and, with it, the call to write.
What is it, Alf?
I think that, after lifetime spend in exile; I have a need to talk.
And even love itself cannot silence that need.
Till next time. Tomorrow I will try to find a present deserving of my beloved.
D

“Gentlemen, speaking of dreams...” said the host as soon as Karl Ivanovich paused for a moment.

The younger guests protested:

“What, sleep? It is still early!”

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am leaving,” said Captain Wright, getting up, “You can spent the rest of the night reading and still be no wiser in the morning. And to be honest, I have no idea what all of this nonsense is about.”

The younger guests had no choice but to obey.
Karl Ivanovich carefully folded the old yellow letters and bowed before leaving the room.

“Tomorrow, at the Hunting Lodge!” shouted one of the youths.

“As you wish,” replied the old man.



The Hunting Lodge.

The next day, at exactly one hour before sunset everyone had gathered at the entrance to the Hunting Lodge. A large American flag was hoisted up on top of the Lodge’s tower in an obvious attempt to flatter Harry.

The building itself was of modest proportions and its style was very odd. It appeared that, over the years, various additions were made to the original structure. Thick grey walls were badly weatherworn, but most of the damage was concealed by creeping plants.
Wild roses, entwined with thick garlands of hops, reached halfway up the walls.
The windows on the first floor were almost hidden by the bushes of hawthorn and wild jasmine.
Long ago, there was a garden surrounding the Lodge, but over the years, it was completely swallowed by overgrown trees and creeping plants and by now resembled an impassable jungle.

Harry’s manager Smith and his local assistant, Miller, greeted the guests at the steps of the building, inviting them into the dark foyer. The air inside was damp, and the foyer itself with its odd, oversized pillars, was too unwelcoming to stay there for long, and so the guests made their way to a brightly lit dinning hall. The long and narrow room appears to have always served this purpose with its large dinning table, mounted animal heads and a fireplace.

Few heavily framed paintings decorated the walls. Their amateurish execution hinted at their local origin, and they must have had the previous owners of the Lodge as their subjects.
A grey haired man was peering from one frame, his foot resting on the head of a dead bear. On another canvas, a superbly bred hound was sinking its teeth into the neck of a snarling wolf. A hunter lies fallen on the ground, inches away from the wolf’s snapping jaws and another young man, clad in an expensive velvet cloak is hurrying to his rescue.
On the third painting, a beautiful huntress is standing over a carcass of a deer.

Expensive gilded wallpaper had darkened over the years and hung loose and mouldy in places, but ever-resourceful Smith came up with a clever solution, - he covered the really bad places with flags in honour of Harry’s guests and since the guests were of different nationalities, the room was beginning to resemble a village fair.

Brightly patterned Persian carpet hung on the wall opposite the fireplace, its colours adding to the already gaudy atmosphere and contrasting with the sober oak furniture.
Servants were busy setting the table for tonight’s dinner.
Harry decided to look around while waiting for the food to cook and most of the guest agreed to accompany him.

A narrow dark passageway with several sharp turns led from the dinning hall. At its end, a large circular stained glass window barely let in the light. Some of its coloured panels were broken and replaced with plain glass. Even during the day, the passageway was dark.

Several doors along the length of the passageway led to small bedrooms, each furnished with one or two wooden beds. Thought the furniture was old, the mattresses were new and filled with fresh straw.

At one of the turns, Smith pushed open the door in the opposite direction to the bedrooms.

The room was large with a wide window looking out over the lake. Its luxurious furniture stood apart from the rest of the Lodge. High carved bed dominated the room. With its embroidered velvet canopy and the headboard decorated with gilded cupids it could have scarcely belonged to a man and the rest of the furnishings hinted at a wealthy, spoiled woman.

Elegant dressing table with mirrors of Venetian glass, little wardrobes, small chests and graceful coffee tables, all of this would have satisfied the most capricious of women.

“Damn in Harry, it seems that we stepped right into the abode of a fairy!” exclaimed usually cool Wright.


The guests, fascinated by the room, were walking around and inspecting the furniture. Doctor Weiss opened one of the drawers.

“No doubt a woman had lived here. Take a look”, he said pointing to the contents.

Inside, covered with light layer of dust, lay the items of a lady’s handcraft; silks, still retaining their original bright colours, moth-eaten wool, and a large quantity of beads and small seed pearls.
Tiny, golden thimble decorated with mounted opal, elegant scissors, needles and the rest of small odds and ends that no lady could do without completed the picture.

Miller looked at Harry:

“We haven’t touched anything here,” he said apologetically.

“And rightly so. My guests and I are enjoying exploring the room”, said Harry and opened one of the wardrobes in confirmation.

Delicate scent of lavender filled the air.
The shelves were stacked with neatly folded underclothing, trimmed with expensive handmade lace. Silk flowers and ribbons filled the small drawers in the middle and on one of the lower shelves Harry saw a pair of high-heeled shoes.

“And here is the Treasure Chest”, said Doctor pointing to a large jewellery box of undoubtedly Japanese workmanship. It was decorated with gold and mother of pearl inlay.

Harry picked it up, turning it from side to side:

“Let’s see what secrets are hidden here,” he said, “If only I could figure out how to open it”.

He flipped it over, searching for the lock and, frowning, handed it to Doctor Weiss, who shook the box lightly.

“There is no visible lock. The jewellery must still be inside”, he said.

Harry took the box from Doctor and put it back into the wardrobe:

“We will have to leave it till next time”, he said, closing the door.

Captain Wright called them from the opposite side of the room:

“Come over here, this is well worth seeing”

Wright was standing on the large balcony, its pillars and railing completely covered by creeping hops, the fragrant ripe cones cascading above his head in garlands.
Harry joined him, followed by most of his guests.
The view before them was truly magnificent. Last rays of the dying sun bathed the valley in golden light. Thin mist was rising from the lake and, pierced by the rays, it shimmered with gold and pale pink.

In some places, the mist parted a little and the clear blue water of the lake peeked through. To the left, the dark green of pine trees rose in a solid wall and on the right stood the dark foreboding rock, crowned with the ominous looking castle.

Harry whistled softly, and the guests passed admiring comments.

“Not bad”, “Wonderful”, “Amazing” was heard from all sides.

Doctor Weiss cleared his throat:

“And right now, more than ever, I refuse to believe in evil maidens with duck’s feet,” he announced loudly.

The village headman, an old German, invited by Harry to dinner in thanks for the access to the church archive, gave Doctor an odd look:

“It is understandable, Sir”, he said softly “since vampires are confined to their coffins during the hours of sunset and sunrise”

Doctor shrugged his shoulders, and the old man said nothing.

Suddenly Harry’s irritated voice broke the silence:

“You are insane, Smith, if for one second you think that I will agree to sleep on an old mattress, under the dusty canopies! Damn, no! Fresh straw and take down the old rags!”

“Forgive me, Sir, I thought that it was the best room in the house” answered embarrassed Smith.

“And now see to it that my things are taken to one of the smaller bedrooms”.

Smith turned to his assistant Miller and both began to talk very fast. It seemed that there was a problem.

“What’s the matter?” asked Harry.

“We are not sure what to do, Sir. We prepared the rooms according to the number of guests and we are not sure to whom we can possibly offer the big bedroom...” said Miller with a deep bow.

Harry laughed:
“As a punishment for your lack of foresight, you must sleep in this dusty nest yourself!”

Miller paled and took a step backwards:
“I...I must...be left here alone...” he stuttered, “Sir, I cannot, please, have mercy!”

Harry looked at him, puzzled:
“What the hell are you talking about?”

“In this room, here, lived the ‘Bride’. She died here and the village folk still tell stories about her, that she still walks here at night, weeping” said Miller, fearfully looking around the room.

“Well, Gentlemen, it seems the things have taken on a ghostly turn. Pity, I haven’t heard of it earlier, then I would have definitely stayed in the room. But I have a rule to never take back an order once it is given. So, gentlemen, which one of you would like to meet the otherworldly bride? Maybe you, Wright?” offered Harry, smiling.

“I am game if you will promise me a dozen cigars and a glass of rum”

“After a dozen cigars, especially those opium ones that you like so much, I swear that you will see not only a ghostly bride, but a white elephant and a green serpent as well,” mumbled Doctor.

“All right it is decided, Captain Wright is sleeping here. Lead on Smith, let’s see the rest of the house”

“It is all, Sir”

“How can this be? The house seemed so much larger from the outside.”

“I am meaning to say that this is all that we’ve managed to get ready. The second half of the house, which is probably even larger, we haven’t even had a chance to inspect properly”

“No matter, take us there”

“I am afraid that you will have to walk through the garden, Sir. Yesterday we nailed shut the only door that leads to the second half and covered it with a wall hanging.”

Talking loudly, the guests left the lady’s bedroom and made their way back to the dinning hall.
They came out onto the porch just as the sun was setting and the air was beginning to cool.


VI
The darkness was falling fast as Harry and his friends crossed the overgrown garden.
Miller fumbled clumsily with a bunch of keys in the gathering darkness and eventually pushed the door open. The air inside was musty and stale, and the room was dark.
Smith called for candles.

The first room was nothing out of the ordinary. It was hard to guess its original purpose, but over the years, unwanted things were stored here and now, crowded with extra furniture from the already prepared rooms, it resembled a second hand store. Large writing desk with broken leg stood leaning against the wall.
Smith pointed to it:
“Karl Ivanovich already took a pile of papers from this desk, but there seems to be more left.”

“Do not remove them until he gets here,” ordered Harry.

Guests moved on.
The rest of the rooms appeared quite ordinary. The decor was tasteful, if uninspired. Those with dark furniture had dark picture frames, and the oak panelled ones had matching tables and chairs. Everything appeared oversized and gloomy.

In one of the rooms, a gold picture frame glinted in the uneven light of the candles, catching Doctor Weiss’s attention. The portrait was hanging to the right of the door as if put there in a hurry, using the first available space.

Doctor was edging closer to the painting, bumping into the furniture. Harry followed him, taking a candle from Smith. He held it high, lighting the portrait.

A lean, aristocratic man stared arrogantly form the heavy gold frame. He was wearing a coat of dark velvet with a thick golden chain around his neck. His hair was hidden by a tall hat and he had the nobleman’s high-bridged aquiline nose above the clenched, razor-thin line of the mouth. Harry moved the candle slightly and one of the youths pointed to the picture:

“Look at his eyes...I’ve never seen anything like this”

In uneven flickering light of candle, the eyes glinted with menacing red tint. For a moment, they appeared alive and Harry felt the shivers rise up his back. Everybody agreed that the portrait was a masterpiece.

Doctor Weiss, a lover of antique paintings was examining the portrait from every angle, all the while exclaiming his admiration.
While making yet another turn he accidently collided with the village headman and the old man braced himself against the wall. Suddenly, he cried out and vanished into a dark space.

The portrait was instantly forgotten.
Everyone rushed to help the old man.
While leaning on what he thought was a solid wall, the old man inadvertently pushed on a concealed door.
The door gave in and the old man had fallen.

Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously hurt. He was helped to his feet and exited guests entered the newly discovered room.

Smith and Miller swore that they have never seen it before. No one doubted their words, since the room was so unusual that to miss it would have been impossible.
With its high Venetian windows and the expensive and elegant furniture, it was very similar to the bedroom of the ‘ghostly bride’.

If it wasn’t for a thick blanket of dust covering every surface, the room appeared as if its’ inhabitant had stepped outside only a moment ago.

Sheets of music, books and engravings littered the small tables. A large recliner stood in the middle of the room, its pillow still bearing an imprint of a head. A bouquet of dried flowers stood in a heavy silver vase, and nearby, a lute lay discarded on a seat of a chair.
There was an open decanter surrounded by several dried up roses on top of a small table, and a bright red ladies’ cloak lay crumpled on the floor.

Doctor Weiss felt something under his foot and bend down to pick it up. It was a small Catholic prayer book. He opened it and read an inscription, written in an elegant but obviously weak hand. “Please pray for my doomed soul”.

After Doctor read aloud the request in the prayer book all laughter and jokes died, the visitors grew silent and respectful as if the corpse itself was still in the room.

It seemed that long ago, a great disaster had forced the inhabitants to flee, and once they had left, they never returned.
This was confirmed by the tall gilded birdcage in the middle of the room. A tiny skeleton lay at its bottom. The ornate seashell shaped porcelain feeder was empty. The poor bird probably had perished of hunger.

Guests were moving silently, respectfully. Candles flickered in the stale air and the white lace curtains, peeking from beneath the heavy velvet drapes looked like the wings of vanished angels.

“Damn it Harry, this place reminds me of Sleeping Beauty. Only where the hell is she, so that I might wake her with a kiss?” exclaimed Wright.

It was as if his words broke a spell.
Everybody started speaking at once and everybody seemed to have their own theory.

Smith walked over to the furthest window, pulled aside the drapes and discovered that it wasn’t a window at all, but a large glass door. It was locked but the key was still inside.

Smith turned the key; the stiff door opened with an unpleasant creak, letting in a sudden gust of fresh night air from the garden.
Candles flickered, curtains and dried flowers moved as if the spirit of the dead woman entered the room, angered by the disturbance.

“This room must be adjacent to the large lady’s bedroom”, said Smith “one can see it easily from here, this side of the Hunting Lodge faces the mountain on which the Castle is built. You cannot see the lake from here, and so if you go around the corner, you should find the large balcony”

Harry stepped onto a small balcony, no bigger than a bird’s nest and looked around the corner:

“You’re right, Mr Smith. I can see the large balcony from here”

“I found the door to the bedroom”, called James.

The door was easy to miss at first. It was decorated with a fresco and could be mistaken for a painting. It wasn’t locked but refused to budge.

“It is blocked by a large wardrobe from the other side. No wonder I thought that it looked somewhat out of place, it takes up the best portion of the wall, while its proper place should have been in the corner” said Harry “tomorrow we will sort it all out and right now it is time for dinner. All of these things helped me to work up quite an appetite”.
Everyone obeyed and followed Harry out, leaving the way they came in, through the garden.

VII
After a long day spent hunting, the guests eagerly sat down to the lavish dinner, accompanied by expensive wines.

At first the guests concentrated on their food, polishing away starters, pickles and pâté and only when the hunger, and more importantly the thirst, were satisfied, did the conversation resume once again.
Today there was no mention of the hunt; the entire discussion was centred on mysterious rooms and their occupants. Hundreds of opinions and theories were proposed. Some believed that the woman had died, or rather was killed in a sudden accident; others thought that she may have been kidnapped. Either way everyone agreed that something tragic must have happened in those rooms.

Some of the guests found it strange that a young beautiful woman once had made the Hunting Lodge her residence.
The fact that she was young and beautiful was accepted by all without a doubt.

“Still, it is all very odd”, remarked one of the guests.

The village headman, who spent most of the evening listening, spoke up for the first time:
“She was a foreign lady,” he said.

“How do you know this, Sir?”

“My grandmother told me that a beautiful foreign lady died of grief. She missed her homeland too much. She was very beautiful, but not of our faith, and died without her rites being said the way her people do, and that’s why her soul has no peace. She is asking for prayers to her God”

“Why did she live here and not up at the Castle?”

“My grandmother didn’t say”

Harry turned to the librarian:

“Karl Ivanovich, maybe you can shed some light on this... Have you had a chance to get back to the church archive?”

Karl Ivanovich and the two managers sat at the end of the table without joining in the conversation.

“No, Mister Cardie, it is still locked and I wouldn’t get the key until tomorrow”

“It is true” confirmed the headman, “but tomorrow you will be most welcome”

“If the gentlemen are still interested I have prepared some of the letters for reading” offered Karl Ivanovich.

“Yes please,” shouted the youngsters.

“Wine and cigars” ordered Harry.

Karl Ivanovich waited for his listeners to make themselves comfortable and light their cigars. Once everybody had settled, he put on his glasses and began reading:

Eighth Letter.

Forgive me Alf, for the long delay between my last letter and this one.
I was busy finding a gift worthy of my fiancé. I can imagine you saying that it should be easy in a city as rich as Venice and you are right. I had no trouble finding it.

I met an old Jewish antiquarian, who offered me a jewel box that, according to him, was once owned by a Roman empress.
He swears by all that is holy that he is telling the truth. Of course, it isn’t important, because the thing in itself is too extraordinary to care who’d owned it.

The box alone is a masterpiece of art. Its mother-of-pearl flowers and golden birds look like something straight out of a fairytale. There is no visible lock and the inner mechanism testifies to the ingenuity of its inventor.
On the lid, on the left side there is a small golden bird poised ready to grab an apple. If you push the apple towards its beak, the lock will open.

Inside the box, you will find several compartments, each filled with jewels. Almost all are of superb antique craftsmanship, but the main attraction is a large tortoiseshell comb, decorated with gold and yellow pearls. It would have looked so magnificent in Rita’s dark curls.
I also liked the sharp golden carnelian pin, but what’s the point of telling you all this?

I couldn’t afford to buy this treasure....

The allowance sent to me by my father seemed so large for a single student, but now I realised just how measly it is.

Instead of the empress’ jewels, I was forced to buy the rags: lace, rolls of fabric, ribbons and so on.

Rita was unspeakably happy as soon as she saw the open chests. She was either pulling things out, or holding them against herself in front of the mirror or embracing me and telling me how she dreamed of copying the dresses she saw on the ancient portraits in the gallery.

Rita’s happiness made me happy as well, but at the same time, I felt as if I was forgotten and replaced with silk and velvet!

“Oh women, infamy be your pathetic name,” said the poet.

There was nothing left to do except to bid my goodbyes prematurely and head for home.

And now I have nothing to do, except maybe finish telling you my memories...

So, back to the story.
Until now, except for that strange night incident in my mother’s bedroom and the disappearance of her beloved dog everything seemed normal and logical. Afterwards all things went awry.
Let me explain.
Life at the castle carried on in its usual, peaceful way. My mother was almost well, except that she still feared being left alone. For a first few nights after her accident, my father sat at the foot of her bed, and now he has been replaced by our old housekeeper, Pepa. Pepa has been in charge of the stores in the castle since time immemorial.

During the day Mother is never alone; we the children, Father, our old doctor and visitors never give her time to get melancholy. After lunch, she goes out on the terrace in the garden and rests there on her recliner. The terrace is the most beautiful place in the whole of our garden. It lies close to the sheer drop in the rock and the view from here is glorious. It is private as well, shielded from servants’ quarters and the setting sun by the impenetrable green wall of thick fragrant hops.

Lucy and I play ‘highwaymen’ here and built sand pyramids. Mother’s complexion has improved, but her usual liveliness hasn’t come back yet. She spends most of her time lying quietly, staring at the horizon.
She missed Nettie terribly for the first few days (I forgot to tell you, we never found out what happened to Nettie) but refused to take another dog.

One day when playing hide and seek with Lucy, I found a hiding place in the wall of creeping hops and overheard a part of the conversation between Father and our family doctor.

“......often it happens to the anaemics or to nervous patients,” said Doctor “she must have left it on her bedside table and during the night, without realising it put it on and pricked her neck with the sharp clasp, fainting from pain. She must have hallucinated then. The only thing that’s worrying me is that the wounds are not healing very well,” he added thoughtfully.

“It all seems logical, Doctor, but how did the necklace get into her bed? We found it in the folds of her blanket.”

“I am telling you she put it on herself.”

“I see, but how do you explain that the jewel case was still on the dressing table in another room?”

Doctor was silent.

“I have taken some measures”, continued Father “she will never see that necklace again. I locked it up in my study.”

“I found you, I found you!” cried Lucy dragging me from the hops.

While everything was quiet and peaceful with us up on the mountain, the village bellow was gripped by growing fear. Strange epidemic was raging there, affecting adolescent girls and young women.
Scarcely a week would pass without death taking one or even two victims.
Though perfectly healthy and cheerful the day before, the girls were found cold and dead in the morning. There were no outward signs of struggle and no autopsies were ever performed.

At first, no one was alarmed by the deaths, but as the number of victims grew, people noticed the similarities. Votive candles and nightlights were glowing everywhere and the families with adolescent daughters kept nightly vigil in their daughter’s rooms or alternatively told the girls to sleep with their parents.

The sickness stopped, as though afraid.

But, before long, a young girl of about thirteen, the daughter of the village headman disappeared. People raised the alarm and questioned her friends who told them that the girl went to a neighbouring field to pick cornflowers.
The villagers rushed there and found her body at the edge of the field, close to the road. She was still clenching the cornflowers in her fist and her face was frozen in a mask of terror. The body bore no sign of violence except for the two small wounds on her neck.
Girl’s father requested that no autopsy be performed.

Then, about three days later a young daughter of a prosperous farmer was found dead. A cheerful, bright eight-year-old, she was adored by her entire family. Her mother never left her out of her sight and lately, alarmed by the strange epidemic, she doubled her vigilance.

On that fateful day, the girl’s mother was working in the garden and the youngster was playing in the blackcurrant bushes nearby, often calling out to her mother. After a while, the mother realised that she could no longer hear the child and went to look for her among the bushes. She wasn’t there. Panicking, the mother ran across her small vegetable patch into the larger garden and there the poor woman found her child.
The girl was dying. Her hands were still warm and her eyes opened twice and then closed forever. She had two tiny wounds on her neck and the front of her dress was bloodstained.
This time the authorities intervened. The body was dissected, but nothing was found except for the wounds on her neck which could have easily been caused by a sharp branch or a thorn as the child was falling.

Questions and interrogations lead to nothing, except to confuse things even more. Witnesses came forward and claimed that they saw a large black cat, which had vanished between the tall stalks of ripe wheat when the body of headman’s daughter was lifted from the ground. Some swore that it was not a cat at all, but a huge green lizard.
But everybody agreed that something had vanished in the wheat field.

But with the latest death, not even this could be said... the mother saw no one and her house was the furthest one in the village. By the time help arrived, not a living thing stirred nearby.

Only the old beggar woman, who sat at the entrance to the village, leaning on the fence, claimed that she saw elderly, well-dressed gentleman who left the village walking in the direction of the castle.
So the mystery had to remain just that, - a mystery.

Meantime the fear grew. Young girls were kept indoors and soon, even the most levelheaded and rational among the people began to panic.
No one knew where the calamity came from and where it would strike next. Everything was made worse by the fact that it was the harvest time and the people were working from dawn until dusk.

Little by little, the panic reached our castle. Most of our servants had friends and relatives living in the village.

Father ordered that the news of the epidemic be kept from my mother, but sometimes, on clear evenings, when the wind was blowing from the village we heard faint toll of the funeral bell. Mother would grow pale and shiver. Everyone, even we the children, felt fear. We all crossed ourselves. Conversations would stop, but in an instant, Father or Doctor would try to divert Mother’s attention from the mournful sounds of the bell. Some of the servants noticed that as soon as the bell started to toll, the old ‘American’ would wince and almost run into his guardhouse.
A week passed and then new disaster stuck.


One of the villagers, a widow, had a beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter. Always laughing, she was the idol of all the village boys. Their small house was surrounded by a neat garden, one side of which faced the main road.
One day, on her mother’s orders the girl and a hired servant were gathering gooseberries in the garden, when they saw a tall elderly gentleman approach them from the side of the road. He asked for something to drink, pressing a coin into the servant’s palm.

Unsuspecting, she rushed into the cellar and filled a cup with kvass.

Returning quarter of an hour later, she found her mistress lying unconscious across the garden pass. The elderly gentleman was nowhere to be seen.
Servant girl started to scream and in an instant the girl’s mother, neighbours and peasants working in the nearby fields all rushed to her. They lifted the victim, leaving a large dark bloodstain on the sand.

After many efforts, the girl regained consciousness but she was so weak, that the doctor forbade any questioning.

The servant girl, terrified and stuttering, was the one who told about the appearance of the strange gentleman. She swore over and over again, that, when she had returned from the cellar she saw no one on the road, which is straight and stretches all the way to the horizon.

“When I was coming back I could see the entire road, and I thought that he must have come into the garden,” she insisted.

House and garden were searched thoroughly but nothing and no one was found.

Incredible as it may sound, the servant girl was telling the truth. A large black cat was sleeping on top of the garden wall, and had a stranger came into the garden the cat would have certainly ran away.

News of the new calamity reached our castle and became known to Mother. She became very concerned and dispatched our family doctor to aid the young village physician.
Both doctors spend the night at girl’s bedside and in the morning, she started to speak.

Her tale was so unbelievable that it was attributed to delirium.

She mumbled that the old gentleman jumped over the garden wall; pulled her head back with both his hands and bit her on the neck. An instant later he was gone and in his place was a large hissing cat...her words were broken and disjoined and she kept on looking fearfully around the room.

Young village doctor attributed her illness to nerves and hallucinations and blamed her weakness on chronic anaemia.

Our old physician was silent at her bedside.

“How can I believe that a young village beauty has a case of anaemia, coupled with bad nerves?” he confessed to my father “the wounds on her neck bother me the most. It is a bite mark, without doubt, but whose?”

Several days had passed. The girl was gradually recovering, though she was still feeling weak. My mother was very concerned and kept asking Doctor about her.

“I must confess, I was wrong, she does have anaemia and a very severe case at that”, he replied, “She will need a healthy diet; milk, wine”.

Mother nodded her head and ordered the food to be sent to the widow’s house.

It wasn’t long before the disaster reached us at the castle. A young servant girl was found dead. It was the cheerful, laughing Marina, the one that Petro had teased about the “American”

The day before her death, she worked hard enough for three people, and joked and laughed for four.
In the morning, when she did not come down to work, the servants decided to go up to her room.
Marina’s bedroom was close to the attic and could only be reached by a small steep staircase.
The door was unlocked.
Marina was lying on her bed. Her face was peaceful as if she was still sleeping. The room was neat and tidy and only the strong gusts of wind blowing into the open window lifted and tangled her hair.
At first, the servants thought that she had overslept, but as they came closer, they realised that her body was stiff and cold. She must have died some time ago.
On her neck was a bright red mark, circular with white edges.

News of this death struck us like a bolt of lightning.
Unseen, terrifying monster entered our house.

While the men remained gloomy and silent, most of the women panicked openly.
Marina’s body was dressed and laid out at the entrance to our family chapel. The chapel could be accessed not only from castle’s main room but also from outside. Our old servants volunteered to take turns and read the required prayers over the body. Nighttime vigil, from midnight until the sunrise fell to the old coachman.

The next day he swore that the dead woman must have been a suicide because he heard her ghost wailing outside the chapel window, scratching the glass with her fingernails and rattling the panes.
Some believed his tales, while others laughed, especially after an empty vodka bottle was spotted sticking out of his coat pocket. The next day Marina was laid to rest and our chapel’s bell mournfully answered the one in the village.

Our parents and we, the children, followed Marina’s coffin until the gates of the castle, while most of the servants accompanied it all the way to the village cemetery.
The old American was not seen at both the service and the cemetery, and the servants noticed that the door to his little guardhouse was locked

“The old man must fear death”, remarked my father.

Soon afterwards, a three-year-old girl was found dead in the garden. She was an orphan, living in the castle out of charity. Since there was nobody to mourn for her, she was buried quickly and without much fuss.
But because her body was discovered close to the terrace where Mother usually spent her afternoons, Father decided to change the location, even if only for a few days.

He chose a large balcony with the view of the entire valley. It was especially magical at sunsets.

The balcony formed a part of the ‘state’ rooms of our castle and was located on the second floor. In the old days, the rooms were used to host feasts and banquets, but in my father’s day, they were always closed, though they’ve kept their expensive wall hangings and ancient furnishings.

Servants cleared the balcony and decorated it with fresh flowers and plants. My father ordered for the carpets and garden furniture to be brought upstairs.
We spent a few wonderful days there, until it was all ruined by a silly and trivial incident.

One day, after finishing the conversation, Mother got up and took Father’s arm, ready to retire to her rooms. We, the children, and adult guests were ready to follow them.
Footman opened the door.
My mother only managed to take two or three steps across the hall when she froze and screamed. I remember her cry to this day, it was so wild and frightening. She was pointing at something and she could barely stutter:

“He is here...watching me...staring at me...he will kill me...” Then she fainted into my father’s arms.

We all looked in the direction she was pointing and many felt strange cold shiver rising up our spines.
On the wall in the next room, facing us hung a portrait of one of our ancestors.
Thin old man, in rich velvet dress and large hat, he stared out of his frame as if though alive. His thin lips were clamped together in a tight line and his evil, malevolent eyes, with reddish specs seemed so real, I felt my blood turn cold.

Everyone stood rooted at the spot. Not a sound was heard.

Fortunately, a young guest had the presence of mind to see the reason behind this strange phenomenon. He rushed towards a huge gothic window and forced it open.
In an instant the portrait’s eyes lost their life.
Once again, in front of us, hung a mere portrait, albeit masterfully painted. Only the expensive gold frame shone in the last rays of the setting sun.

The strange effect happened when the sunbeams, falling on the coloured class of the Gothic window, passed through the red mantle of a king depicted in its centre and gave a hellish life to the eyes of the portrait on the opposite wall.

When we all calmed down, one of the guests asked Doctor:

“Who is the man in the portrait?”

“It is supposed to be the same man whose body was brought from America recently”, he replied.

Petro, who overheard them, shook his fist at the painting:

“I’ll see that bastard rot in hell”, he swore under his breath. He turned around and shouted at the servants:

“Now, why are you standing here, open-mouthed? Shut your traps and start clearing out. Take the furniture; we are not coming back here!”

Mother, surprisingly, calmed down easily once the optical illusion was explained to her.

Yet, despite her outward calm, from that day onwards, she would often claim that the evil, red-tinged eyes were following her. She never saw them indoors but they appeared more and more often in the garden, staring at her from the crack in the wall, close to the precipice. Sometimes she would catch a glimpse of them through the creeping hops.
When she told Father, he laughed and gently took her hand:

“Enough, my dear, there are no evil eyes watching you. Even the portrait isn’t here anymore. Because it frightened you, I sentenced it to a perpetual exile”.

But, my dear Alf, unbelievable as it may sound, Mother was right. The eyes were staring at her, staring with greedy desire...
I saw them myself, but not the eyes alone, between dense leaves of the creeping hops I saw the face too, and a strange figure that I swore belonged to the ‘American’ servant.
I was too young to think of rushing to the creeping wall and when I did, whoever was there was long gone.
The ‘American’ was sitting on the steps of his guardhouse.

I am getting near the end of my tale, the final, horrible days, but today I feel unable to finish my story.
So till tomorrow, or rather until next time.
Yours,
D.

Ninth letter.

So you see, dear Alf, I am becoming much neater and more responsible and I write to you the very next day, as promised. Why the sudden change, you may ask?
It is because my happiness is too great to be contained.
I am rich, unbelievably, rich!
Today old Petro paid me a visit and brought me the book of investments from the bank. It appears that Father had spent his last years living with a monk-like simplicity and his investments grew immensely. Over a million of florins are banked here in Venice alone!
Can you believe it?
Besides all that, he also brought my mother’s jewellery box with him. If you do not count the extraordinary comb, Mother’s jewels are as dazzling as the ones I’ve told you about. Her pearls and stones are of the best quality.
While looking among them, I remembered the snake necklace and asked Petro about it.
He paled and gave me a strange look, answering that there was no such necklace.
I insisted and tried to jog his memory, but he cut me off sharply and asked:

“Do you think I stole it?”

I was forced to shut up.
Petro has aged a great deal, though he isn’t nearly as old as he looks. He seems unfriendly and is awfully quiet. Often he pretends not to hear a question and when I insist on asking him again, he answers with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

The only topic that he is prepared to discuss is the question of my inheritance.

He brought the money and jewels personally and locked up the castle and the adjacent forest house, posting guards. Our lands are leased out to the old tenants under the same conditions as stipulated by my father. Reports and income statements will be mailed to wherever I wish.
His only request is to allow him to go on a pilgrimage to some obscure saint to pray for his sins. He promises to return to the castle in about six months.
I told him that, in the memory of my mother, I will give him a large pension as well as the right to live in the castle for the rest of his life, and would like to pay for his pilgrimage.
He cut me off midsentence:

“No need, I am going on foot”, he said dryly.

I stood for a while not knowing what to say, when I remembered Rita. I told the old man that I was planning o marry and go home to my castle. Alf, his reaction was unbelievable! For a moment, I thought that he must have gone mad. He jumped up as if he was a young man, his eyes were bulging out of their sockets and he waved his arms wildly, screaming:

“What? Never! Boy, you wouldn’t dare!” (Before that, he called me respectfully ‘Sir’)

His face was burning and his unkempt grey hair seemed to stand on end.

Confused, I asked him what was wrong and he started talking such nonsense that I couldn’t make a head or a tail of it all, something about an oath, a curse, love and death, in other words, a full gamut of a lunatic’s delirium.

I forced him to sit down and poured some wine into him, waiting for him to calm down. Once he quietened, I tried to speak to him, keeping my voice gentle.

It was impossible. As soon as I opened my mouth, the old man fell to his knees before me and kissing my hands, begged me not to return to the castle.
I understood that there is some sort of mystery, a family secret that he was sworn to protect.

“Your Mother sent you away and you must obey her wishes”, he finished with an effort.

I told him that for most of my life I wished for nothing more, except to return to my homeland, that I missed my country miserably and that I have to, absolutely have to visit my parent’s graves, even if it costs me my soul. Of course, the last bit I added simply for a pretty turn of the phrase, but as soon as he heard it, Petro became hysterical again, tearing at his hair and all but foaming at the mouth like a wild animal.
I stood watching him, unsure what to do.

After a while, he grew quiet and sat back in the chair. When he spoke, again his voice sounded tired but calm:

“Please, Sir, wait for me to come back from my pilgrimage and then we both can go back to the castle”

In an attempt to pacify him and wanting to be rid of a lunatic, I patted his hand:

“All right, hurry and come back home and in six months I will also go there. You can meet me at the gates, if you wish”, I promised.
He got up, bid me a farewell, bowed and left.

In the evening, feeling uneasy, I went to his lodgings, but when I asked for Petro, I was told that when he came back from my place he wasted no time in gathering his things and left without answering questions or saying goodbyes.

“Must have been in a great hurry” shrugged the innkeeper.

Of course, I have no intentions in keeping a promise made to a lunatic and as soon as I can wrap up my affairs, I will be heading for home.
But Alf, you are my best friend and I have never hidden anything from you, and I must admit that as soon as the old man left me, a strange heavy feeling has settled over me. I cannot sleep and my nerves are wound as tightly as strings.
Yours,
D.

.............................................................

Karl Ivanovich finished reading and folded the letter. He put it with the others and tied the neat little pile with a piece of an old string.
The guests looked at him, enquiring, and the old man coughed:

“I am afraid this is all”, he said.

“All? But what happened next?”

“What was the answer to the mystery?”

“Please read on”

“I am afraid this is all”, repeated Karl Ivanovich “there are no more letters”

“What a pity”, said James “I wish we could find out how it all ended”

Harry appeared to be the most disappointed of them all. He turned to the old librarian:

“Karl Ivanovich, Smith tells me that there is another pile of letters in an old desk at the Hunting Lodge. Would you please take a look at them tomorrow? Perhaps we can find out how the story ends,” he said

“Yes, Sir, I will have a look tomorrow”.

Doctor Weiss rose from his chair:
“Well, there is nothing left to do, except go off to bed” he said in a tired voice.
The guests wished each other goodnight and left for their rooms.

VIII
The night passed peacefully.
In the morning, at coffee, Harry noticed that Captain Wright was sitting alone in the corner, chewing on an unlit cigar. He was in a gloomy mood and hardly spoke a word since waking up.

Harry smiled at his old friend, trying to cheer him up:

“So, Captain, how did you sleep? Were you visited by a ghost in the dead of the night?”

Wright barely looked at him:
“Do you suppose that I believe in all that nonsense and... fear?” he grumbled irritably.

Harry held up his hands in a protest:

“Don’t worry; you are the last man I would accuse of believing in the supernatural”

Georges, a young boy who had already claimed to have seen a ghost overheard them:

“You are far braver than I am”, he said, “I would have never dared to sleep in that room. To lie down upon a dead woman’s bed, under that dark canopy...just imagine if she opens it in the middle of the night...No thank you!”

Wright rose from his chair and pushed it aside roughly:

“You are full of nonsense, boy” he shouted and left the room.

Everyone looked up astonished. Wright, always calm and composed, is reacting so angrily to the innocent chatter from a boy. Something was definitely amiss.
Awkward silence filled the room.

Harry was quick to come to the rescue:
“My friends”, he said, smiling “today there will be no hunt. We are going to visit the castle, thanks to the kindness of our special guest”, he bowed in the direction of the village headman “Though I am not the official owner yet, he has kindly allowed us to explore the castle. Of course, the local authorities have my assurance that not a single stone would be moved without their permission”

Flattered by polite bow from the future owner of the castle, the headman was positively beaming, and offered himself as a guide.

Harry rose from the table:
“It is decided. After the breakfast, we will get ready to explore the castle and Karl Ivanovich would, meantime will find us something to read for the evening”, he said.


The Castle.

Both Karl Ivanovich and the village headman were not present at breakfast. They left together for the village, Karl Ivanovich to resume his work in the archive and the headman to fetch the key to the castle from the church’s treasury.

Since Harry and his friends were going to use a different road from the one usually taken by the village folk, they arranged to meet up with the headsman at the castle gates.

Though the castle was very close to the Hunting Lodge, almost hovering above it, there was no direct path linking them across the valley, and the forbidding rock on which the castle was built was almost impossible to climb.

Harry and his guests had to walk through a forest from the opposite side to the village, but the incline was so mild, it was barely noticeable. As soon as they passed through the low bushes that skirted the ancient forest, they came face to face with the massive walls of the castle.

The colossal grey blocks, without any adornment or battlements looked unwelcoming.

Around the corner, the visitors saw the enormous oak gates, reinforced with thick metal bands. Both the gates and a small door nearby were locked and sealed.

Everyone settled in for a short wait.

Soon the headman was spotted coming up the road, walking fast. The road leading from the village was much shorter but less comfortable and hardly ever used.

Harry gave a sign and the headman took off the locks and forced the creaking side gate open.

Everyone filled behind him into the courtyard.

Long time ago the yard was paved, but now the weeds grew everywhere, every corner was filled with heaps of rubbish blown in by the wind, leaves floated in the puddles left by yesterday’s rain completing the picture of total neglect.

The garden was in an even worse state. Everything was overgrown and chocked with weeds. The paths and alleyways disappeared completely and there was no longer even a hint of any flowerbeds. Ponds became rubbish dumps.

The garden terraces were in a much better state.
One of them, on the very edge of a cliff, offered a breathtaking view of the valley bellow, the blue waters of the lake in the far distance, and, on the right, the gleaming white column of the village bell tower. The clear evening air carried a faint sound of the church bells.

“Don’t you think this terrace is identical to the one described in the letters to Alf?” asked James Watt, the young hunter who had arrived with Harry from America. Despite his impressionable character and overflowing energy, he was also serious far beyond his years and loved to get to the bottom of things. He was the most attentive of all of Karl Ivanovich’s listeners.

“Look. Here’s a cliff and a pile of rocks. Right next to it would have been the famous wall of creeping hops...This is of course the Western side, you could see the sunset, and if we look closely, we should find the guardhouse of the “Red Eyed American”, he continued.

“Damn it, Jamie, I think you are right”, exclaimed Harry “if you find the infamous guardhouse then the mystery is solved and we’ve found the place of action. Bravo, Sherlock Holmes!”

Everyone started searching, pushing aside the overgrown branches, but nothing was found. While Harry and his guests were looking for the guardhouse, the village headman and the locksmith were busy with the castle doors. Finally, the old man straightened and called out:

“The doors are open, please come in, gentlemen”.

As soon as the beautiful front doors of dark oak swung open, a gust of wind rushed into the hallway, rising up a cloud of decades-old dust, enveloping everything and everyone in a grey shroud.
The guests who came in from a bright light could see nothing and hurried into the next room.

Harry motioned for the windows to be opened and the situation repeated itself, with bright sunlight, the wind entered the room and a thick cloak of stirred dust rose again.

“It feels like a grey robe of a ghost” shuddered Georges.

The servants shut the window once again and Harry decided not to repeat the experiment, forcing the guests to explore the rooms in semidarkness.

Many of the windows were made of stained glass, and those that were not, were so dusty and dirty that very little light could pass through them. Most of the furniture was covered with protective sheets. Nothing seemed out of place, everything was stacked and packed away with care. It appeared that the previous inhabitants had left the castle calmly and not fled like they did in the Hunting Lodge.

Most of the many rooms on the first floor were single bedrooms reserved for guests, their furniture was plain and uninteresting, and the guests explored them quickly on the way to the staircase.

The second floor appeared to have been abandoned much later than the first. There were many everyday objects left lying around or scattered on the floor, as if forgotten by their owners.
A ridding crop, an open book and a pair of gloves were left on a table, and close to it, on the floor was a blue silk ribbon.

Ever curious, James picked up the book and read aloud the title:

“It is Latin. “History of the Lamias and other bloodeaters”. Harry, once the castle is officially yours, would you mind if I borrow this book?”

“Of course, Jamie. You could keep the book then”

“Look Harry, a smashed mirror”, said James, pointing to the dark frame of polished wood.

Guests passed through several rooms, finally arriving at a large hall whose walls were lined with family portraits.

Harry and James were in the next room, away from the rest.

“Look Harry. This door obviously leads to a balcony, so in the next room you would have found the infamous portrait of the old man. Of course, its place should be empty now”

Doctor Weiss overheard James from the next room and laughed:

“Enough, you botched sleuth, no matter how hard you try to find it, there is no empty space on the wall. Just look at that gorgeous girl over there. Does she look anything like the infamous “Horrid Portrait?” Think logically, if this is the castle described in the letters then how did the letters get here? Was the author mailing them to himself?”

James refused to give up:

“But the castle was built on a mountain and the locals tell many odd tales about it”

Doctor cut him off:

“There are many castles atop mountains and even more odd tales about them”

While arguing, James and Doctor came up the portrait that Doctor had called a “gorgeous girl”. For once, they both had to agree on something. She was slender with delicate complexion and luminous black eyes. Her dark hair was swept up from her brow and covered with a pearl net that was tucked under a high tortoiseshell comb. The carved edge of the pearl encrusted comb rose behind her wavy hair like a crown. She wore a white silk dress, embroidered with silver thread in the style fashionable in the court of Catherine de Medici. The close fitting bodice clung to her slim waist and a starched lace collar, adorned with real gems framed her beautiful neck. She held a bouquet of red roses.

There was another matching portrait of a young man opposite hers. Blond and well dressed he seemed to be admiring and adoring his beautiful companion from his picture frame.

“Lovely. A beautiful couple” approved Doctor “but we better hurry, the guests are waiting for us”

Everybody gathered in front of colossal double doors.

Made of solid iron, the massive doors were covered in delicate gilded bas-relief that gave them strangely light appearance. Judging from the two large crosses that decorated each side, the doors led to a chapel. A small wreath of tiny dried flowers hung on the door handle, and it crumbled to dust at the first touch, before anyone could tell what the flowers were.

Despite the best efforts, the doors refused to budge and upon a closer inspection, it was revealed that both the lock and the doorframe were filled with some kind of molten metal.

IX
The guests moved on.

Most of the third floor was occupied by the servant’s quarters and a long narrow staircase led from there directly into the garden.
The eastern half of the gardens was as neglected as the western. The guests made their way to the very end where the castle rock rose at an angle forming a natural overhang that was completely covered with creeping plants as if hung with a drape.

James spotted a pair of dark columns between the leaves. The plants were pulled aside revealing a little Greek temple with columns of dark porphyry and a small frieze. There was no door and several wobbly and crumbling steps led to a niche with a beautiful statue of a goddess.

Doctor, the lover of art, at the risk of breaking his neck, climbed up the ruined steps and begun to examine the statue:

“Beautiful marble. Italian craftsmanship...wait, here’s an inscription....”May your body find peace, while your restless spirit....”

Doctor cried out as he tumbled down the stairs. While trying to decipher the badly worn letters, he absentmindedly leaned against the statue which toppled instantly as if waiting to do so for years and stuck Smith on the head before breaking into several pieces.
Only the beautiful head rolled away on the moss, undamaged.
Smith got up, swearing and kicked it.

Angry at his outburst, Harry ordered Smith to carry the statue’s head with him to the Hunting Lodge.

Quietly Smith passed the order to one of the workers.

Poor Doctor was teased and mocked without mercy.

He knew very well from the past experience that it will be a long time before the jokes stop and decided to restore his standing somewhat by finishing the rest of the inscription that had cost him so many bruises.

He climbed the stairs once more and, leaning over the pedestal, triumphantly announced:

“Let’s see who is laughing now. I’ve uncovered a secret. The pedestal is hollow. It has a trapdoor with a ring attached. Remember, Harry, a third of any treasure found is mine. Let’s see you laugh, gentlemen, when I get a sack of gold or a handful of diamonds!” he laughed.

Two workers easily lifted the trapdoor.

“It is an underground chamber”, reported Doctor to the men gathered bellow “Pass me a rope. I will lower Joe down first and he can tell us if the stairs are still sound”

“What’s the matter? Afraid of some bruises? “, yelled someone from bellow, but the rope was nonetheless passed.

Joe, Doctor’s young and agile assistant tied the rope around his waist and began his descent down the steps.

“The steps are in excellent condition”, reported Joe “the room is large, but very dark and I cannot see very well. Hold on, I think I have some matches...” he continued.

A second later, he screamed and in one single leap not only flew up the stairs but jumped back into the garden.

He was pale and his lips were trembling. He was assailed with questions:

“What’s the matter? What’s down there?”

“I am not going back there. There is a corpse”.

“What corpse, coward, explain properly” scolded Doctor

“Doctor, Sir, I am explaining myself properly, there is a corpse. How many times have I seen a human skull before?”

“I though so. A skeleton and not a corpse, you fool. Tell me one thing, are the steps sound?”

“Very sound Sir, they will support not only you but an elephant as well”.

“Shut up now” grumbled Doctor, and huffing, and puffing began to descent narrow steps.

Everyone grew silent. Tension mounted.

Finally Harry couldn’t take it any longer and, getting up the stairs shouted down the dark opening:

“Are you alive, Doc?”

“Of course. I’ll come up and tell you in a minute”.

A few minutes later, he emerged from the trapdoor and Harry helped him down.

“Order for the door to be closed again, there is nothing remarkable down there, no gold or diamonds and I give up my rights to the third of the find in favour of the local cemetery”, he said pulling out a cigar and lighting it with deliberate slowness.

The youngsters could not contain their curiosity:

“What is down there?”

“Is there a skeleton?”

“Where is it?”

Doctor started puffing on his cigar:

“You lot can wait. You are too quick to mock your elders, and I bet none of you would have had the guts to go there alone”, grumbled Doctor.

“We solemnly swear never to laugh at you again. You can fall down as many times as you like, you proved your valour once and for all,” laughed the youths.

“All right”, Doctor said, finally satisfied “there is a room, completely bare. On the wall that is opposite to the rock face there is a marble plaque with an inscription, “Here rest Frederick and Maria of the ancient and illustrious Dracula Family”.

“Where’s the corpse?”

“Be patient and you will get your corpse”, replied Doctor, “On the side that, I think, faces the lake, there is a crack in the wall. The crack lets in light and is large enough for a man to squeeze through, of course not someone as fat as me or as big as Captain Wright. Next to this crack, on the floor, is a male skeleton sitting with his head resting against the wall. The skin on the face is gone and, judging by his teeth, he was young. His hair has also disappeared, either shaved off or eaten by some species of moth. The clothing is half perished and it is impossible to identify either fabric or style. It seems to be some sort of a dressing gown or a robe. That’s it” finished Doctor.

“How did he get there?” asked Georges.

“It is hard to tell now. Perhaps willingly, or maybe not. He could have come down through the trap door which closed accidently or deliberately. He could have squeezed through the crack in the wall and for some unknown reason didn’t have the strength to climb down the mountain again, but this makes even less sense. The climb itself would have been strenuous enough so why didn’t he go back the way he came? One thing is certain, the crack must have appeared after the room was constructed, otherwise why would a builder leave it unrepaired?”

Doctor finished his tale and the guests started their usual speculations. Everyone had his own theory or explanation and yet not a single one of them withstood close examination.

“It is more customary to construct a crypt beneath a chapel and this one is in such an unusual spot”, remarked James.

“It isn’t so much a crypt as a double burial, since there are no other inscriptions”, added Doctor.

The find dampened the mood and any further exploration was called off.

The visitors came out into the yard and, passing abandoned stables and servant quarters, left through the small side gate. The village headman locked the gate once more and attached a new seal.

It was still two hours before sunset and Harry and his friends decided to visit Karl Ivanovich in the village archive.

The road to the village was very steep and badly worn with time. Nobody spoke.

No one noticed that the headman was missing.
He appeared again at the entrance to the village and with a deep bow invited Harry and his friends to his house:

“I have cold beer in my garden, brewed by my own daughters”

The invitation was eagerly accepted. The though of a cold beer after a long walk on a hot day was more than tempting. While the guests made themselves comfortable in the shade of a large blooming tree, the headman’s two pretty daughters arrived bearing kegs and mugs. Glasses were emptied and refilled again and again. Only Doctor refused the beer and asked the girls for a glass of well water:

“I never touch it. The villagers always add thorn apple seeds to their brew,” he replied to the teasing of his friends, and, turning to Georges, added “And you, young man, you should also stay away from it, since you are already seeing beautiful girls in your dreams”

George laughed and instead of replying emptied his mug in a single gulp.

“To the health of local beauties!” He exclaimed jauntily bowing in the direction of headman’s daughters.

“To our lovely hostesses!” echoed young men.


The girls blushed with both pleasure and embarrassment. They were young and beautiful, aged about sixteen and eighteen, dressed in bright folk costumes. Both had thick braids and fresh complexions that would have rendered them attractive to more worthy suitors than our bored rascals.

When Harry, accompanied by Doctor and the headman got up to leave, the rest of guests refused to budge.

“Leave them”, laughed Doctor to Harry.

Slowly they made their way to the village church.
The door was open and the watchman let them through without a word. They made their way to a small storeroom crammed with old books, priest’s vestments and other religious paraphernalia.
A large wooden cross, made from mosaic-like pieces caught Harry’s attention.

“What kind of wood is this?” he asked the guard.

“It is mistletoe and it was made by one of the watchmen before me”

The village headman interrupted him:

“My grandmother told me about him. He was very old and had many peculiarities. He was obsessed with making crosses, all different sizes and gave them out as presents to the villagers. He only used mistletoe and whenever somebody asked why he wouldn’t try oak or some other type of wood; he’d give them a sly smile and mumble with his toothless gums “It doesn’t like mistletoe. Makes it afraid”, explained the headman, flattered by Harry’s interest.

While they were talking, the Headman led Harry to the archive.

The room was small and dark. Karl Ivanovich was sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of yellowed papers. He was so lost in his work that he did not hear Harry and the Headman arrive and but as soon as they called him, he rose from the floor with agility of someone much younger than his sixty-five years.

Smiling broadly, he handed Harry a piece of paper.


It was a burial record of the ancestor of the line of Counts Dracula-Cardie, stating that the man’s remains were reinterred in the family crypt, in presence of several witnesses.

“May I congratulate you as the official owner of the castle and the estate?” asked Karl Ivanovich as soon as he saw that Harry finished reading.

As his guests cheered and congratulated him, smiling Harry took off an expensive ring and handed it to Karl Ivanovich:

“In memory of this day”.

Once all the congratulations and well wishes were done and the church watchman, whose luck was to be present on this day, was given a gold coin, Harry remembered to ask Karl Ivanovich if he had managed to uncover something more about the fate of the village schoolteacher.


“I haven’t found the continuation to the diary, but I haven’t given up hope”, answered the old man “There are quite a few bundles over here”, he said pointing to a large heap of papers. He picked up a thick blue notebook and, handed it to Harry.

“Take a look at these notes, Sir. They are so called “Bereavement Pages” from the local hospital. There are notes about a patient, a lunatic named Peter Dorich, a village schoolteacher. I think that he and the author of the diary are the same man. In the diary, I noticed a monogram of the entwined letters P and D. the fact that both are schoolteachers and other small details point to the same conclusion”.

Harry came close to a window and began to read.

“On this date, under Doctor’s orders, I have started documenting the case of village schoolteacher, Peter Dorich, despite the fact that he hasn’t been admitted here.
On the third of this month Doctor Brace and I were invited by Madame Dorich to asses her brother, Peter, whom she believes to be insane.

She complained of strange changes in her bother’s behaviour. She said that they started a while back, but she was not alarmed at first as he was acting normally during the day and the strange behaviour was only occurring in the evening and at night, especially when the moon is bright. He becomes agitated, refuses to answer her questions and locks himself in his bedroom.

She also noticed that he often leaves the house in the evening, something that he has never done before.

In the past few days, his behaviour escalated and he seems to get more and more restless at night. At sundown, he locks himself in his bedroom and does not come out until the following day. Madame Dorich attempted to look through the keyhole and saw her brother walking around his room with his arms spread, as though flying, wearing something resembling a crown on his head with ladies’ shawl around his shoulders. Suddenly everything grows quiet in the room as if he is no longer there.
Often his boots are mired with dirt, but where he goes to Madame Dorich was unable to find. His door is always locked.

She is most alarmed by his rapid weight loss. He is pale and weak and refuses to eat.
She visited Doctor Brace at the clinic and asked him to come to her house as if it were a normal social call and talk to her brother. Doctor Brace requested that I accompany him and that I must start keeping the ‘Bereavement Pages’.

27th
Last evening we visited the Dorich family.
The brother was home and greeted us hospitably. He is very thin and looks exhausted.
We were given tea in the garden, and everything was pleasant and cordial.
Closer to sunset our host grew restless. He kept getting up, paced the garden, refusing to answer questions, as if he didn’t hear us at all, his eyes were darting. Finally, he grabbed his hat and cane, mumbled something and left.
Doctor prescribed bromide and advised Madame Dorich to follow her brother the next time he leaves.

28th
The patient is taking bromide without questions or complaints.

1st
The patient grows more dispirited daily.
Where he goes to is still a mystery though one thing is certain, - he is climbing out of his bedroom window.

3rd
Today he was admitted to the hospital.
His sister tried to stop him from leaving through a window and he attacked her. God only knows what he could have done to her. Luckily, he became tangled in a ladies’ shawl that he had taken to wearing and fell down.
He was restrained, brought here and given morphine.
In the daytime, he is very calm, but has no appetite and a weak pulse.
In the evening, he had another fit and was given morphine again.

4th
Morning: the patient is calm.
He stole Doctor’s paper and ink and is writing something. Doctor told us to let him be.
In the evening, we gave him morphine as a precaution.
He is sleeping peacefully.
The rest of the week spent in the same regime.
Patient gained some weight.

12th
He is growing more restless.
Doctor is thinking that approaching full moon may have negative effect, and ordered the windows barred.
We increased morphine dosage.
His agitation is mounting and morphine is no longer as effective as previously.

18th
The patient is having fits of rage. His head was shaved and he was put in a straightjacket.
While struggling with him it seems that we had injured his neck, I have no idea how this happened. The wound is very small but the bleeding is profuse. We rubbed the lesion with zinc ointment. He lets us do that, without complaint, all the while smiling strangely.
His fits always happen in the second half of the evening and at night.
The days are quiet and peaceful.
We are almost force-feeding him.
Doctor Brace and Madame Dorich are preparing to move the patient to a larger hospital in town. Here we have no equipment, not even the right room for this type of patient. And morphine seems to be helping less and less.

20th
Full moon.
Morphine is given at night.
Patient asleep.

21st
In the morning, the patient was missing.
The window was found open and one of the iron bars nailed across it on Doctor’s orders was pulled loose from one side. The nails are gone.
Searches all around village lead to nothing.
We found some footprints, thanks to last night’s rain, leading in the direction of the lake.
Lake area was searched but no body was found.
At dawn, we will search the forest.

22nd
Nothing. No traces.
We passed his description in the surrounding areas.
While cleaning the room, in the stovepipe we found some papers. His handwriting is appalling and the soot damaged the rest but the following can still be read:


.......Dark forces surround me............fight on..........great dragon with the power of his witchcraft confused me and I fell.............be calm, my beloved, I will come to you................will come...............they keep telling me, you are in a hospital, this gentleman is a doctor, fine, fine, I do understand, oh so clearly, it is all a lie, a ruse............your husband imprisoned me here, he thinks that it is possible to imprison a spirit! Ha! I am a spirit! A Spirit..and...I feel... a hour is near, golden threads are reaching towards me, stabbing my brain, my heart..........heavy. God, how heavy. I will come to you, come to.....
This spot on my neck, where you love to kiss me, it burns, and they keep putting salve on it, they think they can fool me!
Your prince, your beloved will come to you soon.

46th
I was right, I am in prison!
They are no longer hiding it, they nailed an iron grill to the window. Ha!..........I understand now............it isn’t your husband, it is Beelzebub! He stings me with his tail and then he steals my heart and my mind, and I must search for them.

70th
.............Today I found it in the pipe
...........All right every knight has suffered for his lady.
.............they are bribing me. They dressed me in the toga of a Roman Emperor and cut my hair in readiness for the crown.
......fools they do not see, the nails are gone.........no crown no mantle can hold me back!............I know the way and I will come to you....

20th
.............Last night he stole my heart again.............but I realised, guessed and tonight I will hide it under my pillow, and will feign sleep...........wait for me............the happiness is close.............quiet.................all asleep.

Schoolteacher hasn’t been found. Doctor thinks that he must have wandered deep into the forest and fell asleep under the influence of morphine and perished from either wolves or foxes.
His clothing was not recovered.
Today we are holding a funeral service for him. May his soul rest in peace.

Feldsher Fritz signed this.

“Strange, all of this is very strange”, mumbled Harry, passing the notebook to Doctor.

Once Doctor finished reading Karl Ivanovich said:

“I found a note of death in the church archive for a local schoolteacher, Peter Dorich. The cause of death is stated as unknown. The church books are very odd in this way....For example in the same year your relative was reburied, there seems to have been an epidemic of sorts. Most of the victims were young, some children and in all the cases the cause of death was either “unknown” or the “heart failure”, which is as good as unknown.
Then, fifteen years later, it happened again, another epidemic, also unexplained”, finished Karl Ivanovich and removed his glasses.


X
As usual, Harry’s guests gathered together in the evening.
The news that the missing document was finally found and the last obstacle to the transfer of ownership removed, exited everyone. The new owner was congratulated. Toasts were drunk to Harry’s health and plans for the housewarming celebrations were made. Some of the young men already made enquiries about the names and appearance of girls and women from the neighbouring town.

Despite the general happy mood, Harry appeared pensive. After a while, he called his manager:

“Mr Smith, before you do anything else, please see to it, that the remains of that poor man in the crypt are buried properly. Also, have the crack in the wall examined and repaired. I consider this body, found on my first day as the owner of the estate a bad omen”

His words made many of the guests feel uneasy.

“Bury the poor man under the name of Peter Dorich,” added Harry.

The guests exchanged puzzled looks and only Doctor and Karl Ivanovich understood Harry’s request, but both chose to remain silent.

.................................................
Soon happy mood reigned once more.
After loud conversation and jokes had died down and the number of empty wine bottles deemed sufficient, Harry called in the librarian and asked him to read a continuation of Schoolteacher’s Diary, if he had managed to find it.
Karl Ivanovich obeyed immediately, put on his glassed and flipped open old exercise book.

Schoolteacher’s Diary.

I confess, it is torturous and yet, it gives my very life its meaning. During the day I do not live, I cannot live, all that I can do is wait, passionately long for the night to come. And the day drags on and on endlessly.
My sister and Mina are making carrot pies; they swear that they are my favourites. I don’t know. I don’t remember. It must be true.

And finally, the night comes, desired, long waited for, the moon is rising. The air is so fragrant, and silver waves come down to me from the moon.

Silence. Everything is quiet, not even a leaf is moving...but listen, listen! Something is rustling ringing. She is here, my lovely.

You are so beautiful, so exquisite!

Tonight you have adorned yourself with nenufar flowers; they look so beautiful on you.
Come in, come in my beloved.
The window is open and I took away the garlic, it is gone.
All is in vain.
She stretches her arms towards me, her veil flutters in the night breeze, like wings, her eyes are shining with desire, and yet she does not come in as if the invisible net is stretched across the window frame and is holding her back.
She moans and vanishes.....and every night it repeats itself.........from the blue sky rocking on the silver waves of the moonlight she comes to me.

20th
I decided, tonight I will sit on the windowsill and try to grab her.
Damn my sister, she is so annoying!
‘You are so pale, what’s the matter with you, eat this eat that!” it is unbearable! She seems to be following me everywhere. And the old church watchman is even worse; he seems to be guarding me instead of his church!
I am forced to lock my room.
What the hell are they thinking? Do they think me mad?
I am merely conducting an experiment in the name of science, trying to examine a natural incident.
The night is near.

21st
Yesterday I carried out my plan. I sat in the window and grabbed her arm, pulling her against me. She didn’t struggle, instead, she clung to me, her veil wrapped around both of us, I lost my balance and fell out of the window into the garden.
Fortunately, the ground isn’t far bellow and my injuries were minor, - I scratched my cheek and neck.
Strange thing is that I still lost consciousness, and when I came to, she was gone and the moon was dark.
Today I went to the village.
Old watchman gives me strange looks and Heinrich is completely cured, even the wound on his neck is healed.
What am I to do tonight?
I have no desire to fall from the window again, and I need to see her all the same.
The conclusion is simple; I must climb out into the garden and wait there.

25th
Several wonderful nights spent in the garden!
I sat on the bench and she held me in her arms. She would pull my head back and kiss my neck so passionately that I felt sweet stinging pain.

But that damned old man spoiled it all!

He arrived and my beloved vanished.

I was so enraged that suddenly, I felt dizzy and weak, and only with his help managed to get into my bed.
I lay there for three days.
Old man didn’t waste his time; he hung my room with garlands of garlic and drew crosses everywhere.
How laughable!
He tried to convince me that I was almost gone, since a vampire was ‘leeching’ me.
Of course, it is all nonsense.
But what happened to me?
Dream? A vision?
It was too clear to be a dream. A ghost? A ghost cannot kiss or bite. What then? Is it true? A vampire?
What stupidity, what am I, an old woman?

It is getting darker, the evening will come soon and the moon will rise. The air will shimmer and ring with music, night flowers will open, dark butterflies will fly high...high!
Why I cannot fly as well?
If I only wished I could be their king, their prince.
Stupid, stupid Mina, she covers my legs and tells me that it is a shawl. I can see clearly, it is a king’s mantle, better still, a magic cloak!
Tonight I will go to the lake.

26th
Yesterday I expertly fooled that old idiot, the church watchman!
He sat on our bench with something that looked like either a wooden stake or a cross, and I quietly, oh so quietly crawled right behind him!
My invisible cloak must have helped me, or maybe the old man is deaf, either way I was gone!
Tonight I will do the same.

27th
Yesterday I went to the lake early, since we had tea in our garden, for Doctor Brace and the village medic, I greeted them and slipped away unnoticed.
A small disappointment.
I believed that my beloved descends to me from the moon, and silver steps ring and ring beneath her feet, but yesterday I saw that she comes out of the castle, or more accurately from the rock on which castle stands. I think there is an underground passage there, - aren’t all castles supposed to have secret passages?
I must go out in the daytime and have a look.
I am off.

Of course, I was right. Half way up the rock there is a passageway, but it is so narrow, I doubt whether I will be able to squeeze through.
I am feeling dreadfully weak. It is of course from overtiredness, it is no joke to climb up nearly vertical rock. While climbing I didn’t notice neither difficulty, nor danger and it was only once I got back to the lake that I realised just how ardours it all was.

And she, she comes to me every night, only for me a mere schoolteacher....what nonsense am I talking I am not a mere schoolteacher, I am a prince. No wonder she loves me!
She has grown so beautiful, not only her lips, but her cheeks are also glowing with warm colour.
There is just one thing that I don’t like, she loves to kiss my neck, so fervently that my wounds have no chance to heal. I feel them burning right now.
Tonight I am going to the lake again.

............................................

“After this, there are only blank pages left”, said Karl Ivanovich. “I don’t believe there is a continuation”, he added, looking up at Harry.

“Pity we cannot establish whether we are dealing with a real vampire or mere lunatic” remarked James.

“Do you believe in vampires?” asked Georges.

“I don’t have a custom to reject things that I know nothing about”, replied James, “The science says “there is no such thing” while the folk belief says ‘They exist”. Who is right?”

Harry agreed

“The world is full of mystery. What are our dreams, premonitions, even hallucinations?”

Georges paled and said quietly:
“I think it would be horrible if ‘they’ existed”.

The Village headman, already very tipsy and in a talkative mood smiled:

“Don’t be afraid, you no longer get them up in our mountains. My grandmother told me that, in the olden days, they would roam about, but as soon as you hammer the aspen stake into their backs, they wouldn’t get up again. She said that she saw it done once, when she was young”.

“I heard that you could bind ‘them’ with a spell”, added Miller timidly.

“I also know this”, interrupted the headman, “but grandmother said that the stake is far better. A spell could be intentionally or accidentally removed...”

Harry and several guests came out on the terrace to enjoy the night air, while the rest of the company continued their argument about vampires.

It was a wonderful night .The air was clear and dry. There was no mist in the valley and the lake shimmered with metallic sheen under the light of the full moon
The ghostly white shape of the village bell tower rose behind the lake, glowing in the moonlight. The shadowy wall of the ancient forest to the left and the forbidding rock crowned with a dark outline of the castle on the right completed the picture.

Ever the dreamer, young Georges was staring at the view, lost in his thoughts. Before long, he is imagined that a small cloud was gliding down the rock face.

“Strange, where did it come from?” wondered Georges.

Tall fir tree was blocking his view. In a flash, Georges came down the terrace steps and made his way to small garden gate.

Nothing.

The cloud is gone.

Georges stood still for a while, thinking.

Suddenly he felt the night air grow cold and someone or something move past him.

He turned around and felt his blood turn to ice.

Behind him was a ghostly shape of a woman. He could see the transparent face, framed by long blonde hair. She moved her hands slightly and Georges saw that she was holding a water lily.

Georges screamed and in three great leaps was back on the terrace and, without a word tumbled into the dinning room and sank onto a couch.

Everyone jumped to their feet.

Georges silently pointed to the garden. Doctor filled a glass with water and gave it to the boy, who drank it obediently.

“Now tell me what’s the matter,” demanded Doctor.

“The spell is broken and she is here, in the garden”.

“What the devil are you talking about?”

“Vampire woman with blonde hair”, declared Georges.

Doctor whistled.

“Search the garden”, ordered Harry to his servants.

Doctor stopped him:

“Don’t bother, Harry”

He turned back to Georges and asked:

“Do tell me, my young friend, just how many mugs of beer have you drunk today in the village?”

George looked up at him, blankly.

“Many?” demanded Doctor

“.....Yes”

“And afterwards? Champagne?”

“Yes,” Georges whispered guiltily.

Doctor got up to his feet:
“If right now you are going to dress yourself in sheets, start flapping about and declare yourself crown prince of the butterflies, I will not be surprised. I warned you all about the village beer. Thorn apples! Actually, gentlemen, I would like to advise you all to go to bed. I doubt that this night will pass quietly. I fear that our brave young knights, while under the influence of thorn apple will fight if not vampires, then at least snarling wolves and other monsters”, he finished.

Guests heeded his advice, and after bidding each other goodnight, everyone left for their respective rooms.
Captain Wright was the last one to get up.

XI
Doctor’s prediction came true.
In the middle of the night, the guests were woken up by a scream.
Everyone ran out into the passageway.

“What’s happening, who was screaming?” Half-dressed guests were asking each other, without getting any answers. It seems that no one knew where the scream came from.

“I think it came from the second bedroom, counting from the window”, said James “I was the first one in the passage and saw someone come out of that room, pass close to the window and then take a turn left. Let’s go.”

The door to the second bedroom wasn’t locked.

Viscount Renault, one of the quieter guests was lying on the bed. His arms were stiff and stretched alongside his body and his face was frozen in a mask of terror. He was unconscious.
After Doctor rubbed him with alcohol, Renault opened his eyes but could not answer any questions, saying that he remembered nothing.

“I don’t know who screamed”, he added hesitantly.

Doctor turned to James:

“And ‘someone’ you saw in the passageway was of course a woman with water lilies in her golden tresses?” he enquired sarcastically.

“It was moonlight, that passes through the stained glass window and the rest was completed by a shadow from the picture frame”, replied James calmly.

After a while, things calmed down and the guests returned to their rooms once more.

....................................
The rest of the night went peacefully.

Early at the breakfast, Smith told Harry that one of the young workers had died suddenly last night.

“What happened?”

“We don’t know yet, Sir. Doctor Weiss and Joe are still with the body”, replied Smith, bowing his head politely.

“What was the man’s name?” asked Harry

“Bleno, Sir”

“Bleno? I don’t remember him,” said Harry.

“Wasn’t he the same young man to whom you, Smith, gave the broken head of the goddess?” asked James.

“Yes, Sir, that was him. The head is still lying on the windowsill, opposite the foot of his bed.

“Where did he die?”


“He died in his sleep, in the common room shared by five more people. The room is to the left in the passageway and no one heard anything during the night. His death was peaceful”, replied Smith politely.

Doctor came into the room and answered everyone’s silent question:

“Of course, a heart failure”.

“See to it that he is laid to rest properly and find out of he has relatives in the village”, ordered Harry.

“Bleno had an elderly aunt”, politely informed one of the footmen.

“Give her a hundred dollars”, added Harry.

Harry’s friends and guests started praising him for his generosity.

Wanting to stop the compliments, Harry quickly turned to Joe, Doctor’s assistant, and asked him:

“You are limping, are you alright?”

“It’s nothing, Sir; I lost my balance and pulled a muscle. Bleno threw a water lily flower near his bed and I didn’t see it in the hurry and slipped”.

.......................................
The day promised to be boring.

Harry received post from America and locked himself in his study.

Smith was seeing to the funeral, and the guests were left to their own devices. Not that the entertainment was scarce: horses, dogs, servants were there at their beck and call. Some chose to go to the city, while the rest decided to answer their mail or read. Many chatted idly.

Only Captain Wright was sullenly quiet. He buried himself in the farthest corner of the terrace and chain-smoked one cigar after the next, only grunting in reply to his friends’ questions and suggestions.
After a while, he was left alone.

“I think the air of Europe doesn’t agree with him”, laughed James.

“No, it is the shortage of women”, argued Georges.


“Either way, Captain Wright has changed in the past three days. He is looking almost ill, and he is definitely lost weight. The last time I saw him like this was back when we were attacked by a band of Indians”, said Doctor.

“What a crazy time we had, couldn’t sleep for three or four nights in the row and yet, this is a trifle comparing to the havoc that constant expectation of an attack wreaks on your nerves!”

“Doctor, you lived through this yourself?” enquired curious youngsters.

“Yes. Wright, Harry, James and I, along with other hunters found ourselves in quite a trap. We got what we deserved! Wouldn’t forget it for as long as I live. But after that adventure, we are rarely apart. I guess the danger made us such firm friends”.

The guests kept pestering Doctor with questions and he spent a long time telling them of his adventures not only in South America, but also in India.

XII
As usual, in the evening, the guests met again in the dinning room.

Captain Wright and Doctor were the last to enter. Wright was frowning and Doctor kept staring at him with a concerned look on his face.

The dinner was lively.
Once the punchbowl was empty, the guests remembered Karl Ivanovich and demanded continuation of the letters.

Karl Ivanovich was pleased to be of service:

“I am happy to tell you that I found a second bundle of letters between some loose papers and books. They appear to be a continuation, though after a long gap”

The guests rushed him:

“Please read”

Karl Ivanovich began reading:

Tenth Letter.

I can imagine you thinking that I have forgotten out friendship, now that I am happily married and this is why I had neglected to write for so long.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
My marital bliss is still in the far future, and right now, only work and worry consume my days.
As you can see, I am writing to you from my new address.
I am finally home.
Because of Petro’s wish to go on a pilgrimage, I had to alter my plans. I wanted to marry Rita and return to my castle after the wedding, while Petro made everything ready for our arrival. Now, I had to travel here alone. I couldn’t drag Rita into the great unknown. So we had to separate for a while.

I am here and Rita will arrive in a few days, with her old nanny and two female servants. Her dresses are ready and she tells me she is happy with them. I must confess that I gave in and bought the fabled “Empress’ Jewel Box”.

The castle is far more neglected than I expected. According to the watchman, my Father didn’t live in the castle at all, refusing to even set his foot inside.

He made his home in the old servants’ quarters, near the kitchens and stables.

I haven’t found any horses, cows, or even dogs.

Some of our servants left, while the rest was dismissed by my Father.

Father lived hermit’s existence. Petro was both his servant and his only company.

Because of this, even the garden is terribly unkempt; it is entirely overgrown with garlic. Disgusting smell pervades the air.
We are pulling it out and burning it without respite.

I was forced to abandon the old well and ordered for a new one to be dug.

Flowerbeds are also gone, as are the flowers. Where did it all disappear to? In my Mother’s day, the garden was drowning in blooms.
Old guardhouse, where the ‘American’ once lived, is also gone. In its place, I found a huge black cross.
I suppose the old man had died.
I hear the workers arriving for their pay. Till later.
Yours, D.


Eleventh letter

Ugh! I am dead tired!
I get up at six in the morning, jump straight on the horse and go off to work. I forgot to tell you that right now I am living in our forest house, within a walking distance from the castle. I love this place and wanted to bring Rita here. I must confess that this idea appealed to me so much that I prepared two rooms for her here. I had to knock down a few things and rebuilt some, and in the end, I was still met with disappointment.

Rita wrote to me that she wants to enter the castle as ‘the owner’.

So long the dream and several thousands ducats!

Because everything has to be ordered from the city, our work is progressing slowly.
Today I spent entire day baking in the sun, laying out the flowerbeds with my new gardener. We destroyed the disgusting cross and I plan to create a small rose garden here, as a surprise for Rita. She adores roses.
I have prepared a winter garden for her flowers as well. The garden itself will take up a lot of work. All the oaks are infected with mistletoe, almost as if someone had deliberately encouraged the parasite.

The eastern side of the garden is in a better state. There, carved into the rock, I found a small temple with a statue of marble goddess. It wasn’t there when I was a child. Something makes me think that my father must have commissioned it in memory of my mother. Several dried wreaths confirmed this. Probably because he didn’t have any other flowers, the garlands were made of garlic.

I had them burned.

Another oddity, I haven’t found coffins of my parents in the family crypt, but then I was in a hurry.
Until tomorrow, I am simply falling asleep from exhaustion.
Yours,
D

Twelfth letter

Today a young man dressed in weirdest attire I have ever seen, came to pay me a visit, and after several flowery bows and scrapes, handed me a package, accompanying it with ornate greetings from my fiancé.

My little one took on her role as the ‘owner’ of the castle.

While my first reaction was a strong desire to throw my medieval messenger down the stairs, it all changed when I unwrapped the package and forgot everything. Before my eyes was Rita. Clever girl sent me her portrait for the family gallery.
She is wearing the white embroidered dress that she had made for our wedding. Famous Empress’ comb is adorning her hair.
I stood there, staring at her beautiful face, and completely forgot the messenger. Only when I heard him ask: “When do I start?” did I come back to earth.
It turns out, that he is a painter. No wonder he grew such a mane and dressed like a scarecrow. Rita sent him to paint my portrait. I had to agree.

Thirteenth letter.

I am so sick of that painter!
He tells me to put on a knight’s costume (which Rita also sent) otherwise, it will “disagree” with her portrait. I am dressed like a parrot and forced to sit like a stone idol.
I console myself thinking that, when it is over, I will hang our pictures in the gallery. As if by design, I found an empty spot there.
Garden is nearly completed.
Today I almost punched the ‘Fur ball’.

“Don’t look so cross when I am painting your eyes!” he says.

Oh, damn you!

Then I had an idea and put Rita’s portrait in front of me, so I can look at it when I am posing.

The ‘Fur ball’ is silent; it seems I don’t look ‘cross’.
Yours,
D

Fourteenth letter.

Hooray! Rita is coming tomorrow. Almost everything is ready, except my portrait is still unfinished. The painter says that I am such a ‘bad model’ that it isn’t his fault if the princinessa (he calls Rita ‘princinessa’) will be angry with him.
It is a pity, dear Alf that you are so far away and cannot share with me in my happiness.
Yours,
D


Fifteenth letter.

It has been a week since Rita arrived. Everything went according to plan and she was accompanied by her old nurse Cecilia and two young women. Only these girls are not hired servants but Rita’s poor distant cousins.
My darling kept apologising for bringing them without my permission.
And I, for my part, was very happy; Rita will have female company and will not be alone, when I am away on business.
Francesca and Lucia are both wonderful, healthy young women and their happy chatter livens our mealtimes and evenings.

Rita keeps telling me that they love her so much that she is convinced that they will lay down their lives for her.

Our company is very small, besides Rita and me, we are joined by her cousins, ‘Fur Ball’ the painter, our architect and his assistant.

I spend my mornings at work, unwilling as I am. During this time, Rita and her cousins are embroidering. Because they take great pains to conceal their work, I don’t know what they are making. It is a surprise for me.

“Be patient”, says Rita, “and soon we will get the entire border covered with real pearls”.

At dinner, two Italian footmen, also brought by Rita, serve us.

Our evenings are spent joking and chatting. Lucia is expert at playing the lute, besides, Rita and Francesca both sing and play very well.
Our wedding is in two weeks, I would love for you to be here...do come!
When I told Rita about you, she was happy and asked me to tell you that she would love for you to come.
Please try, Alf, make us both happy.
Yours,
D

Sixteenth letter.

My dear Alf, your refusal saddened me, but it seems to have upset Rita even more. She even added that:
“There is no true friendship in this world”

I tried to tell her that your refusal to come to our wedding could hardly serve as a measure of friendship, and if we were faced with calamity you would come to our aid in an instant, but all she does it shake her beautiful head.

Don’t be put off by it, lately Rita has been in a morbid mood.

She has grown pale, and complains of being constantly cold, saying that the “German Sun”, is not as hot as Italian.
It is strange because not only the days, but the nights are uncommonly hot.
Her ‘nervous shiver’, as I dubbed it, started on that day when I foolishly decided to take her down to the family crypt.

The crypt has been cleaned and aired, of course.

By the way, I forgot to tell you that I still haven’t found my parent’s coffins! This is exceedingly strange.

Rita studied old inscriptions with interest; some of them are beautiful in their innocence, while others seem puffed up by their own self-importance and pride.
She grew tired and leaned against the giant stone sarcophagus, the same one I told you about in the letter. It holds the “American” coffin.

“How cold”, she said with a tremor in her voice, stepping away from the stone.

She was wearing a light lace dress with open neck and arms. Only when she exclaimed how cold she was did I realise my own stupidity. On a humid summer day, I took Rita, in a thin dress into the cold and damp crypt.
I am an idiot!
Our evening went on as usual. Rita played her lute and sang ‘Quella fiamma che m’accende”.

She seems to have forgotten all about her unpleasant sensation. Once everyone was gone, I stood a long time beneath her open window in the garden, talking to her.
The next day she rose pale and exhausted, declined her work and sat warming up in the sun.
The day after was the same.

I wanted to send for the village doctor, but Rita forbade me. Even her nurse, whom she always obeys couldn’t sway her.

“Poor Senorita refuses the doctor and yet, I, myself heard her moaning pitifully last night”, finished the old woman.

“What’s so strange about that?” replied my fiancé with irritation, “last nigh I pricked my neck with a pin and must have cried out in pain”, she said pointing to a small wound on her neck, under the chin.

The wound was very small and yet the sight of it struck me like a bolt of lightning. For a few moments, I could not understand why such small thing upset me so much.
Later, I understood the reason; I saw an identical mark on my mother’s neck.
Of course, it wasn’t what had killed her, but the sight of it on Rita’s beautiful white neck made me grow cold.
I wanted to know everything.

“It is all very simple”, replied Rita “I fell asleep with the window open and in the middle of the night I felt a blast of cold damp air”.

“Rita, what are you talking about, the night was hot and stifling”, cried Lucia.

“And I am telling you, cold wind, damp as the grave was blowing”, said Rita stubbornly.

“I wrapped myself in a shawl”, she continued, “I didn’t want to chase sleep away, and so I kept my eyes closed, as I felt for a pin on the night table. Unfortunately, I took my favourite pink carnelian one, the one you gave me, Carlo. You yourself warned me about how sharp it is. In any case it is all trifles and by tomorrow it will all be gone”, finished Rita.

I understand the insignificance of this incident, and yet, I still have a heavy feeling, I am thinking of my dead mother and...

I forgot to finish my story about her death, forgive me. I will have no time to do it today, I am going to ride down to the city and hopefully, return to the castle tomorrow with a doctor.
Since Rita refuses medical help, I am forced to resort to trickery.
I know that our elderly family doctor is still living there. He is very old, but is not feeble. He has dedicated his old age to study of science, abandoned his practice and lives on a pension left to him by my father.
I will ask him to come to the castle, not as a physician, but as a family friend.
Till next time, I am going in one direction, and this letter in another.
Yours.
D

XIII

Harry got up:

“I think it’s enough for tonight. I see that Karl Ivanovich has such a thick pile of letters that it will last us another evening”.

Guests had to agree with his wishes and one by one, they wished each other goodnight and left the dinning hall.

Soon only James and Captain Wright were left.

Wright was silent, smoking one cigar after another, as if trying to stretch his time in the dining hall.

James, who had spent the entire evening quietly watching him, was struck by how sick Wright looked,

“What’s the matter with you? Are you ill?” he asked finally.


Wright shuddered and looked up angrily, but after seeing James’s concerned face, he sighed heavily and clamped his hand on James’s shoulder.

“Jamie, you are right, I am ill, I am loosing my mind.”

“What has gotten into you to think that?” exclaimed James, surprised.

Wright let out a puff of smoke:

“All right Jamie, I will telly you if you promise not to repeat it to anybody, agreed?”

“Of course.”

Captain Wright lit another cigar and after a while began:

“It started recently, more precisely on the night when I agreed to sleep in the ‘ghost’s’ room. I don’t need to tell you that I don’t believe in ghosts and wasn’t afraid.”

“It goes without saying,” said James sincerely.

“The room was hot; I opened the window and was soon asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up, and heard a rustling in the room, as if someone was walking nearby. Pungent fragrance of lavender filled the air.”

‘The smell is coming from a wardrobe that Harry opened yesterday and the rustling must be the drapes moving in the night breeze” I thought calmly, took out a cigar and lit the match.

Suddenly, in the light of the burning match, I saw a woman’s hand, wearing a diamond ring push between the folds of my bed’s canopy.
Drapes parted quietly and a female face peered in. She was deathly pale with huge black eyes. Her hair was dark and piled up on her head and she wore some sort of a tiara or a crown and a string of pink corrals around her neck.

I couldn’t move.

The match fizzled, burning my fingers.
Everything went dark.

In a flash, I got up and lit a candle. Window drapes were moving slightly, though there wasn’t even a slightest breeze. I double-checked by holding my candle in the open window.
I inspected the doors and locks once more and got into bed.
I couldn’t sleep.

With cigar in my mouth and trying to remember every small detail, I attempted to find a logical explanation for what I’d just seen, unconsciously, from time to time looking at the spot where the ghost appeared.

You know very well, of course, the strange quality possessed by the best Indian diamonds, - to be dead and lifeless in the best of light and in the dark, with a slightest of rays sparkle like the stars themselves.

“Are you thinking of the fabled Durga necklace?” asked James.

“Yes. It was the same kind of light; or rather play of light that I saw in between folds of the canopy that night, whenever I lit up again.”

I finished my cigar and inspected the room once more.
Nothing.
For the rest of the night I couldn’t sleep.

Next morning Harry ordered for the wardrobe to be moved and, as we expected, we found a door behind it, leading to the second room. While the servants were busy, I asked them to pull up the canopy, blaming the intense heat.
Afterwards I completely forgot about my adventure, and even when I got into bed, I did not think about it at all.

In the middle of the night, I felt cold breeze in the room. Something smelled stale and I opened my eyes. Broad stripe of moonlight stretched from the opening in the window drapes, crossed my bed and ended at the spot in the room where the wardrobe stood yesterday.

I stared at that spot.

I don’t know how it happened, but the next thing I knew, the door to the neighbouring room was suddenly open and I could see the outline of a woman. She was standing in the doorframe, staring at me.


The same face I saw yesterday only now I can see her entire body. She is tall and slim, her voluminous blue dress doesn’t conceal her curves, and its folds glitter in the moonlight. Her coral necklace rises with each breath, and what I thought was a diadem, is an edge of a tall, carved tortoiseshell comb.

After a while, she moved closer and stood next to my bed.

The already cold air grew even colder, pungent fragrance of lavender was blended with a strange stale stench. Beautiful black eyes were looking straight at me. I couldn’t take it any longer and sat up.
She vanished the same moment.

Whether she went back to the other room or vanished behind the window drapes, I cannot tell. It was as if she simply melted away.
I couldn’t sleep and spend the entire night waiting for her.
What is this, Jamie?”

“Hallucination”

“Come on, Jamie, me? Hallucinating?....But let me tell you, I wait for the night as a lover waits for a rendezvous and I fear, because this road will only end in the mad house.”

“Why haven’t you told Doctor?”

“What can he do? I will have to fight it myself or die.”

“If you want, I can sit with you tonight,” offered James.

“All right Jamie.”

James and Wright ordered for a bottle of rum and a box of cigars to be brought into Wright’s bedroom and closed the door, dismissing the servants.
Both men sat in high chairs, talking quietly. Moonlight and fragrance from the garden came into the open window.

They spoke of the past and speculated about the future but little by little the conversation slackened and both began to doze off.

Suddenly the silence was disturbed by a musical sound, as if someone accidently touched a string of a lute. The sound repeated once more. Both friends sat up in their chairs.

The door into the mysterious room opened soundlessly and a silhouette of a woman appeared in the doorway.

James had to admit that Wright didn’t exaggerate when he called her a beauty, but at the same time he could have sworn that he had seen her somewhere before. Maybe in another place, maybe in a dream, but he definitely knew her.

Regal yet delicate bearing, shining black hair, beautiful white neck adorned with pink corals and huge dark eyes.

“Can you see it?” asked Wright quietly.

“Yes”, whispered James.

No matter how quietly they spoke the ghost, seem to have heard them and disappeared.

Both young men sat until dawn, without saying a word.

XIV

In the morning, at coffee, Harry apologised to his guests:

“Today will be no hunting. Transference of property is complete and Smith brought workers to open the chapel. You would not believe, it but he tells me that the garden door to a chapel is not only locked, but is also sealed with the same sort of alloy as the one leading from the castle. I don’t know about you, but I find all of this very intriguing and would like to see for myself.

Several of the guests asked for Harry’s permission to accompany him.
Doctor, Wright and James also went.

Wright was gloomily silent, and always-cheerful James also appeared to have been in a bad mood.

The road leading to the castle from the Hunting Lodge was cleaned and widened and the guests were offered light hunting carriages. The trip through dense green forest, broken up by sunlit meadows was wonderful. Soon carriages came to a halt at the castle’s gates.

Today gates were left wide open in anticipation of the new owner. Locks and seals had been long taken off.

The courtyard was already cleaned of rubbish and weeds. Long time ago it was paved with beautiful stones, but even these were ruined by the hand of time.
In the corner of the yard, close to the castle wall, Harry noticed two crossed wooden planks

“What’s over there, Smith?

“An old well, Sir, its wall is completely ruined and I fear that someone may loose their footing and fall in so I had it covered.”

“How many wells do we have?”, asked Harry.

“Not counting the ones near stables, two. This one and the newer one in the garden”, replied Miller.

“See to it that both are working”, finished Harry.

While they spoke about the wells, several workers struggled with huge cast iron doors of the chapel. To unsolder the tin, with which they were sealed was a tricky job. Eventually the lock and the doorframe were cleaned and Smith came forward with the bunch of keys given to him by the village headman.

Not a single one would fit the lock.

Smith motioned for a locksmith whom he had a great foresight to bring along. The man knelt in front of the doors with his selection of picks.
He was busy for a long time but eventually the lock clicked and the doors flew open as of someone pushed them from inside with a great force.

The locksmith fell backwards with a huge bruise on his forehead.

Thick cloud of dust flew from the open doorway and everyone instinctively closed their eyes, except for Wright and James, who, still affected by last night’s incident, stood a little distance away. They both saw that something alive flew out of the chapel with the cloud of dust.

It was a large grey bat.

Unlike the rest of its’ kin who prefer night and are completely blind during the daytime, the bat seemed happy in the daylight and ‘pulled’ as the hunters say in the direction of the forest and the Hunting Lodge, vanishing in the clear blue sky.

“It almost looks as if the bat flew out of the chapel”, said Wright.

“This would be impossible”, disagreed James “the chapel was completely sealed, so maybe the bat made its nest under the cornice and current of air from the open doors forced the bat to leave its dwelling.

“You will laugh, Jamie”, said Wright- “but I hate bats. Just as some cannot even look at the snake, I get the shivers just thinking of bats.”


Inside the Chapel.

As soon as the dust had settled, Harry and his guests entered the chapel and were stunned by the extent of the destruction inside it.
Walls, once hung with dark fabric were stripped bare, torn cloth hanging in shreds, silver candlesticks and flowerpots with long dead-laurel trees were lying overturned and broken on the stone floor.

Bas-reliefs, depicting scenes from the lives of Isaac and Abraham were smashed and covered with deep scratches. On the nearest, a patriarch was missing his nose and his arm, extended in a blessing, was completely broken off.

Windows were barred with wooden grills. Dried wreaths hung above them.
A balcony connecting the chapel with the castle’s second floor via a large wooden door was also decorated with dead flowers.

In the centre of the chapel, on a low dais, stood large coffin, its exterior covered with white brocade. Three small steps leading up to it were covered with scattered dried roses. Dark velvet throw, embroidered with bright silks and beads, was draped over the foot of the casket.

Georges came closer and examined the throw’s broad embroidered border:

“A real masterpiece”, he said.

“And real pearls”, added doctor, looking closer. Under his fingers, decayed fabric tore and small pearls cascaded to the floor.

“I wonder who is inside?” he added.

Harry motioned for the locksmith and he tried to lift up the lid, which slid off effortlessly.

The casket was empty.

Inside, the white silk and lace made it look more like a chocolate box than a coffin. Casket’s interior was well preserved, if little yellowed with age.
Its cosy interior contrasted strangely with complete destruction of the chapel.

Finally, Harry broke heavy silence:

“I wonder what could have happened here? Bas-reliefs are smashed, pots and silver candlesticks overturned, velvet torn off the walls, yet wreaths and flowers are left completely undamaged? Any ideas, Sherlock?” he said, turning to James.

“Don’t know” James cut him off brusquely

“In the village, there is an old story, that long ago a violent storm descended upon the castle”, interrupted the headman “It seemed that all the devils of the world came down on earth at once. Ground was trembling like a great beast and the lightning flashed in the sky. People thought that the castle would be blown off the rock. Only the old priests’ prayers saved the village, because if the castle crumbled, entire village would have been buried under the rubble. Grandmother told me that a feast and procession of thanks was organised afterwards. A few days later the castle was abandoned altogether,” he finished.

“Well, it stands to reason that the earthquake would topple heavier objects and leave lighter ones intact. It is a well-documented phenomenon”, added Doctor.

“According to your explanation, only the chapel had heavy objects in it, since the castle bears no traces of destruction”, countered one of the elderly guests.

“Well, it is easily explained; since the chapel was sealed, it couldn’t be repaired”, added Doctor.

Harry turned to Doctor:

“And to what do you attribute that fact?”

Doctor spread his arms helplessly:

“Well, you know the saying, ‘Every Baron has his whims’ and I suspect counts have even more”.


No matter how many words were wasted and how many debates flared up, no conclusion was ever reached. The destruction of the chapel and empty coffin remained a mystery and, besides, the youthful guests were too busy enjoying life to be bothered with it for too long.

All seeing and all knowing Smith drew Harry’s attention to a door.

Once opened, it revealed a steep staircase, its bottom steps vanishing in subterranean darkness of the family crypt.
The crypt smelled of mould and decay and no one volunteered to explore it.

“Clean up the chapel, take down the window bars, and lower the casket into the crypt”, ordered Harry.

.....................................


Entire castle was abuzz with activity. Dozens of workers were washing floors, cleaning walls, dusting and repairing furniture.

Smith ran like a hurricane from room to room, up and down the stairs. With a stern warning or a promise of good pay, he skilfully hurried the workers along.

Miller was doing the same in the yard. Stables, barns and kennels were being readied in anticipation of the new tenants,-horses, dogs and cows were soon to arrive.

Harry, satisfied with his employees, preferred not to interfere, and with few of his friends, made his way to the room that he had selected as his cabinet.

It appears that the room served the same purpose for its previous owner.

Large writing desk stood opposite a sunlit window, several bookcases and comfortable chairs hinted at this function.
In fact, the room was so well preserved, that it only needed a little airing and dusting, before it could welcome its new occupant.

Only a large broken mirror spoiled everything, dark empty frame unwittingly drew attention to itself.

Harry turned to Smith:

“Make sure it is replaced”.

“Already ordered, Sir, here in the town, we couldn’t find a suitable one”, replied Smith.

“James” called Harry, picking up and examining old leather bound book “you wanted this. It is yours, but I doubt you will find it interesting; it looks like a whole lot of old junk. The binding, however, is another story. If I am not mistaken, it is made of human skin”.

James thanked him, taking the book. He opened it and read the note he found on the first page: “On the orders of most exalted Baron Frederic Zuhn, this volume was bound in coachman Andreus’s skin”.

“You are right, Harry, it is human skin and it belongs to someone named Andreus, who was probably flayed alive”.

The village headman piously made a sign of a cross.

Young Georges could not help himself:

“And you have no qualms about keeping it, despite knowing its origin? What if the coachman comes back for his property?”

James laughed:

“Yes, dear friend, I am keeping it. And of course the coachman will not get his property back, and this” added James picking up a luxurious blue ribbon from the floor “is for you”.

“I don’t mind being this lady’s knight”, laughed Georges, attempting to pin the broad silk ribbon to his chest.

“Even if this lady is a ghost”, added Doctor.

Georges paled and dropped the ribbon back on the floor.

“Enough jokes, Doc”, intervened Harry, “our young friend is already seeing ghosts”.

After a brief walk in the garden, the guests went their separate ways and only came together again for supper.

XV

Everybody was in high spirits as they made their way to the table. One seat remained empty.

“Where’s Viscount Reno?”, asked the observant host.

“He had a horse saddled in the morning and left for the city. He hasn’t returned yet, Sir”,bowed a footman.

“Take care that his supper is kept hot for when he gets back”, whispered Smith.

“Yes, Sir”.


As usual, the guests ate a lot and drank even more. Conversation buzzed around the table. The chapel and its coffin were a source of unquenchable curiosity, and gave birth to a hundred theories. Discovery of the casket didn’t dampen the mood; in fact, the opposite was true. Most found its presence romantic and mysterious.
Coupled with the enigmatic rooms in the Hunting Lodge there was plenty food for speculation. Yet every theory crumbled in the light of sober logic and cold-headed reasoning.

Doctor relished his role as a sceptic and destroyer of fantasies.

No conclusion was reached, but the excitement guaranteed a happy evening. Servants hardly had the time to refill empty glasses.

Close to the end of the meal, the terrace door flew open and one of the servants almost fell in. He looked terrified. The guests fell silent. The man opened his mouth but no sound came out.

Finally, Smith couldn’t take it any longer:

“Damn you, will you tell what the hell is wrong?”

“I am not to blame, I swear, that Mr Viscount is dead!” he mumbled.

“Who’s dead? Viscount Reno is dead?”

Everyone was speaking at once, and most of the guests jumped to their feet.

“Sit, drink, calm down and explain things properly,” said Doctor handing the servant a glass of strong wine.

He drank it greedily and appeared instantly calmer:

“Today, as the sun was setting”, he began, “Mr Smith instructed me to go to the city and order a barrel of beer for tomorrow. I saddled the ‘Lazybones’ and went. Once I finished, I...I...”

“Went to the pub and got blind drunk”, offered Smith.

“Yes, Sir, I did go, but I didn’t drink”, I swear to God.

“I know, I know”.

“I swear Mr Smith, only one mug and even that was....”

“Enough” shouted James.

“Get to the point”, ordered Harry sternly.

“I made my way home, the moon was bright. The horse was walking slowly, you know yourself that the coachman doesn’t allow us to gallop, besides no one could force ‘Lazybones’ to run. I passed the lake without an incident and begun to climb up the road. The closest way lies near the garden fence. I haven’t quite made it to the gate that opens to the lake when ‘Lazybones’ halted, dug his front hoofs into the ground and begun to tremble. I looked ahead and froze. In the garden gate stood woman in white. Loose blonde hair, eyes like a green serpent, and smoke of hell all around her.
‘Lazybones’ reared and I, I, am not a cavalryman, Sir, no one taught me to ride, let alone on a rearing horse, so I fell, and ‘Lazybones’ ran off”.

“Go on”, said Harry.

“I lost my hat, and have quite a bump to show for it”, the young man continued, feeling his head.

“While I was on the ground “it” passed near me. I was cold and afraid and I felt my teeth chattering. How I got up and ran into the garden gate, I don’t know. It is as if I grew wings on my feet.
While running to the terrace, I thought that I saw “it” among the bushes. I ran to the house. I made it to the terrace and saw that Mr Viscount is sitting on the railing. I recognised him instantly because I, myself, helped him dress this morning.

“Mr Viscount, Sir!” I shouted but he didn’t move. I got up the stairs and touched his shoulder, and I see: his eyes are like glass, hands cold. I realised then that he is dead”.

Harry didn’t wait for him to finish and, followed by others, ran out onto the terrace.

Viscount Reno was sitting on the railing, his head peacefully leaning against the pillar, as if merely resting. His hat, pulled far to the back revealed young, incredibly pale face, with glassy, unseeing eyes. He wore reit- jacket and high riding boots. A single water lily was tucked behind the button of his coat.

There was no doubt that he was dead and everyone was at loss for words.

The servant, who was the first to discover the body was still terribly agitated and kept repeating to his friends, the footmen, how he was terrified of the ‘mermaid’. By now he was adding that he glimpsed duck’s feet beneath her dress and instead of the ‘hell’s smoke’ she was surrounded by a ‘veil of watery mist’. She was white and weightless and flew next to him as he ran, only stopping at the foot of well lit platform, right beneath the terrace, where she hid in the bushes.

While talking, the servant glanced towards the dark depths of the garden,

“Look, Look, she is still there!” he shrieked with a high-pitched wail.

The crowd pulled back. Something white was moving among the trees.

In an instant, Harry and Captain Wright jumped into the garden.

Harry’s commanding voice broke the silence:

“Calm down, you fools, it is a white horse, our ‘Peacock’” he shouted and led a beautiful white horse out of the bushes.

The fear was gone, and everyone felt foolish. ‘Peacock’ was well known to both servants and guests. He was Harry’s best horse and the pride of his stables.
The horse was under man’s saddle and was breathing heavily. White foam covered its muzzle.

“Well, what a great care, Mr Viscount took of you!” grumbled the old coachman, patting the horse, “and he swore to be careful!”

“Now it isn’t the place, Matvei”, interrupted Harry sternly.

Doctor shook his head:

“Actually, if poor Reno had spared ‘Peacock’ as he promised, he would have been alive himself. He obviously had a weak heart, and to gallop like a lunatic...-

“That water lily looks fresh, I wonder where he got it from”, interrupted James.

“The lakeside is full of them,” answered Georges.

James would not give up:

“But then he would have to slow down, stop altogether and dismount”.

No one could answer him.
Harry gave sign and the body was lifted and taken inside.
Of course there was no thought about finishing dinner.
Everyone retired early, promising to go to the city in the morning and pay their last respects to the diseased.

...............................

Without a word, James and Captain Wright went to Wright’s bedroom.
Silently they lit up the cigars, and sat in the chairs.
Hours passed.
The room was silent and semi dark. Closer to midnight the moon rose high in the night sky and filled the room with silvery light. Soon the waves of light took on strange shimmering glow.

Young men waited, but the door stayed closed.

Behind it, they could clearly hear light footsteps and the rustle of silk fabric. Soon the door of the balcony creaked and everything went silent.
Time passed.
Wright and James were awakened by loud knocking.

The sun is bright. The room is bathed in light, with morning rays reflecting off the crystal faceted bottles on the night table and sending bright specks of light all across the ceiling and walls.
Both Wright and James are sitting in chairs with long extinguished cigars. They had fallen asleep, without a doubt.

Somebody knocked again.

“Come in”.

Young manservant entered:

“Gentlemen, you are expected downstairs for morning coffee. The funeral carriage is already waiting”.

James and Wright didn’t understand immediately what was being said, but hurried to clean themselves up and made their way to the dinning room.

XVI

Three days had passed.
Harry returned to his Hunting Lodge, accompanied by his closest friends: James, Doctor and Captain Wright.

Few of the other guests chose to return, Viscount Reno’s death had a bad effect on the more impressionable among them, and many left, some for good and some promising to return in time for the housewarming celebrations.

Wright and James slept well in the city and began to feel a little embarrassed by their adventure, teasing each other about it. James had dubbed the incident with the ghost ‘Mass Hallucination”.

“What’s new?” asked Harry on his first day back.

“Everything is all right, Lord be thanked”, replied manager’s assistant Miller. Because Smith left with Harry, Miller was in charge of the affairs at the castle.

“The castle is ready, everything is clean and repaired. The gardens will take a little longer, though the side closest to the castle is ready. We also cleaned the well in the garden, and will soon clear out the one in the yard. Thought I doubt it has water in it,” reported Miller.

He hesitated for a moment then added cautiously:

“Forgive me, Sir, you may be displeased with me. I wasn’t sure, but I felt so sorry, his wife was crying and their poverty is terrible, so I gave her twenty five thallers in your name for the funeral”.

“Another funeral? Whose?” asked Harry impatiently.

Miller blushed and mumbled:

“I know he was not on our permanent staff and was only called when needed, but they were awfully poor and so I thought...”

Harry interrupted him:

“I think you’ve misunderstood me, I am not worried about the money, I want to know who is dead”.

“The locksmith, the same one who opened the chapel”.

“But he wasn’t old and appeared healthy”.

“Yes, he got sick the very same day, or rather the same night. He fainted. How long he was unconscious, no one knows, because his wife only noticed it in the morning. He felt better, went to work as usual, except that he was very quiet, and seemed depressed. In the evening, he fainted again. His wife was sleeping in the next room and heard a noise, something like rustling. She went to investigate and found him unconscious.
In the morning, he couldn’t get up at all and spend the rest of the day in bed. He died in the middle of the night. His poor wife is devastated and couldn’t stop crying. She lost her family’s only breadwinner. But, a stupid peasant that she is, she found some consolation thinking that an angel took her husband’s soul to heaven”.

“What’s an angel got to do with it?” asked James.

“The woman told me”, replied Miller “that during the last night she decided to stay awake watching over her sick husband. Of course, after a hard day’s work she must have fallen asleep and saw a dream”, he shrugged.

James wasn’t giving up:

“What dream? And how does an angel fit into it?”

“Stupid woman, Sir, she swears that she didn’t sleep a wink that night, but she was stricken with what the peasants call ‘Stolbnyak’ that is when you cannot move at all, but are fully aware of everything that is happening.
She saw a beautiful woman, in a dress “like the sky”, with a crown on her head. She bent down to the sick man and kissed him. Then she rose in the shimmer of moonlight and went to heaven, taking his soul with her.” finished Miller.

“And what did the village doctor have to say about the cause of death?” enquired Harry.

“They didn’t call for doctor, Sir. Like I said, their poverty is terrible. They had a fire recently and live in a hovel.”

“Smith, tomorrow you will take care of the widow, and as for me, I’ve had enough for today”, said Harry getting up.

He bid his guests and friends a good day and left for his study with Smith, to work. He even refused supper and asked Doctor to take his place at the table.
The meal was lacklustre, despite Doctor’s jokes and anecdotes.
Absence of the host was strongly felt.
There was no reading either.
Guests declined punch and left the room early.

XVII
Wright was the last to arrive at the morning coffee. He looked enraged and his lips twitched angrily. He came close to the table, but instead of his customary greeting and bow, he threw a large dark red rose on the floor and crushed it with his foot:

“Gentlemen I am not a woman and to throw roses into my window is, in the least, foolish. I consider it an insult which, in the future, I will answer with a point of a blade”.

Guests looked up at him surprised and some exchanged puzzled glances among themselves.

Well-drilled footman came quietly and picked up the crumpled flower.

“Where did he get it from? I haven’t seen a rose like that in our garden”, he asked showing the rose to Harry’s butler Sabo.

“Up on the mountain, in the castle. They were brought yesterday,” remarked Miller.

The day dragged on, endless and boring.

In the evening remaining guests gathered in the dinning hall. The company dwindled and the few that stayed seemed to be in a bad mood.

The host, wanting to entertain the guests and take their minds of the recent misfortunes, called in Karl Ivanovich and asked him to read something.

The old man was visibly unsure, he fidgeted and wanted to say something, but then decided against it, and, putting on his glasses began to read.
XVII
Wright was the last to arrive at the morning coffee. He looked enraged and his lips twitched angrily. He came close to the table, but instead of his customary greeting and bow, he threw a large dark red rose on the floor and stepped on it, saying:

“Gentlemen I am not a woman and to throw roses into my window is, in the least, stupid. I consider it an insult which, in the future, I will answer with a point of a blade”.

Guests looked up at him surprised and some exchanged puzzled glances among themselves.

Well-drilled footman came quietly and picked up the crushed flower.

“Where did he get it from? I haven’t seen a rose like that in our garden”, he asked showing the rose to Harry’s butler Sabo.

“Up on the mountain, in the castle. They were brought yesterday,” remarked Miller.

The day dragged on, endless and boring.

In the evening remaining guests gathered in the dinning hall. The company dwindled and the few that stayed seemed to be in a bad mood.

The host, wanting to entertain the guests and take their minds of the recent misfortunes, called in Karl Ivanovich and asked him to read something.

The old man was visibly unsure, he fidgeted and wanted to say something, but then decided against it, and, putting on his glasses began to read.

Seventeenth Letter:


Alf,
A mere day had passed between my last letter to you and this one, but in this single day I’ve lived a lifetime, a lifetime that destroyed all that is pure and dear to me. My personal happiness is dead. And Rita? She had no part in this, she doesn’t deserve it, and it is for her sake, with a heavy weight upon my soul that I must pretend to be happy.

I must tell you what happened.

I left Rita in the care of her old nanny and cousins, and, after leaving few orders concerning my household, I made my way to the city in search of our old family doctor.
I didn’t have to look for long, because at the small hotel, where I lodged, they all knew of him and gave me his address.


“Only you’d be wasting your time, Sir”, added the floor man “he no longer sees patients, and barely ever allow visitors. He is little bit ‘touched in the head’. If you want, I will take you to another doctor, Doctor Frisch. He is very good and also stays at our hotel”.

I thanked him and declined to meet Doctor Frisch.

“Why do you say that the old man is ‘touched in the head’?” I asked

“Everyone say so, Sir. They say he is insane”.

I left.

Coachman took me all the way to the edge of town and stopped in front of a small wooden house. An elderly woman met me in the yard and sullenly told me that doctor no longer sees anyone.

“Please, take me to him,” I asked handing her a ‘golden’ admittance ticket.

Her demeanour changed instantly and I was quickly ushered into the entrance room and then into Doctor’s study. While his first room was nothing out of the ordinary, with unremarkable furniture and the usual bourgeoisie knick-knacks, his study was quite a sight.

I felt as if I stepped into laboratory of an alchemist: dark imposing bookcases, creaking under the weight of crammed books, glass jars and flasks filled with chemicals, several stuffed animals and a complete human skeleton.

I saw an old man sitting in a large chair, staring out of the window.


I thought at first that I must have made a mistake and came to a wrong address. I couldn’t recognise our tubby cheerful doctor in this thin, gnarled old man.
He was completely bald and was wearing outsized glasses.

If I, knowing whom I was going to see, barely recognised familiar features, the old man, of course had no idea who I was.

He looked up at me angrily:

“What do you want? I no longer practice medicine”, he said curtly, dragging his chair on the floorboards.

I introduced myself.

For a moment, he sat motionless, as if he didn’t understand, and then he craned his neck in a very strange way, and asked in a trembling voice:

“Who are you?”

I repeated my name.

Alf, you should have seen the horror on his face. He turned deathly pale, as white as a sheet of paper, his glasses fell off, yet he paid no attention. He put up his arms in front of him, as if to ward something off and mumbled:

“No, it cannot be”.

His legs were trembling and he sank back into his chair.

I poured a glass of water and gave it to him. Taking his hand gently I stroked it, saying:

“Don’t you remember me, I was your favourite” I said and tried to remind him of all the little incidents from my childhood, his jokes and gifts.

After a while, the old man calmed down and began to smile:

“It is you, Carlo, well and healthy. You have grown, and grown very handsome. It is such a pity that my friend, your Father couldn’t see you now!”

“Yes, Doctor, I was denied my parents since I was seven years old and to this day I don’t know why.”

The old man moved back and fell silent.

“Why did you come to our town, and how long will you be here?” he asked.

“I came today, and how long I will stay will depend on you, Doctor. If you agree to help me, tomorrow we can both leave for the castle”.

Old man started to tremble once more, and his voice rose to an angry scream:

“What for? Why do you want to go there?!”

I laughed, surprised at his sudden outburst:

“What for? I have been living there for the past two months”.

“Two months? Right next to it, in the castle.” he muttered. His teeth, or rather his lower jaw, was trembling.

“You are alive and healthy, completely healthy. Swear by the Blessed Virgin, that you are telling the truth”, he said, pointing commandingly to the corner in his room.

Entire corner was filled with religious images, small and large; one of them had a little votive candle burning before it. Small altar with an open bible completed the picture. Initially I haven’t noticed this corner and now the contrast struck me, saints and votive candle in the same room with stuffed animals and a human skeleton.

“Swear it! I am telling you! Cross yourself!” , insisted the old man angrily.

Thinking that I was dealing with a lunatic and trying not to aggravate him, I crossed myself and announced in a pompous voice:

“I swear by the Blessed Virgin that I am alive and well”.

The old man started to cry, not so much with real tears but rather with a long series of sniffles, and pulling a large crumpled handkerchief from his breast pocked he blew his nose and said:

“Why did you have to come? Why? What do you want here?”

Once he calmed down, I’ve told him that I was missing my homeland since I was a small child, but dared not anger my father and return without his permission. His sudden death freed me and I returned to bow at my parent’s caskets, and would you imagine, it, Doctor, I couldn’t find them! , I finished.

“Didn’t find them! He didn’t find them!” whispered the old man happily “Did you find the new crypt?”

“A new crypt? Where is it?” I asked. The old man ignored my question.

“Good, very good”, he muttered rubbing his hands together with glee.

I didn’t understand a word he was saying and was repenting bitterly that I ever came to see him. Trying to come up with a suitable way to be rid of the lunatic, I was silent.

Old man was also quiet.

“When do you plan to go back overseas?” he asked finally.

“Back? I wouldn’t dream of it!”, I objected, surprised “I’ve cleaned and repaired the castle and in two weeks I will be married.”

Fear flooded old man’s eyes once more:

“You’ve decided to live in the castle, maybe marry there; maybe you’ve already selected a girl. You are insane, insane! Didn’t old Petro warn you? Didn’t he tell you that your father ordered you never to come back, never so much as set foot in the castle let alone live there with a young wife?” he was screaming at me and shaking at the same time.

I’ve had enough of his silly theatrics, and, getting up, said curtly:

“My father never wrote to me anything of the sort. Besides, it is too late anyway. My fiancé is already living with me in the castle”.

Old man began to speak; his voice was sad, yet solemn:

“Blessed Virgin, take pity on her and save her!”, he whispered sadly, “Oh, Carlo, I never thought that fate would force me to drink this bitter cup. It seems preordained. We were protecting you from this horror, but you yourself, irreverently tore off the veil of kindness. Your father took a terrible oath from me and Petro to let the secret die with us...but now...I am forced...I must reveal it to you.
Oh, Blessed Protectress of men, forgive me....my dear friend, you told me “Be careful. Do not let yourself reveal it, even in your sleep, I will be watching you from my very grave” and now, if you could hear me, please understand, I have to help Carlo, to save him, even with the price of my own soul, the price of a broken oath.”

He grew quiet and hung his head.

Though his words sounded delirious, I no longer thought him mad. Something inside me was telling me that there was truth in what he was saying, and that I was about to face something horrible.

I was silent, scared to break Doctor’s fleeting thoughts and at the same time, my mind was racing, trying to guess at what secret he was going to reveal. My first thought was about my vast wealth. Maybe it was ill begotten. Maybe it was tainted with someone’s blood. I swore to mend all that could be mended.

No, it cannot be.

My Mother’s death, perhaps my father was guilty of it?

Impossible. He adored her and for fifteen years stayed faithful, worshipping the very memory of her.

What then?

Doctor was still silent, and then, after what seemed like hours he asked quietly:

“Carlo what do you remember from your childhood?”

I started to reminisce, remembering odd incidents.

“And what do you think about your Mother’s death?”

I felt cold rise up my spine. What if?

I told him all that I’ve told you already, i.e. that Mother saw a snake in her dream and it bit her, she screamed in the middle of the night and fell ill shortly afterwards.
Then she got better, but after her fainting in the great hall, her illness worsened.

Afterwards, - and that I haven’t told you- she weakened more and more, at night she felt a great weight on her chest and yet she couldn’t scream or cast it off.

Father started to keep vigil by her bed once more and she recovered a little.

After a few nights, he grew tired and relinquished his post to Pepa.

My Mother took turn for the worse that very night.
When Pepa was questioned, she couldn’t answer when my Mother started feeling ill, because she claimed that she was not in the room.

“His excellence, the Count, came into the room and I dared not stay”, she said

“Me? In the room? You are imagining things, Pepa,” replied my Father, laughing.

“Of course, your Excellency, you have opened the terrace door and a strong gust of cold wind blew in, and you were wrapped up in your cloak, but I’ve recognised you instantly”, she insisted.

My father paled:

“Go on, Pepa”, he said quietly

“You knelt by Madam Countess’ bed and I left” she finished.

“Thank you, you can go now”, said Father and turning his ashen face to Doctor, whispered:

“It wasn’t me!”

I was silent for a moment.

“Yes”, old man nodded his head, “Yes”.

“Whether it ever resolved and who was in my Mother’s room I still don’t know”, I finished.

“Go on’, he muttered.

“On? Three days later, Lucy, my little sister Lucy was found dead in her bed. The evening before she was well and sang like a bird, asking to be woken early- early, to see the sunrise”.

In the morning, Caterina, surprised by child’s long sleep, went to her bed and discovered that Lucy was not only dead, but stiff and cold.

“Yes”, confirmed Doctor again.

Lucy was buried and on the same day Mother called me to her couch and, blessing me, said:

“Tomorrow, early, you will travel with Petro to Nuremberg to study. Goodbye.”

She kissed me fiercely with tears glittering in her eyes.

None of my crying, pleading and despair could help me, - I was taken away.

Even after the passage of time, old grief returned with new force, and I felt my voice break. I fell silent.

“Yes”, the old man nodded again “Yes. Do you remember anyone else dying, besides, Lucy?”

“Of course, a lot of people died at that time, mostly children and the young,” I answered “we could hear the funeral bell tolling up at the castle and I remember it clearly. And in our home, on the mountain several people also died”.

The old man fell quiet again as if gathering his thoughts. He was breathing heavily and pulled out his handkerchief again, this time wiping his bald head.

“Now is your time to listen, Carlo.”

“After you were sent away, the deaths continued. Sometimes they would follow in quick succession, at other times it seemed that the epidemic was on the wane. I was loosing my mind trying to find the cause. I re-read my medical books, examined the bodies, and questioned witnesses....
Not a single known disease could fit the symptoms.
I noticed a single similarity in all the cases; in those bodies that I was allowed to dissect, I found very little blood. And on the neck, sometimes on the chest, of the victims I always found two small red wounds.

That was all.

Strange epidemic in the village fascinated me, but I couldn’t give it my undivided attention because your mother’s illness preyed on my mind constantly. She seemed to be fading in my very hands. None of my Latin remedies could restore healthy colour to her face. It was obvious now that she was dying, yet her eyes shone, as if her entire life force has gone into them.

The incident with a gentleman in a cloak was never explained.

Since that event, she was never left alone at night; either your father or I kept vigil by her bedside.
I also insisted on being the one to give her her medicine.....all of it was in vain....she grew weaker and weaker.

One day I was called to a new body, your father was busy with a supervisor. Countess was laying in the garden, under a watchful eye of Caterina, your nanny.
Once I returned I immediately noticed dreadful turn for the worse in your mother’s condition.

“What happened?” I whispered to Caterina

“Nothing, Doctor”, she replied, “The Countess was lying quietly, so quietly that a strange, black bird sat gently upon her chest. I wanted to chase it away, but the Countess waved her hand for me not to do it. That’s all”.

A bird? I wondered if Caterina wasn’t lying.
I decided against asking your mother, fearing that I may upset her.

Three day passed.
Your father and I were sitting in the garden platform; Countess was reclining on her chaise lounge as usual, facing the village.
The sun already set, but your mother asked for a few more moments to enjoy fresh air.
It was a wonderful, mild evening. We were smoking and talking quietly.

A huge bat flew across the evening sky on soft wings, from the direction of the castle. It was completely black, the type I have never seen before.

Suddenly the Countess pushed herself up and stretched out her arms, crying: ‘Come to me! Come to me’, and fell back on her pillows.
We ran to her.
She was dead.
No matter how much we prepared ourselves for this when the moment came we stood as if struck by lightning. Your father was first to come to his senses:

“I must call the servants”, his voice sounded hollow and he walked away, swaying slightly as if carrying a heavy burden.

I knelt at the foot of the chaise lounge. How much time had passed, I don’t know, I wasn’t aware of it at all. Soon I heard voice and saw lights flickering in the distance and at that moment a large bat, the same that I saw earlier, rose from Countesses’ body and after circling once overhead vanished in the falling darkness.

I wasn’t even thinking about performing an autopsy, knowing that your father would never allow it.

I, as a physician, was intrigued by the fact that her limbs, though cold as ice, remained very flexible.

Her body was laid out in the chapel.

A monk from neighbouring monastery came to read all the necessary prayers.
I disliked him from the start: fat with tiny pig’s eyes and a bulbous purple-hued nose he was easily identified from the first glance as a worshipper of Bacchus.

After the first night of prayers he demanded an increase in his payments as well as a bottle of wine, because, according to him, the diseased was ‘restless’.

His wishes were obeyed.

On the second night, I was sleepless. I felt as if unseen weight was pressing on my heart and decided to go to the chapel. Since I didn’t want to go there through the garden I decided to enter from the choir balcony. I came close to the railing and looked down. The chapel was semi dark. Candles in tall silver holders, surrounding the coffin flickered dimly, giving little light. At the open prayer book, where the monk was supposed to be reading, a fat candle was dying in a pool of melted wax.

I peered into the darkness and, as my eyes adjusted, saw that the monk himself was laying on his back, with his arms and legs splayed and something white, perhaps a sheet, spread over his body.

Involuntarily my eyes fell on the coffin and I felt as if a cold hand had squeezed my heart.

The casket was empty! Expensive embroidered cover was lying crumpled on the steps of the catafalque.
I shook myself, thinking that I was dreaming, rubbed my eyes, and yet...no matter how much the candles flickered, no matter how many shadows I thought were playing tricks on my tired imagination, the casket was still empty.

I felt a surge of happiness and ran to the small staircase, jumping two steps at the time. Thoughts flashed through my mind: no wonder her limbs remained flexible, she was in a coma.....oh thank God, thank God.

I tumble down the stairs nearly falling in the darkness.

Dear God, what is this?
The deceased is lying in her place, arms crossed on her chest, eyes closed. Even the roses that I placed on her pillow yesterday are still there, if fallen a little to the side.
I rub my eyes again, thinking that I am in a dream.

I walk around the coffin.
The monk is still on the floor, his arms and legs splayed, his head thrown back. ‘Where is the sheet I saw across him?’ a thought flashes through my mind and vanishes, unanswered.
I no longer trust my eyes; blood is hammering in my temples.
No it isn’t my heartbeat, someone is hammering from outside. Without thinking, I unhook the door.
Cold night air refreshes me.

“What’s the matter?” I ask.

A night watchman, accompanied by two workers comes in:

“Oh, it is you, Doctor” he replies, looking relieved “I got such a fright. I was walking across the yard and saw someone move behind the chapel’s window. I thought that it may have been a thief. God protect us from such things, but people are easily tempted into sin. They say that the Countess is covered with those, what you call them? - Diamonds, yes, diamonds, and they are worth, the people say, a hundred thousand kronen! I came close to the window and heard a rustle and then a sound of struggle and a moan...I ran and called the chaps, too scared to go in alone”, finished the old man.

“Well, you came at the right time, the monk is unwell, help me take him outside,” I ordered.

“To hell with him, he stank up the entire place with his incense, my head is spinning”, grumbled one of the workers lifting up the monk “Damn him, he is heavy” he added.

At that moment, a wine bottle fell from the monk’s sleeve and rolled across the stone floor. Young workers laughed.

“His holiness, the father is passed out cold from the booze, and he burned way too much incense. No wonder he was moaning, and I got such a fright!” orated the watchman.

We took the monk outside and laid him out on the garden bench. I tried to bring him around.

We were unsuccessful at first, combination of alcohol and fumes affected the obese man badly.

Finally, his eyes opened and began to dart around, as if frightened.

I ordered for a glass of wine to be brought and gave it to him. He gulped it down greedily and, belched, whispering afterwards:

“Restless. She is restless.”

I saw that the dawn was breaking, and heard the first toll of the church bell calling the faithful to their morning prayers.

I was tired and went to my room, looking for a quiet place to sit down and think about all that had happened tonight, but no sooner did I lie down on my bed, my eyes closed involuntarily and I fell into a deep sleep.

The day went on as usual.
The monk recovered and asked Pepa for a double portion of wine as a compensation for his “trouble”. I saw Pepa handing him a large decanter and teased her:

“Watch out, Pepa or you may have a great sin to answer for one day if our monk will drink himself to death”.

“Oh, Doctor, this is nothing. You should see how much they drink back at the monastery!” she parried.

I slept badly that night, waking up several times and had to force myself to stay in bed.

Early in the morning, I heard impatient knocking on my bedroom door.

“Another death” immediately sprang to mind and I got ready in a flash.

I opened the door and came face to face with distressed Pepa:

“Doctor, Doctor...the monk...he is dead”, she stuttered finally, sinking heavily into a chair.

I hurried outside. The monk was lying on the same garden bench as yesterday. His face with its wide open, staring eyes was frozen in an expression of sheer terror.
A large crowd of servants gathered around the body.

“Who found him and where?” I asked.

One of the house footmen stepped forward:

“His Excellency the Count ordered for the candles to be replaced next to the Countess’ coffin and I went into the chapel. He was lying near the door.”

“Old bugger must have sniffed death and tried to get out,” said someone in the crowd.

“Must have sniffed something, a fat man like him, dragging himself all the way across the chapel.”

“In his hand he had two water lilies. Yesterday chaps brought a huge basket of them from the village and covered the entire catafalque”

“Poor man must have been feeling ill and leant onto the coffin, grabbing the flowers”, suggested somebody

“At least he hasn’t overturned poor Countess’ casket.”

Servants crowded around me, all talking at once. I listened, without really hearing. In my head, I heard a strange noise, as if great swarm of bees made it their home and for the first time I felt the nameless, all pervading fear wash over me.

Death was staring me in the face and I felt utterly helpless.
In order to keep up the appearances and calm the servants I ordered for the monk’s body to be brought inside and stripped of his clothing.
One I was alone I examined the neck.
I had no trouble finding two red spots.

I sat down thinking.
For the first time I wondered if the spots had been the direct cause of death. I never examined them before believing them too trivial to bother with.
Right now, I was beginning to think differently. The wounds were tiny and yet, reached deep, all the way down to the artery.

Who was making them? And with what?

I decided to stay quiet for a while.

We buried the monk. Countess’ casket was lowered into the crypt.
To give the occasion more solemnity she was carried through the garden doors, instead of the small spiral staircase.

Even on the day of the burial, her limbs stayed supple and I even imagined that the colour returned to her dead cheeks.

I was wondering if the stained glass windows in the chapel and bright sun were not deceiving me.

Many people came to pay their respects.
After the funeral, as it is custom, there was a meal served in the castle, as well as in the servants’ quarters.
Once the toast was drunk to her memory, some of the servants noticed that the old American was not present at the table. The crowd felt offended and then someone remembered that the old man didn’t pay his respects to the body. Even on this morning, the door and windows to his guardhouse were tightly shut.

Under the influence of wine tempers flared and soon some of the more hotheaded youths decided to beat up the old man there and then.
Before long, the drunken crowd under the leadership of those in possession of the loudest voices spilled into the garden and made their way to the guardhouse.

Old American was sitting on the steps, as usual.

Servants surrounded him, cussing and waving fists.

He sprang to his feet, glaring at the crowd and before anyone could react, jumped back into his guardhouse and shut the door.

“All right, you dog-faced American bastard!” shouted Herman, the young groom. He cleared the steps in one single leap and, with a powerful kick, forced the door open.

The crowd surged forward into the guardhouse and froze in shock.
It was empty.
The tiny room had only a bed, a desk and two chairs and there was nowhere else to search.

“Witchery” whispered suddenly frightened Herman, looking around.

Everyone felt scared and hurried from the guardhouse.

Broken door was put back in its place and servants made their way back from the garden.

Once they got to the common room, conversation started to buzz again.

Everyone was puzzled by the old man’s strange disappearance. There was no end to theories and suggestions. Many noticed that his room appeared hardly lived in at all, a thick blanked of dust covered his meagre furniture. Where did the old man sleep and where did he disappear to?

And soon the word ‘Witchery’ was repeated once again and the longer the discussion carried on, with throats moistened by wine and beer, the more weird the questions sounded and before long the word ‘Witchery’ was replaced with ‘Werewolf’.

A week had passed.

Your father spent his days in the crypt, sometimes refusing to come up even for meals.

There were no new deaths in either the village or up at the castle.

Broken door of the guardhouse still stood where the mob left it. It seems that the old man never returned.

Soon some kind of request from the city reached your father and he was forced to attend to it. He told me that he would be gone for three or four days.

The very next day after he left we had a new disaster.

After much questioning, I managed to piece together the chain of events: in the morning, after breakfast our senior coachman decided to take a nap and ordered Herman to water and clean the horses.

No one noticed that Herman didn’t come to the common room at lunchtime.
Once the meal was finished one of the maids remarked that she passed near the stables and heard the horses whinnying and beating their hoofs on the floor.

“What the devil is he doing in there?” grumbled the coachman and left the table to find out.

Soon the servants heard him call for help, and rushed to the stables.
In the second stall stood the coachman, whip in hand, and on the floor at his feet, face down, lay Herman.
The coachman said that when he got to the stables he saw Herman “sprawled asleep on a fresh pile of straw”:

“So I hit him with my whip and then saw that he was dead.”

Herman’s body was taken out.
The horses calmed down and only the one in whose stall the corpse was discovered was still trembling, as if frightened.
I came down and quietly lowered Herman’s shirt collar.
Two fresh wounds were staring me in the face!

I knew that Herman was dead, but for the servants’ benefit, I mechanically went through all the revival techniques.
Afterwards I ordered for the body to be undressed and examined it closely.

Nothing, only the strong muscles of a young Hercules.
Since no one objected, I performed the autopsy.
All of my former suspicions were confirmed; - young Hercules had very little blood in him.

I was barely finished when the news of a fresh disaster arrived from the village.

A young girl, minding a flock of geese was found dead. Her mother arrived with food for the child at noontime and discovered her lifeless body. For once, there was no doubt as to the cause of death; - the mother clearly saw green snake coiled on child’s chest. She screamed and the disgusting creature vanished in the grass.
I decided nonetheless to go down to the village and take a look for myself, using the excuse of financial help.

The girl, already dressed in her best clothes was lying on the table. I made up some excuse to send the mother away for a moment, and pulled aside the dead girl’s neckerchief.
The ominous wounds burned red on her neck.

I felt the cold hand of fear squeeze my spine. Am I going insane? Or is it really....”witchery”?
I could not sleep that night, pacing my room over and over again. I wasn’t tired and I had no appetite. I shuddered every time I heard footsteps and voices, anticipating the news of fresh calamity.
I didn’t have to wait long.

A young boy, cook’s helper was found dead. The cook sent him to the garden to pick a few apples. He never came back.....
Again, I went through all the required motions with the body, working mechanically, without thinking, my eyes seeing only the red marks on child’s neck.

At last, your father came back. He was told of all that happened, and to my shock, he reacted with cold indifference. He merely shrugged and said:

“The same as my late wife” and walked away to the crypt.

I was left alone again in the face of this terrifying mystery.

I don’t think that my nerves could have held out much longer, if, to my relief, Petro didn’t come back later that week. Initially we thought that he would stay with you in Nuremberg, but he changed his mind.
Though he was gone only a short time, he seems to have aged ,and even worse, his character altered as well, - once cheerful and friendly he became depressed and downright rude.

In the common room, servants told him of all our misfortunes, adding with strange optimism that the American fled the castle and that he was, after all, not an American but a plain werewolf.
One of the servants swore that he saw the old man disappear in front of the crypt’s doors, without opening them, while another added that he saw the American crawl down a side of the rock, like a bat, while the third told us that he saw the old man change into a black cat.

Others swore that they saw a dragon. Soon an argument started whether the dragon has a tail or huge ears. Some argued that dragon resembles a snake, while others swore that it is closer to a bird. After much arguing and shouting a decision was reached: A dragon looks like a dragon.
Petro called them all fools and left for his room.

XVIII
The next morning Petro spend a long time talking to your father, about what, - no one knew. Afterwards he walked out of the Count’s study and called for two workers ordering them to break down the old guardhouse.

They obeyed reluctantly.
First, the roof was pulled down and then the workers began to dismantle the walls. In the bright sunlight, it became even more apparent that the guardhouse wasn’t lived in at all.
Soon only the small stove and the chimney remained.

Petro ordered for the logs and planks to be sawn in half and loaded onto a cart. Stove and chimney were to be broken, without sparing the bricks.

When the mason hit the brick with his sledgehammer, your father and I stood nearby at the entrance to the crypt and we both saw huge black bat fly out of the chimney. Disoriented it flew towards us and I waved my cane at it. The bat turned around sharply and vanished behind castle wall.

“Damned bastard was nesting in the chimney,” grumbled the stonemason.

I understood then, where the bat that sat on your mother’s chest on the evening she died came from. Everyone knows that the bats are attracted to colour white and your mother’s dress was of that shade. And the fact that the bat was black instead of the more common grey was easily explained by the soot in the chimney.

Petro ordered for the wood from the guardhouse to be taken to the village church for coming winter, as a gift from Count. Broken bricks were carted to a far away field and discarded there.

Petro cleaned and swept the foundation of the guardhouse personally and was seem mumbling something to himself, while walking strangely in circles.
The next day a huge cross, made of aspen, arrived. Its bottom was sharpened to a point like a stake.

The cross was hammered into the ground in the middle of the platform where the guardhouse once stood. All around it, Petro diligently dug a small flowerbed and to the laughter and mockery of other servants planted garlic instead of flowers.

I asked your father the meaning of all this and he only waved his hand saying: “let him be”.

Soon afterwards, your father injured his leg, when going down the stairs in the chapel. The injury in itself was very light, but coupled with his daily vigils in the damp crypt and lack of proper nutrition he was forced to spend a few days in bed.

On the very first day, when I was sitting by his bedside, reading him the newspaper, a messenger boy knocked telling me that I was needed in the garden.
I called for Pepa to replace me at your father’s side and hurried downstairs. Everything was in chaos.

Pavel, the young gardener was found unconscious.
He was moaning softly, and I feared that he would fall silent forever at any moment.
I ordered for him to be carried to my cabinet and dismissed all servants except for my own assistant.

I bend down and saw the tiny, still bleeding wounds on Pavel’s neck.

I decided then, in order to revive him for at least a few minutes, to use those remedies that are forbidden by both science and the law.
I was ready to risk all in order to lift the veil of mystery.

I poured a strong preparation into his mouth and propped him up against a stack of pillows.
Finally, he opened his eyes. At the first signs of consciousness, I started questioning him.
He was incoherent in the beginning, but soon his voice grew stronger and he told me this:

It is a custom in the castle for the workers to have one hour’s rest after a midday meal.
Pavel found a quiet spot under acacia tree and lay down. He wasn’t sleepy at all and lay on his back staring at the clouds in the blue sky, thinking about his village. Soon he imagined that a single cloud, light and white covered the sun. He felt a pleasant cool breeze. He stared and the cloud was no longer a cloud at all, but a woman in light summer’s dress. She reminded him of the dead Countess. Her long flowing hair was dressed with flowers.
The boy tried to rise, but the woman motioned for him to be still and leaned over him, coming nearer and nearer until her face was so close and she laid one hand on his forehead and the other on his neck.

‘And I felt so wonderful, so good’ he smiled ‘and her hands were so tiny and cool. She was kneeling next to me looking straight into my eyes, and her own eyes....like green lakes, bottomless...then I felt heavy. My neck was painful...I couldn’t open my eyes....everything was spinning, melting away. And from somewhere far away I could hear the foreman calling: ‘Pavel! Pavel!’ I try to wake myself and cannot,” he continued “I feel as if a coffin’s lid is pressing on my chest, I cannot breathe and then I hear the voice again: ‘Pavel, I will sack you, you lazy bastard!’ I opened my eyes. And the Countess is here, leaning over me, only she is no longer gentle and kind as before...she is evil now, her face twisted in rage, eyes like glowing coals, red lips snarling. She stares at me without blinking and begins to move backward...backward and then she disappeared and...” Pavel’s voice grew quieter, his words less coherent and he lost consciousness again.

I didn’t dare to use narcotics for the second time, and what for? I knew enough.

I handed Pavel over to my assistant and hurried back to the garden, needing badly fresh air and solitude. I found my way to the edge of the precipice and stood there, thinking.
After a while, Petro joined me.
We were silent.

“It must be ‘his’ doing again” said Petro into the void.

“Whose? What are you talking about?” I was happy to find an ally in Petro.

“About the Old Devil. The American.”

“Listen, Petro, we cannot joke about these things anymore. Please tell me what you think.”

“Aha! I’d bet you’ve been wondering yourself...does Pavel have wounds on his neck?”

“Yes.”

“All right, I will tell you, listen closely...
As soon as the American arrived, on the first day Nettie, poor soul, she jumped on him....” began Petro, “and I felt my heart ache...a bad omen...strange that he arrived with a dead man and yet he wouldn’t cross himself...God forgive us...and his eyes, as red as blood and darting from side to side. I started watching him...I see something isn’t right. He doesn’t go to church or sets a foot into the chapel. Not even a toe in the door.
He lives alone in the guardhouse, doesn’t talk to anyone and there is no light in his window. And no smoke out of the chimney. Means he doesn’t light his stove either. I never saw him eat and yet he gets fatter and redder by the day. How could this be, Doctor?

And all around...deaths, doctors...and even you, you also say that the dead have no blood in them.
Then it came to me....he is a vampire, or ‘upir’ as we folks call them. It means that the dead man rises from his grave and sucks the blood of the living.
I started following him in the earnest...” Petro fell silent.

“And what did you discover?”

“That’s the trouble, nothing. Nothing, Doctor, Sir. Never caught him ‘red-handed’ as they say. He is crafty. A lot of little things are there, but not enough to prove anything, and if I talk, everyone would just laugh,” he added sadly.

“Only the sweet Countess, God rest her soul, she suspected something. It wasn’t for nothing that she send Carlo away, she demanded it. What kind of learning can a seven-year-old have?” he finished.

We were quiet again.

“I came back and the Countess is no more. Maybe it was ‘his’ doing also? You were here, what do you think?”

I chose not to answer.

“I know this from the old women”, continued Petro “that ‘it’ doesn’t like aspen stake and smell of garlic. With the stake, you could pin him to the ground and he would no longer get up and walk. And the garlic, it is as good as the holy frankincense, it banishes the unclean spirits away, back to their places. The old women say also that every ‘upir’ has his own place, quiet place, where he must lie a certain time as a dead man; - it is a must for him, an order set forth by God himself. And for the rest of the time he could turn himself into whatever he wishes: a bird or an animal. This is why he is an ‘upir’”, Petro carried on.

“I destroyed the hut, took it out for firewood, put the stake in, the garlic will flower soon and...he is still up to his mischief,” he added miserably.

“What can we do? Old Devil brought a corpse from America along with his cursed necklace, and the illness stuck to our dear Countess, isn’t there something here? What do you think, Doctor?”, he asked, searching my face with enquiring eyes.

“I don’t know”, I shrugged.

“This is what I think”, resumed Petro “I will put a mistletoe cross on top of the old Count’s coffin, they say it is good, and all around I will hang garlic, and you will tell the rest not to touch it, by the Count’s order. Tell them that only Petro will clean the crypt from now on, and that all are forbidden to go there. I fear that the rascals would take it away and spread some gossip with it! And we must do everything quietly so that ‘he’ wouldn’t get the wind of it.”

I promised.

Petro left to start his work on the cross.
While he was busy, two children died in the village and a seasonal worker was discovered dead in the castle.
Finally, he told me that everything was ready.

We waited for the sunset, when all the workers are busy tidying for the evening. Petro and I made our way down to the crypt. We did everything as planned, hung wreaths of garlic and placed the cross on top of the stone coffin, covering it with a black sheet, so it wouldn’t attract Count’s attention.

“Can you hear it moaning and howling?” , asked Petro.

I listened closely. He was right, something was howling, but it was hard to tell whether the sound was human, or merely made by wind in one of the air vents of the crypt.

Petro was very cheerful and sure of our success, while I had a reason to be very apprehensive about the future.

I was right. That very night Count’s personal footman was found dying. He was discovered in his bed, still clinging to life and his last words were: ‘Countess, cou...”

While the rest of the servants stood around the body, Petro came in the room and quietly lifted up the dead man’s head. Whatever he saw caused him to moan and sink, almost unconscious to the floor.
He was as white as a chalk.
Petro’s reaction was the last drop for many of the servants.
Most of them, instead of helping poor old man, ran out of the room, and within an hour, many of them resigned. By the evening, our seasonal workers also asked for their pay.

All songs and laughter died.
The servants spoke in whispers; we felt that if someone else were to die, we would be left alone. By the nightfall...


.......................

“Gentlemen”, interrupted Doctor ”no matter how fascinating all of these fairytales are, it is way past anyone’s bedtime. It is close to two in the morning. I’ll bet you that all of your vampires and werewolves had had enough partying and are probably passed out somewhere. As for me- I am off to bed”, he finished getting up.

“Well, we will have to wait till tomorrow then”, said one of the guests.

“Don’t worry, neither Karl Ivanovich, nor his fairytales will run away”, joked Doctor.

“Are you sure that they are only fairytales?”, asked surprised Georges.

“You are still a boy, Georges, if you doubt it for one moment”, remarked elderly guest.

XIX
It was a lively, fun filled day. Some of the guests chose to go out riding, while others took up boxing and wrestling.
No one brought up the topic of yesterday’s reading.

In the evening, tired and hungry, yet in a light-hearted mood the guests gathered in the dining hall.

After a sumptuous meal, Karl Ivanovich was called in to finish his “fairytales”.

Karl Ivanovich was unusually reluctant and spent a long time looking in his briefcase, sifting through papers.

“So, to what nonsense will you treat us to today?”, asked Doctor.

Karl Ivanovich brightened:

“Maybe I shouldn’t read today?”, he asked hopefully.

“Oh no, we want to know the end”, protested the guests.

“You left off where the servants fled the castle from fright”, reminded Georges.

Karl Ivanovich took a deep noisy breath and started to read:

By the nightfall, Petro announced that he would not leave the crypt’s door until he catches the ‘Cursed Old Devil’.
All was quiet.
Even in the morning, Petro refused to abandon his post. He only agreed to take a piece of bread from me.
The day went peacefully.
Another day had passed.
What was I to do with my stubborn sentinel? He is eating only bread and doesn’t sleep at all. How long can he last?
One more day came and went.
None of my reasoning or pleading seemed to help. He refused to budge.
I decided to leave the stubborn man for one more night, and in the morning force him to drink a glass of wine, laced with sleeping powder.

I mixed in the powder and sat in my room, waiting.
I heard the clock strike two.

Suddenly, Petro is standing in my doorway. He is white as a ghost, his hair is dishevelled and he is trembling from head to foot. He walks in unsteadily and sinks in my chair, sobbing. At first, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, his teeth chattered so much. Eventually I managed to understand a single phrase:

“Our dear Countess, she is walking, dead”.

“Calm down Petro, and tell me everything from the beginning. I have also long suspected that the Countess is the culprit”, I said deliberately keeping my tone calm.

“Our sweet Countess, that angel, she is a bloodsucker, a vampire....” he started to sob again.

I waited for him to calm down, quietly, without saying a word and once he stopped crying, he told me this:

On this night, as before, he sat on a bench opposite the entrance to the crypt, watching the doors. The key to the door lay securely in his pocket.
The moon was bright and he could see clearly.

“I saw”, he told me “that the Countess is standing by the door. I recognised her instantly, her beautiful white gown, loose hair and flowers and diamonds, just like she used to dress when she was going to a ball... for a moment I forgot that she was dead, and so I ran to her, happy. “Dear lady!” I cried and she looked at me with so much love and tenderness and she said: “Petro, why are you persecuting me?”

I remembered then that she was dead and I moved away. She followed:

“Leave me and I will never hurt you”, and her voice, oh so sweet, so beautiful.”

“God’s peace with you, Lady”, I say “you have died, and you were buried”.

“I died...and yet I live. Don’t hinder me,” she said, pushing me gently out of the way.

I try to make a sign of the cross over her, and she grabs my shoulders, and she is so strong, Doctor, stronger than a man. Her eyes are blazing and her face is like that of a stranger, I don’t know her at all. I try to pull away and cannot and she is pushing me backwards, backwards, I feel myself tumbling and then we came close to the garlic patch. I fell at the foot of the wooden gross, my weight pulling her with me. “She will maul me,” I think, but God was kind. She smelled the garlic, jumped up, moaned as though in pain and vanished. I lay there for a long time, too scared to move. Then I got up and came straight to you.
What are we to do? I don’t think I can put a stake through her heart. My arms wouldn’t let me”, he finished and I saw that the tears glittered once more in his eyes.

Petro and I sat up until early morning, trying to find the answer. We had to save the village and castle from the vampire and at the same time, for the sake of the Count and Carlo, spare our Countess’ name from the gossipers. We still haven’t agreed on anything, when a servant arrived and told me that the coachman’s son, a boy of about ten was found dead.

It was the last drop.
Soon, the servants one after the other came in, asking for their pay. Each had an identical reason:

“There is something evil here”.

We had to dismiss them. Soon we were left with two or three people who had nowhere to go.
Petro and I had no choice but to talk to your father.
Trying to be as tactful as possible, I slowly explained my findings to him.
To my surprise, he was calm. He only asked who else besides Petro and myself knows about “It”, and when I told him, no one, as far as I know, he seemed very content.
I suspect that he knew the horrible truth already. Maybe it was the reason why he spent so many days and nights in the crypt.

Your father ordered the immediate sale of all the livestock, horses and dogs, in other words, everything that will require care.
He had almost all the rooms in the castle locked and dismissed the remaining servants with a hefty bonus.
Afterwards, he hired labourers from the city to construct a new crypt as soon as was possible. It was made to hold two coffins only.
Not daring to invite a priest, at sunrise, when the clear air carries the sounds of the church bell from the village, we lifted your mother’s casket from the old crypt and took it to her new resting place, where we put it into the niche in the wall, sealing it forever.
Afterwards, your father made us swear upon our souls that we would stay silent about all that happened.
He made generous provisions for us both.
Petro asked your father for one favour only, - to be allowed to stay on at the castle, which he did for the next fifteen years.
What your father wanted to do with the castle or with you, he never told us.
Death took him unexpectedly.

We buried him in the new crypt, in the place that he chose for himself.
Petro took a vow to go to Rome and I returned home.
Now, Carlo, leave me. I broke my oath for you, leave me, let me rest”, he finished and hung his head.
I walked out of the room.
.....................................................................
Where I spent the night, I cannot remember. I walked and walked the empty streets.
When dawn broke I sat down with this letter.
It is my last resort to try and make sense of it all. I need to calm down and think logically, rationally.
What is this?
Maybe I am mad?
Maybe none of this happened and I’ve imagined it all, the old man, his story, everything. Maybe my sick brain, in its delirium came up with this?
Or maybe Doctor is real, but lost his mind because of old age?
Or maybe it is all the truth, but what truth? That I am a son of a vampire?
I must be mad.
But then, what is a better option? You decide.
Alf, I wish you were here, and, looking on as an outsider you would be a better judge.
I know it is madness to believe Doctor’s stories and yet...I do believe. Why? How can I not? I have no way of knowing where the truth ends and his madness begins.
Everything that he told me has a ring of truth to it. Dear God, and Rita? I forgot about her completely.
What will happen to her? Can I, in all honesty, marry her now? Do I have a right of making her a part of my misfortune?
No, I must send her away.
But how? What can I tell her? It will humiliate, dishonour her. I cannot do that.
What must I do, Alf? Where is the solution?
Please come, I need your help.


Eighteenth letter.

Three days had passed since I mailed you my last letter, Alf. I am still in the city, and I could not bring myself to face Rita. If you were here, we could have come up with a solution, and everything would have been easier. Do you know that I have a wonderful forest house here, it is quite close to the village, and though it lies at the foot of the castle’s rock, one cannot reach it except by making a long detour?
Don’t you think that such a place could make an ideal retreat for a scientist, such as yourself?
No one will disturb you there. I will strictly forbid the servants from setting a foot in the forest house and will arrange for a peaceful horse to be left at your disposal.
What do you think?
You can spend whole days digging in your books, I will also leave you in peace, I will only write to you. The knowledge that you are here will give me moral support.
Alf, you are the closest thing to family that I have.
Do come.

Nineteenth letter.

I was so horrified by Doctor’s tale that I forgot the very reason that had brought me to his door. And yet I did not even know what the true horror was until I went back to him today.
Everything that happened before is a trifle, comparing to this.
Let me tell you.
Today, when I arrived at old man’s house I told him the reason that I came to see him for,- that Rita, my fiancé, isn’t, as much as sick, as she is seized with unusual melancholy and weakness.
He jumped from his chair as if something had stung him:

“Your fiancé is sick, she is listless, pale, and does she have a wound on her neck?”- he screamed at me.

I felt my legs grow weak. I couldn’t get a single word out.

“Answer me! Has she a wound? Why did you tell me that you never touched your parent’s coffins? Liar! You’ve released ‘it’”, the old man screamed in my face, and grabbed my shoulders shaking me. I had no idea he had so much strength.
Suddenly I came to my senses:

“Doctor, wait a minute, since my return no one had died at the castle. No one has even fallen ill.”, I mumbled finally.

“And the village?”

“No deaths. I swear to you I never found new crypt, let alone opened it”, I replied, trying to sound as grave as I could.

Doctor calmed down a little and murmured to himself:

“Thank God, maybe I am wrong. Maybe you are right and our climate is not suited to a southern girl, like your Rita. Go home. In three days time I will follow you.

Introduce me to her as an old family friend. Only arrange for me to see her neck”.

“It wouldn’t be hard, Doctor. Rita loves open dresses. She knows that her neck is magnificent.”

Once I got back to my room, I remembered the incident with the pink carnelian pin.

What if?
Alf, I fear to write this down, but what if all of this is true? Save us, oh God.
And I am such a fool, to be sitting here, while Rita may be in danger back home. Do come, Alf.
Yours
D.


Twentieth Letter.

I have no words with which to express my gratitude. You will come. Thank God, I am no longer afraid.
I have some good news. Everything here is calm and well. Though Rita is still pale and weak, she no longer complains about her health.
Doctor kept his word and arrived at the castle.
Rita was sweet and charming to him.
While making small talk, he skilfully asked her how she is feeling, whether she is sleeping well, whether she feels heaviness on her chest or has breathing trouble or if she has strange dreams.
Her answers were calm and normal.
The only trouble is that I was unable to get him to see her neck. She started to wear lace neckerchiefs or strange, fantastical bows and ribbons.

When I asked her to take it off and let me see her beautiful neck, she sighed and said sadly:

“I could never afford such things before, let me wear them now”

What can I do then?
When I asked her whether her wound had healed, she nervously shrugged her shoulders and answered reluctantly:

“Of course, it was nothing”.

She postponed our wedding.
Forest house is ready for you. Goodbye and safe travel.
Yours,
D


The letters are finished.
The guests are quiet, and most don’t want to admit that they are hiding an uneasy feeling.

What is the meaning of this?

“Is there no more letters, Karl Ivanovich?” asked Harry “no explanation?”

“This bundle has no more letters, Sir” replied the librarian.

“Gentlemen, what do you think? Is it a hoax, a record of one man’s descent into madness? Or is it an actual account of real events?” asked one of the guests.

“Judging by the description of the castle, and several other, smaller details, it seems to be your castle, Harry. Are we to believe that once it was inhabited by vampires?”

Harry is silent.

“And why not? Maybe it is still inhabited, if you believe in their existence!” mockingly replied one of the guests in Harry’s place.

“How dare you! ‘If you believe in their existence’ who do you take me for, Sir!”

And a fight is about to break out.

Captain Wright, knowing the hot temper of both men, spoke quickly:

“Wait a minute. I’ve never visited the crypt, but James did. And Harry as well, if I am not mistaken. Did you happen to see a large stone coffin with in inscription ‘Returned from America’?”

“No, I haven’t” replied Harry “but we do have a church entry confirming that the body of an old Count was brought from America and buried in the family crypt”.

“Well, I bet you that he wasn’t the only aristocrat brought back home for a burial. It is quite common these days”, added Doctor.

“It is a silly idea to think that this castle is the one described in the letters. Not a single letter mentions the name of the castle. And the signature D, could mean anything. And, finally, the missing coffin is the best confirmation of you can have”, finished Doctor.

“Pity there is no more letters, otherwise, we could have found a key to this mystery”, said Harry softly.

Doctor wasn’t giving up:

“What nonsense. I personally see no mystery. As far as I am concerned, the letters are a clever trick to get your best friend to come to your wedding. It was all one big joke, I bet”.

“It doesn’t sound like a joke”, remarked James.

“So what do you suggest? That we must believe in existence of vampires, even in the times long past? No thank you, Sir” laughed Doctor, bowing theatrically in James’ direction.

“Goodnight, gentlemen. I wish for each and every one of you to encounter a blood sucking countess in your dreams. As for me, I am off to bed”, said Doctor and gathering up a pile of today’s newspapers left for his room.

Part 2

I done with him
There are others waiting
To live
I need blood.

(Vampire bride)


I

Time had passed.
The evenings grew dark.
It’s been a while since Harry, his friends and guests left the Hunting Lodge and moved into the castle.

No expenses were spared in transforming it. In the place of dust and cobwebs, windows and doors were hung with expensive lace curtains and silk drapes.
Parquet floor in the reception room and the great hallway shone like a mirror, and several times younger guests rehearsed their waltz steps with an imaginary lady in their arms.
In other rooms, the floor vanished entirely beneath luxurious eastern carpets.

Desks, tables and shelves were filled with expensive and beautiful objects, most of them absolutely without any function, except to form a necessary part of a wealthy household.
Flowers and indoor plants brightened the rooms.

Electricity lit up the entire building, from the basement to the attic. Everything was filled with light and spoke of comfort and joy of living.

Even the old family portraits, with their new coats of varnish, seemed to come to life and look a little more cheerfully out of their frames. Beautiful lady in the Catherine de Medici collar was smiling from the wall as if alive and about to join the youngsters in their dance practice.

Expensive grand piano, new billiard table and variety of games and amusements filled the day.

Piles of new books and magazines from every corner of the world lay unopened.

Life, full of fun and void of worries sprung like a fountain. Every night the castle was ablaze with light and the wines were flowing like a river.
Guests, who had fled before, returned.
Viscount Reno’s death was forgotten. Unpleasant aftertaste, left by the letters of mysterious D was relegated into the realm of the fairytales and no longer remembered.
Everybody was in high spirits.

Even Captain Wright seems to have left his bad mood back at the Hunting Lodge. On the contrary, he proved himself a good conversationalist and an interesting storyteller. His hunting stories and adventures with women had everyone spellbound.

Harry was also very cheerful, promising many new amusements.

Everybody was taken with an idea of hosting a masked ball.
All that was needed was a permission of the representatives of the city and neighbours, which didn’t pose any difficulties, since Harry promised to make return visits after the ball and later invite the authorities to an even bigger housewarming party.

The idea of the masked ball injected new life into Harry’s guests.
Costumes were discussed and tailors called in. Everyday post and telegraph brought new requests and orders.

It was agreed that the ball would have an Indian theme. Of course, no one but Harry could be the Rajah, an Indian prince.
Doctor wanted to dress up as a Brahmin, the ‘twice born’, and demanded a thick gold cord as a mark of his status.
James agreed to portray one of the heroes of the Ramayana.

“And Captain Wright?” asked Georges.

“I think that he would make a very good Thugee, the worshipper of goddess Bhowani “, said Doctor.

Most of the guests have never heard the name of Bhowani before, and asked questions. Bhowani, or Kali is a consort of Lord Shiva who is a third member of the Hindu trinity (trimutri). Shiva is a destroyer god and the altars dedicated to his wife must always be steaming with human blood. A secret underground sect of Thugees or the stranglers is tasked with finding the victims.

“Come on! A Goddess, whose altars are steaming with human blood? This is pure nonsense. You are fooling us!” someone laughed.

“Yes, but many paid with their heads for this nonsense” replied Doctor seriously “you can ask Captain Wright. He and Jamie can tall you quite a story”

“Captain Wright, you had an adventure that nearly cost you your life and you are keeping it from us?”

“All right, I am game”, replied Wright, “only one condition. Don’t ask me what it was. A dream, hypnosis, hallucination? I don’t know myself”

“I know. It was the truth” interrupted James.

Wright began his story:

Captain Wright’s story.

In the early part of the year ** when our division was stationed near Delhi- as you can see the setting is in India- we were quartered in an old abandoned temple belonging to a local deity, surrounded by a lush garden.
The garden itself was wonderful, filled with welcome shade and exotic flowers. Tropical trees, palms and cinares, overgrown with creeping wines, formed a part of a small jungle where snakes and monkeys lived undisturbed by our presence.

Our colonel lived in a small bungalow and the officers were stationed in the temple itself. We had no grounds to complain.

Walls of thick stone kept out the heat and narrow windows admitted enough of cool air.

Soft mattresses and mosquito nets promised peaceful evenings.
Rich table and plentiful, excellent wines completed our comforts.

And yet we were unhappy. Boredom, all pervading boredom was getting our spirits down.

Complete lack of entertainment, books, and more importantly- women was depressing us.

Delhi, with its pleasures was close, but because of the uncertain situation at the time, it was all but impossible to get there. Leave was granted very reluctantly, only with our commander’s personal permission, and for a short time.
We were bored.

Uncommon heat, combined with over drinking and unlimited gambling frayed our nerves.
Tall tales, told by our comrades reached such heights that one was left with no choice but to shut up and listen.
Just as our boredom was about to reach an unbearable point we were visited by one of the members of the ‘old guard’, a former officer, now an owner of a prosperous plantation and a son-in-law to a local prince.

He came to our commander on some sort of business, but the officers liked his company so much, they begged him to stay on for one more day and share a friendly dinner, to which he finally agreed.
By the nightfall, main room of the temple was ready for a feast.

Even if the table wasn’t breaking under the weight of silverware and crystal, the magical atmosphere made up for the lack of fancy cutlery.
The walls were decorated with paintings of most fantastical creatures. Giant elephants, striped tigers, writhing green serpents and, among them, beautiful women, their bodies in the most erotic of poses, surrounded by tropical plants and flowers, most of them lotuses.

The paint was bright and colours fresh and in the uneven light of the candles the images seemed to shimmer and come alive.

The illusion of movement was heightened by the fact that some of them were painted on flat walls, while others were hiding in the niches or stood out on the pillars that were supporting the temple roof.
Close to the northern wall stood empty pedestal, once occupied by a statue of a god.

The feast, started with liberal drinking, was now nearing its end.
Our guest, who spent most of it busying himself with pates, marinades and wines, suddenly paused and for the first time looked up at the temple walls.
He paled and remained silent for a moment.

“Colonel, have any of your men ever gone missing?”

The question seemed odd.

“We have lost three people. Two were carried away by the tigers, and the third, we think, may have drowned”, replied Colonel.

“This is merciful”, - said our guest softly, as if speaking to himself.

The dinner, or should I say, bacchanalia carried on. Soon the wine loosened everyone’s tongue, including our guest’s.

“Gentlemen, have you any idea where we are feasting?” he asked suddenly.

“This is the temple of the Goddess Bhowani” he continued “the most bloodthirsty goddess of India. She is most beautiful woman that anyone could imagine, and yet her altar must always be covered with steaming blood, whether this blood belongs to a foreigner or her own devotee is of no difference. Not so long ago these walls bore witness to monstrous orgies. While the sacrificed victim lay bleeding at the feet of the goddess, devadasis, the temple maidens, with naked bodies covered only with lotus flowers and their own long hair, formed a human wreath around the pedestal.
They would move very slowly, shifting and twisting, winding and unwinding their live chain of naked flesh. Soft, passionate melody, played by unseen hand guided them. The music would not drown out the moans of the victim, instead it accompanied them, amid the intoxicating blue-grey clouds if incense.
Soon the victim would let out his last breath, and the tempo of the music would increase triumphantly. Devadasis dance becomes wild and uncontrollable. The lights go out, everything is swallowed by chaos”.

Our guest was speaking softly, while looking with blank eyes at some unseen point far away, as if completely unaware of our presence.
Suddenly he grew silent.
For a moment no one spoke, as if the ghosts of the past victims were present among us.

But then the spell was broken and our guest was assailed with questions:

“How do you know that this is Bhowani temple? Were you present at her mysteries?” And so on.

Our guest reached for a glass of Seltzer water and drank deeply. He seemed to sober up almost instantly, and, with a forced smile, he answered everyone at once:

“Gentlemen, do remember that after your wonderful wine, all that is left to do is to sing the old ditty ‘Lie, lie, but know your measure’”.

The hall echoed with robust laughter.

The conversation turned to the cult of Bhowani. Another member of India’s ‘old guard’ confirmed the existence of the cult:

“All I know is that the main ceremonies always take place beneath the temple, and the brotherhood of Thugees or the stranglers as they are also known, is entrusted with procurement of victims. I also heard of enormous underground prisons where spare victims are kept for months on end. And, once the need arises they are taken out and slain at the feet of the goddess”

“Yes, all of India’s temples have subterranean chambers, known only to the priests, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them served as prisons,” added one of the officers.

“Who cares for the underground chambers, or for the bloody goddess, I wouldn’t mind making an acquaintance with two dozens devadasis, especially if they are wearing only lotus flowers!” said young Warrant Officer.

“You can always get the goods, if you have the gold,” observed one of the older guests.

“Well, Captain Wright, you are the wealthiest man here, how much would you be prepared to pay?” shouted drunken Warrant Officer.

I pulled out a small bag, filled with gold coins and waving it in the air, laughed: “For a couple of devadasis, any other bids, gentlemen?”

The sight of money brought cards to mind, the table was cleared and the gambling began.

James and I declined and left for the garden. Standing under the temple’s ancient colonnade, we waited for a servant to bring us cigars, and both lit up.

“Captain, there is something odd about these cigars”, remarked James.

He is right. I can taste the pleasant aroma. And strangely, after each drag, I feel the blood rush to my head, and I know that I want something, but what, I cannot tell... Women? Passion? Adventure? I don’t know myself. I could feel my own pulse echo in my ears.

James and I are sitting in deep comfortable chairs; in front of us is an impenetrable wall of trees and vegetation. I could sense that someone or something is watching me.
“Maybe it’s a tiger”, a though flashes through my mind and, after a moment, leaves. There is a movement and a man appears in front of us. He is skeletally thin, with bronze skin stretched over his gaunt frame, his entire wardrobe consisting of a single cotton cloth wound around his hips. His face is stony, expressionless and only his dark eyes are filled with strange glinting fire, as if his entire life force resides in them.

“Wallet, Devadasis, secret” he whispers, leaning close to me. Nonetheless James hears him, jumps from his chair and grabbing my arm says: “Let’s go”

In an instant, my wallet exchanges hands with the tempter. He puts his finger to his lips and motions for us to follow.
We dive into the narrow opening between the temple wall and the undergrowth surrounding it and enter the temple through a side passage. Form here we could hear muffled voices of our friends and in the bad light we guess that we are behind the inner colonnade of the temple.
Our guide presses invisible lever and the trunk of the carved elephant lifts silently. Behind it is a dark space and steep staircase that leads downwards. The steps wind lower and lower. We are in a dark corridor. Somewhere far away we could see a tiny glimmer of light.

“Quiet” whispers our guide and we move as silently as ghosts.

“Wait”, he murmurs again and vanishes. We are alone. The air of the underground room is filled with pleasant smell of incense and I feel my head begin to spin.
The time drags on and we grow impatient. And the tiny light ahead seems to beckon us.

“Straight ahead” I say and we move forward. The passageway seems endless, but eventually we find ourselves in a dark hallway. It is so large that no matter how hard we peer into the darkness, we cannot see its walls; the endless forest of dark granite pillars, decorated with gold ornament stretches in front of us.
We move on and stop before a large velvet drape, its gold material solid as a wall. Above our heads, we see a circular opening in the fabric, the light that we saw in the passage is streaming through it, barely lighting the hallway.

“Go on!” we push past the drape and stand blinded.
The walls of the new room are made of rose-coloured carnelian, and from them, or rather through them amber and pink light travels in waves. Blue clouds of ether drift down from the ceiling and mixing in with light from the walls give the room magical appearance.
I feel as if I am dreaming. Beneath our feet, the petals of freshly picked white lotus flowers lie scattered on a silk carpet.

In front of us is a low pedestal and standing on it we see a woman of otherworldly beauty.
She is completely nude.
Her rich black hair is pulled high on her head and divided into four thick braids. The first two frame her face with the ends resting on her high breasts; the other two hang down her back. On her head is a jewelled crown and her necklace and a low belt slung across her hips are also studded with precious gems.
Emerald and sapphire serpents encircle her calves, with their heads resting on her feet.
She holds a sky blue lotus in her hand.
Her jewels glitter and sparkle and yet they seem dead when compared to her huge black eyes. Red lips are closed, and her entire body and face are so perfect, so faultlessly pure.

“Who are you, beautiful one? Whether you are an angel or a demon, we are yours” and under the influence of drink and drugs we drop to our knees.
She smiled and came closer, as if gliding across the floor. She lifted her hand and touched each one of us on the left shoulder with her blue lotus.
At that same moment, we both lost consciousness.

We were brought back by the hellish cacophony of howls, screams and yelps. We were back in the pillared hall, and when I tried to move, I realised that I was bound. All around us wild-haired half naked Thugees, with faces contorted by religious ecstasy jumped and leaped in their savage dance. Surrounded by clouds of smoke they seemed to me to have come straight out of the pits of hell.

“Goddess is defiled, she needs to be washed with the blood of the unclean!”, I could barely make out these words amid the howls and screams.
We are lifted and dragged somewhere. Everything is in total darkness.
Soon we see the flickering of torches in the distance, the light grows brighter and we are able to see ahead, but what we see paralyzes us with horror.
Before our eyes stands the dreaded goddess Bhowani...there is no doubt of her identity.

Roughly hewn she-idol of dark marble, her black throat encircled by a necklace of human skulls, her belt is decorated with tassels of human arms and legs. The limbs are white, brown and black, all of them small, probably belonging to women and children. And all of them are fresh without even a slightest hint of decomposition.
Underneath the giant foot of the goddess I see a severed head, which I recognise as the head of our missing soldier, the one that we thought was carried away by a tiger. Twitching slightly, his mutilated body is still bleeding, with thin red trickle dripping onto the pedestal of the bloodthirsty idol.

“Kill them! Kill them!” we hear the shouts all around us and in a moment we are stripped naked.
Death is inevitable.
But what death? Shameful and inglorious at the feet of the revolting idol, by the knife of a fanatic!
Fate.
We are lying side by side. I chew on my long- dead cigar and Jamie is silent.
Tall thin Brahmin approaches us. His forehead is encircled by a gold band; his white loose robes are gathered at the waist and tied with a thick woven cord. In his hands he carries a broads sacrificial dagger.

I close my eyes.
Suddenly everything grows deathly quiet. The priest, with his hand clutching the blade raised above his head is frozen, his face blank in surprise. A moment later the knife falls, it’s metal ringing on the marble floor. The priest falls to his knees, followed by the rest.

“Chosen, they are chosen” someone cries and we are lifted from the floor. Someone cuts our binds and wraps us in the delicate silk robes, and the crowd carries us away. We find ourselves on a soft bed, sprinkled with perfume and freshly cut flowers, surrounded by thick clouds of aromatic incense.
Somewhere invisible hands play music.
Before our eyes is the beautiful lady that we saw in the room with carnelian walls, only now, in the flickering of the lamps we realise that she isn’t a living woman, but a statue.
All around her, we see throngs of dancing devadasis. Their wrists and ankles are adorned with bangles that chime melodiously as they dance. They are dressed in thin brightly coloured gauze robes that enhance the appearance of nudity.

They dance, coming closer and closer, offering us amber encrusted cups with an unfamiliar drink. It is so refreshing, so pleasant. “Maybe it is Ambrosia” a thought rushes through my head. They circle us, caressing us, pulling us into their dance. Someone offers me wine again and I feel a girl kissing me...

“Captain, Sir!”
I open my eyes and see the figure of the dispatcher.

“Captain, an urgent order from the commander”, he says, handing me an envelope.

Still unsure, I sit up in my bed.

The sun is bright, I am in my bedroom. Across the room, I see James’ hammock, he is sleeping peacefully. I tear open the envelope. Inside is an order to move within few hours.
Finally I realise that is was all a dream.

I shake my friend awake:

“James, get up, we have to leave”.

James jumps up, looking at me with total surprise.

“Damn it, it was just a dream”, he says finally “those cigars yesterday must have had opium in them and played quite a trick on me!”
I question him and James begins to tell me “my” dream. And when I interrupt him in the middle and continue his tale, he stares open mouthed and asks me how I can possibly know “his” dream!

Little by little, we realise that we both saw an identical dream, down to the minute details.
How is this possible?

I hastily pass the order unto my subordinate and together with James; we rush to inspect the wall of the temple, looking for the hidden passage. But the wall is completely smooth without as much as a slight crack.

Puzzled, we went inside the temple and searched behind the row of pillars. Nothing.

“And your wallet, Captain?” asks James.

I search in my pockets and on the table and cannot find it. Finally, I ask the batman and he hands me my empty wallet that was discovered in the dinning hall by one of the servants.
Soon we heard the call to move and were forced to leave the temple, which had become quite a mystery to us both.

Captain Wright fell silent.

“And that’s all?” asked one of the guests, disappointed.

“Almost” replied Wright “It was only one month later when we were both swimming in the sea, that James and I saw that we both had this...” Wright took off his jacket and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt.

Glowing tattoo of a lotus flower stood out brightly against the pale skin of Wright’s left shoulder.

The breathtaking cobalt colour of the flower was faultless.

“Are you playing some kind of a trick on us, Captain?” asked one of the elderly guests.

“Remember my condition? Don’t ask for explanation.” Wright cut off dryly, stopping any further questions

II
The day of the masked ball is finally here.

Everybody has been up since dawn. Both guests and servants have their hands full with preparations.

Though the full moon promises for a bright night, the garden is festooned with strings of lights and the pathways are lit with little flat lamps. The hallways, already bright and festive, are hung with green wreaths. Dark oak leaves contrast beautifully with bright electric light.

Many of the rooms have indoor plants, and little cosy spots are arranged beneath palms and magnolia trees. The buffet table threatens to collapse under the weight of the exquisite delicacies and wines.

Little kiosks, shaped like pagodas, with champagne, fruit and cool drinks are scattered everywhere.

Huge American flag, with its stars embroidered in real gold thread is suspended above the main ladies’ buffet.

On Harry’s orders, the winter garden is left in semidarkness and all the windows are left wide open to provide a welcome cool breeze.

Smith and Miller are flying up and down the stairs with the latest orders for the servants and musicians.

The kitchens are full of waiters, cooks and helpers.

The guests are also agitated; everyone is occupied with his costume. One of the men complains that his outfit has failed to arrive; the other has found out that his boots are way to narrow. Doctor Weiss is grumbling that his golden cord of the “twice born” isn’t sufficiently thick.

Barbers and tailors are buried under a heap of requests; they are being almost torn limb from limb by demanding guests.

Harry is also worried. He is trying on his Rajah outfit. Wright is sitting in front of him in a high chair smoking a cigar while James is busy helping Harry adjust his costume:

“Perfect, you look like a real Rajah. All that is missing right now is about a dozen Nautch girls!” he exclaims.

“I think you could do with a bit more diamonds and coloured stones on your jacket and turban”, disagreed Wright

“You’re right,” agreed Harry “But where can I get them, at this hour?”

“Wait a minute, Harry, you haven’t had the chance to look in that jewel box, the one that you’ve found inside the wardrobe, remember? The one we saw on our first day in the Hunting Lodge?” asked James “It felt quite heavy and I’d bet you the jewellery is still inside”

“You’re right, Jamie, call for Smith”.

James left the room to get Smith and half an hour later, the jewel box is in Harry’s hands. It is a great testament to the carver’s craft, with its delicate mother of pearl birds and trees. But Harry has no time to admire the artist’s skill; he turns the box impatiently, trying to open it. He can find no visible lock and the lid refuses to budge:

“It’s a pity I haven’t though about it earlier and called in a master locksmith,” he says with regret.

“Not that the locksmith would have been much help, since there is no sign of the lock itself,” adds Wright, taking the box from Harry.

“Wait, let me try!” interrupts James.

He takes the box, turns it on the side, presses on something and the lid springs open with a melodious sound.

Both Harry and Wright were too exited to notice the ease with which James opened the lid, and neither though of asking him how he knew the secret.

James himself only frowned slightly, which, with him, was a sure sign of a troubling thought.

Inside the box, several removable compartments are filled with jewellery of fine antique workmanship; rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces, all neatly resting in individual velvet lined depressions

One of the middle compartments is bare and appears to have been once occupied by a necklace or beads. All that is left is a deep groove with circular indentations. The bottom tray is also empty. It is hard to tell what was kept there. Possibly a large ladies’ comb. In its place lies a thin notebook, filled with writing in delicate, neat hand.
Friends flip through it unable to understand the language.

“Looks Italian,” decides James.

“I will give it to Karl Ivanovich. Maybe he can make something of it, but right now, let’s choose the jewellery,” says Harry impatiently, shoving the notebook back in its compartment.

The jewels are selected and Rajah’s costume is finally complete, leaving Harry looking like a living glittering idol.

III
It is close to midnight. The ball is a success. Rooms are overcrowded with guests, dressed in expensive and interesting costumes.
Everything is drowning in a sea of lace, ribbons and diamonds.

In one corner of the room, a proud Venetian dogeress in a woven pearl cap has arrived with a blue costumed page in tow, whose sole task is to carry her enormous train.
She is competing with a Spanish noblewoman, whose black lace is offset by a huge blood-red fan.

Nearby tiny, delicate Japanese lady in kimono embroidered with birds and flowers is talking to the Turkish odalisque in diaphanous trousers and transparent veil.

There is no counting of “Duchesses”, “Countesses” or folk dresses of Poland, Romania and even China!

It seems as if every nation under the sun has sent its most beautiful representative to this feast.
Most of the men had opted to wear a domino.

The band is playing and dances follow one another without a pause.

Harry, though masked, is instantly recognised by his expensive Rajah costume. He is friendly and attentive to everyone.
Little buffet pagodas, stocked with fruit, wine and champagne could hardly keep up with thirsty guests.
Little cosy spots, with welcome privacy provided by shady leaves of tropical plants and lit only with a tiny glow of a pink or a pale blue light, hide happy couples.

James, Wright and even Doctor Weiss are flirting shamelessly. Each has managed to find a lady to his taste.

A little after midnight the host enters the main room, holding the hand of an unknown lady.

The crowd murmurs its approval. There is hardly a better-looking couple here.
But who is she?
Nobody has seen her before, and once seen, she is impossible to forget.

She is stunning. Tall and slim with finely shaped head, crowned with thick dark curls held high by a large jewelled comb. The ends of fine Venetian lace are tucked under it, covering the lower half of her face instead of a mask.

Her eyes, black and passionate, survey the room. Underneath the lace, one could make out her even features and sensual, red mouth with perfect white teeth.
She is dressed in a pale blue silk dress. The fabric looks antique and the cut is Medieval. Her neck is adorned with a string of pale pink corals. At her waist, she wears a corsage of red roses. Her fingers sparkle with expensive rings.
She walks across the room with the confidence of the owner of the entire castle, barely acknowledging bows and greetings. There is something powerful and commanding in her eyes.

Harry is completely smitten by his lady. He walks with her through all the dancing rooms and stops next to the main buffet. She declines his every polite offer with slight movement of her head.
Harry, begging her to take a sip of champagne takes her hand.

“My God, you have such cold hands! Are you cold?” he says and hastily orders to light the fireplace in his private study. Harry’s study, bedroom and bathroom are the only rooms closed to the public on this floor.
The music changes to a lively waltz.
Harry dances with his lady. She glides across the floor with effortless perfection, surrendering to his embrace.

“Enough” she whispers finally and Harry immediately stops.

Across the room, James is flirting shamelessly with a small girl dressed in a yellow-skirted Spanish costume. He looks up for a moment, meeting the eyes of the woman in the blue dress.

He makes a surprised sound and the fan that he playfully took from his lady, falls noisily at her feet. Not bothering to pick it up, James barely mumbles an apology and rushes across the ballroom, loosing the sight of Harry and his lady amid the dancing couples.

He is almost running, when Wright’s hand stops him:

“Jamie, what’s the matter with you, you look pale as a ghost?”

James pulls himself free:

“It’s her. I’ve recognised her...let go of me”

“Not until you tell me what’s the matter. Who are you talking about?” orders Wright.

“The girl in the blue dress, the one we saw at the Hunting Lodge”

It is Wright’s turn to pale:

“Where is she?”

James could barely stand still:

“With Harry. We must warn him. I feel it in my bones that something bad is about to happen”.

“You are right. We must find them, but where could they have gone?”

Wright and James inspect the ballrooms, bumping the dancers; they rudely interrupt lovers hiding in the garden pavilions. They are almost ready to go outside when Wright has a presence of mind to ask Harry’s personal butler if he knows where the master is:

“Mr Cardie ordered for a fireplace to be light in his cabinet. I expect him to be there, gentlemen,” answers Sabo

“Let’s go”

IV
In the meantime, Harry finished waltz and, taking his lady’s hand guided her towards his private rooms:

“I will warm you up” he whispers in her ear “I’ve got the fireplace going and no one will disturb us there”.

He is hoping to be left alone with his lady, and get her to remove her lace mask.

A footman moved silently, opening the doors before them.

“I am about to see her next to me” though Harry “The mirror is right opposite the door”

He looks up, astonished. Tall mirror reflects only his figure. There is no one next to him and yet, he could clearly see the footman closing the door in the background.

Before Harry could regain his senses, his companion pulls him onto a low couch. She rests her elbow on a small pillow as if she had been in this room many times, and with a single graceful movement, pulls out carnelian pin and throws back the lace from her face.

She is even more beautiful than Harry expected.

He forgets about everything, sliding off to the floor, laying his head on the armrest of the couch. The lady bends over him and Harry smells overwhelming scent of lavender, his thoughts become hazy and he feels himself slipping into a sweet tired stupor. His eyes close involuntarily.
He could still sense, as if in a dream, cold hard sharp nailed fingers struggling with the collar of his costume...

Suddenly the door opens with a crash and Wright and James appear in the room, shoving the protesting footman aside.

The woman lifts up her head and looks up at them with such pure hatred that they stop in their tracks.

She gets up and Harry slumps, unconscious to the floor.

Wright rushes at her but it is too late. In an instant, she is gone behind the window drape.

Without calling for help, friends turn on the lights and search Harry’s bedroom and bathroom. Both rooms are empty.
All the doors and windows are locked and no one could have escaped.

Wright and James lift unconscious Harry back onto the couch and after a while, he comes around. His first question is about the woman. Wright tries to convince him that he made a mistake and that he stale air in the ballroom must have made him ill.

“Enough. I remember her clearly. Here is a pillow on which she rested her elbow; you see the mark is still there....” Harry stops, bends down suddenly and picks something up from the floor. It is a small golden pin, tipped with carnelian. Harry holds it up triumphantly:

“And this? Are you still denying her existence? And what’s your purpose?” he says, his eyes suddenly flaring up with jealousy.

“Damn it, Harry, anything but this!” exclaims Wright.

“One thing is puzzling me” continued Harry, a little calmer “when we came into the room, I couldn’t see her in the mirror, though she was right next to me”

James gave Wright a worried look.

“We will have a time to think it all through, but right now it is impolite to leave our guest alone, don’t you think?” remarks Wright sensibly.
Harry obediently gets up and all three leave the study.

James takes Wright’s elbow and guides him out of the room, whispering:

“I don’t like this...there is something strange going on here...all I know is that I’ve seen her somewhere before, some place other than the Hunting Lodge, but where?”
“And have you noticed something...” continues James after thinking for a moment, “Both ends of Harry’s bed are decorated with the sign of the pentagram. Have you seen it?”

“Pentagram? Are you talking about that Cabbalistic symbol of a five pointed star, the one that was used in the Middle Ages to keep the evil spirits at bay?”

“The same one” confirms James “I couldn’t believe that Harry could have ordered for them to be made. I examined the headboard closely and they are definitely not a part of original design, but added later”

Wright calmly shrugs his shoulders:

“There is nothing strange about it, for some reason the pentagram was a favourite with the previous owner of the place. I’ve seen it on many things that Harry inherited. For example, there is a thin gold chain with a diamond-studded pentagram. Magnificent craftsmanship. Harry liked it so much that he told me he was going to wear it himself.”

“Captain, I need to speak with you as soon as the ball is over”,

“All right, as soon as we have seen our guests off. Speaking of which, here is your Spanish girl”

“Oh, to hell with her, I’ve got other things on my mind,” grumbles James.

The celebration reigns uninterrupted in crowded rooms. Guests carry on drinking, dancing and exchanging pleasantries. Only the host seems to have grown colder. He drifts from room to room ignoring the smiles and passionate glances generously given to him by the beautiful and not so beautiful women.

Mysterious lady in the blue dress vanished as suddenly as she appeared, taking with her the host’s happy mood.

James also seems to have lost his desire to flirt.

Though he is still walking arm in arm with his lady, and paying compliments, it is clear that his thoughts are elsewhere and something is troubling him.

The “Spanish Lady” is at her wits’ end trying to recapture James’ attention, and suggests a walk outside.

They descend into beautifully light garden. The night is crisp and there are few people there.
James and his lady come to the edge of the precipice. The valley bellow is bathed in moonlight and the lake shimmers with a metallic hue.

“This is so strange” whispers ‘Spanish Lady’ “the night is clear but the mist is rising up the rock”

She is right, halfway up the mountain a thick pillar of strange shimmering mist is climbing up higher and higher vanishing in the tall shrubs nearby.

“If I wasn’t here with you,” rasps ‘Spanish Lady’ pressing her entire body against James “I would have been afraid of this mist. I feel as if something is hiding in it”

As if to confirm her words, a tall woman in white summer dress emerges from the shrubs and walks lightly in the direction of the castle.

James, trailed by his reluctant lady, follows her.

“I am sure I haven’t seen her before” he thinks “and she is lovely, as lovely as that other one”

Once inside the white figure is surrounded by a swarm of eager suitors who draw her in to the dances. Her light summer’s dress is flying across the dance floor, her long loose golden hair is barely held by the wreath of white water lilies. Light gauzy fabric covers her face and only her eyes, large and blue look out across the room with a welcoming gaze.
She is proves to be one of the most successful masques of the night.

Cornet Visē a young man in Slovak costume, is especially insistent and the lady seems to like him as well. Little by little, the other suitors drift away and Visē and the lady in white are left alone.

V
The ball is over.
Harry is standing on top of the staircase, bowing and thanking his guests. He is no longer wearing a mask.
As the rooms empty, the lights dim.

A young man in the page costume is walking fast among the deserted rooms, stopping the servants and questioning them whether they had seen his friend, Cornet Visē, in Slovak costume, ‘a white open-necked shirt with broad sleeves’.

Some say they haven’t seen him, while others remember him dancing with a woman in white dress and flowers in her hair, but where he is now no one can tell.

The Page searches the rooms once more and then heads for the direction of the winter garden ‘Maybe he is getting all amorous under the bushes’ he thinks.

The garden is dark, with only the moonlight seeping in through the gigantic glass windows.

In the shifting light and shadow, plants take on new and sinister shapes.

Broad leaves of the palm tree remind him of an intricate pattern, dark outline of a tall cactus looks like a crouching monster; philodendron stretches out its leaves like eager hands, and in the corner, beneath a tall tropical tree, lies something white and shapeless, like a discarded dress.
Silvery strip of light stretches across the sand from the window.

“Visē? Are you here?” calls the Page

“Damn it, this place is as damp as the tomb,” he thinks and notices a tall pillar of mist rising from the ground. The mist shimmers and twists, taking on otherworldly shapes as it moves slowly towards the furthest window.

“Visē!” he calls once more.

A barely audible moan answers him from underneath a tropical tree. The shapeless white mass that the Page took for a lady’s dress turned out to be the white Slovak costume.
Visē is semiconscious and is moaning softly.


“What’s the matter with you?” asks the Page and not hearing the answer rushes out to get help.

He returns with Doctor Weiss, Capitan Wright and several servants.

Someone brings a lamp.

Visē is lifted and helped onto the garden bench. He is pale and weak.

At first, he couldn’t answer his friend’s persistent questions, then he came up with what everyone took to be a drunken tale:

He danced a lot, drank even more, then he felt tired and left for the winter garden with a lady in a white dress. They sat on the bench and she agreed to a kiss.
The gauzy fabric came off and he leaned closer to her face, but when he did, she gave him such an odd look, that he found himself unable to move.
The lady grabbed his head, pushed it backwards and sank her teeth into his neck.

“But it didn’t hurt. On the contrary it was a sweetest kind of pleasure I have ever known!” he finished.

With his friend’s help, Visē got up and bid his hosts farewell, leaving for the city.

“The boy got himself smashed nicely,” laughed Doctor.

The last carriage left when the first rays of the morning sun were already visible in the east.
Everyone was so tired that within an hour the entire castle was fast asleep.
James, who was so insistent on speaking to Wright, was snoring as soundly as Captain himself.

VI
In the evening, the guests had gathered in the dinning room once again.
Harry was in a bad mood despite a pile of letters and cards thanking him for last night’s party.
Several closer acquaintances came to thank him in person, among them a young pharmacist who almost burst into the room:

“Did you hear the news?” he asked instead of a greeting –“Cornet Visē was found dead. I just came from his rooms.”

Everybody was speaking at once:

“What? How? What happened?” was heard from all sides.

Delighted to be the centre of attention the pharmacist sat down and began:

“Yesterday, at the ball, Visē fainted...

“Fainted? I didn’t know” interrupted Harry.

“Yes, his friend Cornet Davison found him unconscious in the winter garden. Visē was drunk and kept talking a whole boatload of nonsense. Soon he sobered up enough to make it back and went straight to the officer’s mess where he and Davison had a large breakfast. Visē was fine, if a little pale. He had plans to go to the city in the afternoon, but suddenly at midday, Visē announced that he was feeling dead tired and could barely stand. He wasn’t exaggerating; he was so weak that it was only with Davison’s help that he managed to make it to his tent where fell onto the bed.
God willed it, that he never rose from it again.
At sunset, the batsman found his body. His face was peaceful, even smiling and he held a wilted flower in his fist. One of those that grow around the lake. Must be a memento from last night,” orated enthusiastic pharmacist.
NNNN
Everybody felt sorry for the young man and several of the guests including Harry, enquired about the funeral arrangements, promising to attend.
Only Wright and James reminded gloomily silent.

Lighting up cigars they excused themselves and went into the garden, close to the precipice.

James was the first to speak:
“So, what do you think?”

Wright didn’t reply.

“Was I right when I said that something strange is definitely going on? I don’t think that I am exaggerating if I say that yesterday Harry came very close to sharing Visē’s fate?”

Wright remained silent.

“Why are you sitting here like a damned stone idol?” snapped James.

“And what the hell do you want me to do? Do you think that I can make a head or tail of this?” snarled Wright.

“I am sorry. Don’t get mad. Rather let’s think what we can do,” asked James.

“If you were talking about the Thugees, I’d help you, but this...I don’t understand,” replied Wright, frowning.

James wasn’t giving up:

“All I know is that I saw her somewhere before. If I could only remember where or how...”

“You say ‘her’ but who is she? A woman in the blue dress. And what do we know about her? The ghost in the Hunting Lodge, and a masque last night. Maybe it was all coincidence. And maybe we could speculate that we saw her ghost before we saw her ‘true self’. You know the saying “There are many things on Earth and heaven, Horatio that are not known in your philosophy”, said Wright as if thinking aloud- “But where is the danger?”

“Where is the danger? That’s the question. I just know it is there. I feel it in my bones”, said James hotly.

Wright laughed and looked up at him:

“Well it is your job to anticipate danger and look for a hidden crime, Sherlock Holmes.”

James was in no mood for jokes:

“Let’s see who will get the last laugh,” he grumbled and, turning sharply, went back towards the house.

Captain Wright sat for a long time at the edge of the precipice, lighting up one cigar after another, his eyes mechanically following the rings of smoke, his heart heavy with foreboding.

VII
A week had passed since the night of the masked ball, but the mood in the castle was far from celebratory.

Harry was out from dawn till dusk, making his promised visits, which left him tired and irritable.

Wright retreated into gloomy silence, and James, always lively and cheerful James, transformed into a recluse. He spent entire days locked in his bedroom, surrounded by books and dictionaries, refusing to let anybody near. Only Karl Ivanovich was allowed to see what he was doing.

Lately James become very close to the old man and helped him with his work in the library and the church archive.

Thus, Smith and Doctor Weiss were the only ones left to tend to the guests.
They went to great pains to keep them entertained, organising rabbit and wild goat hunts; travelling far to shoot wild birds and chase foxes.
As in the old days, every hunt ended with a lavish meal and overflowing wine, and yet it wasn’t the same.
Strange tension and absent-mindedness of the host affected everyone’s mood.

Doctor Weiss was often heard grumbling to himself:
“What’s the matter with Harry, he is acting lovesick...and who could he have fallen for? I’ve heard that he met some great beauty in a blue dress. Could it be her?” asked the fat man.

He had a patient, young field labourer, who didn’t give Doctor much trouble; -he wasn’t feeling well in the evening and was dead by the sunset the following day.
When Harry asked him about the cause of death, Doctor shook his head:

“I’d be damned if I know. It was as if someone blew a candle out”.

In the village, two more people also died suddenly. But because both victims lived in extreme poverty, no one gave them a second thought.
In both cases, James and Karl Ivanovich volunteered to personally deliver Harry’s condolences and financial help to the bereaved families.


Finally, Harry’s depressed mood spread, and the guests begun to excuse themselves from hunts and amusements.
Doctor Weiss was at his wits end trying to entertain the company with card games, rides in the country, a brand new billiard table. He kept an eagle eye for a slightest indication of boredom or unhappiness.

“What’s the matter?” he addressed young Georges, “something is bothering you. Don’t be shy, tell me”

“I would like another bedroom”, replied Georges timidly.

“Why?” asked Doctor, curious.

“You see my is...it’s very cold” replied Georges, blushing.

“Cold in the middle of summer?” exclaimed Doctor, surprised, but seeing George’s face grow even redder, quickly added: “All right”.

In the evening, he called Georges into his room and started skilfully questioning him:

“Don’t be shy my boy. I am a doctor, and a doctor is as good as the priest, you can tell me anything”

“Thank you, Doc, I am truly grateful...but I do feel awkward,” mumbled the boy.

“Be brave, be brave. I am smoking and not even looking at you,” joked Doctor.

“The first time that she came to me was in the village inn...” began Georges.

“Who did?”

“Beautiful woman with black hair and a tall comb”

“Go on” encourages Doctor.

“She came to me again in the Hunting Lodge and left this behind,” said Georges pulling a broad blue silk ribbon out of his pocket.


Doctor took it and after looking at it for a moment, laughed:

“Georges, my dear boy, it is the same ribbon that our prankster Jamie gave to you on the day we first visited the castle. Don’t you remember?”

“Yes, but I threw it back on the floor”, mumbled the boy.

“No matter, one of the servants must have seen Jamie’s joke and returned the ribbon to your room. The servants are very strict about keeping an eye on the guest’s belongings. They all know that Harry is very stern when it comes to this”

“I don’t know...maybe you are right...maybe you are right, Doctor, but..., Georges fell silent.

“Did you see her again?”

“Yes, I did”

Doctor hurried him along:

“How, where and when?”

Georges’ embarrassment was complete:

“Yesterday, in my bedroom. She looks even more beautiful. She told me that she loves me and will make me happy”

Doctor was silent.

“She put her arms around me and was about to kiss me when she changed her mind and asked me why I wear these” said Georges, pulling out small black rosary with tiny silver cross, “It was a gift from my Grandmother, her blessing. She brought them from Rome”

“What happened next?”, asked Doctor, fascinated.

“Next...I fell asleep” said Georges, shyly, “we played tennis the whole day and I was very tired,” he added.


“You know what, Georges, why don’t you sleep tonight on the couch in my study, the very same one on which you are sitting right now. My bedroom is in the next room and there is no door, only a drape, so we both could sleep without disturbing each other’s privacy. And at the same time I will be close, should something happen”.

Georges happily agreed, and Doctor Weiss prepared the couch.

Afterwards he locked the bedroom and took the key with him, leaving it on his desk.

Thanks to the nomadic life of a hunter, he was used to sleeping lightly and in the middle of the night, he awoke to the sound of footsteps across the room and the turning of the door handle.
Doctor got up quickly and quietly parted the drape.
Georges was standing at the door, trying to open it. His eyes were closed.

“I see, dear boy, you are a sleepwalker” whispered Doctor- “Fascinating”.

Georges in the meantime returned to the couch and lay down.

Doctor Weiss walked over to the window and opened the drapes, leaving one-half of the window wide open. Moonlight flooded the room.

“Let’s see” he decided and moved his chair to an angle where he could see clearly both the couch and the widow in the next room.

Georges was sleeping peacefully.
Without realising it, Doctor Weiss was soon asleep himself.

..................................................................

Dawn found him in his chair. Doctor Weiss rubbed his eyes and remembering last night’s adventures walked over to the couch.

Georges was sleeping soundlessly and peacefully. Doctor noticed a freshly picked rose lying on his chest.
Puzzled he picked it up and after looking at it put it in a small vase on his writing desk.

“Damn it, it’s a pity I fell asleep. He must have climbed down into the garden last night. Well, at least I know what his problem is now. The boy is a sleepwalker,” he mumbled to himself.

He dressed quickly and walked over to Georges’ couch, waking him.

“Oh, it’s you Doctor.” He said and after looking around, asked, “Where’s the rose?”

“What rose?” asked Doctor feigning ignorance.

“The one the girl gave me. It was the same as the one on your desk. And she told me to take these off” he said pointing to his rosary.

“Enough, Georges. There was no girl and no flower either. And tonight I will give you some sleeping drops”

“Well, it’s better than telling him he is a sleepwalker” though Doctor.

“Come on get going. They are waiting for us for coffee” he hurried the boy.

VIII.
The day went on peacefully.
In the evening Doctor convinced Georges to take sleeping drops, and decided to keep a watch on the boy.

“Interesting case,” he thought.

Georges fell asleep quickly. Doctor got up, opened the curtains, and took up his position in the chair. To keep himself from falling asleep he light up a cigar. Drowsiness was overcoming him, and soon Doctor Weiss was surrounded by clouds of cigar smoke.

Through his tiredness and the blue haze, he thinks that he is seeing a figure of a dark- haired woman in the next room. He cannot see her clearly; clouds of smoke move and twist, obscuring her. A moment, and she is bending over Georges’ couch, she kneels beside it and embraces him, kissing his neck.
Doctor Weiss felt pleasant tiredness overcome him...

When he came around the room was dark. The moon had set long time ago.

“What the devil? Did I smoke myself into unconsciousness? Damn fool!” he grumbles.

He hears a soft moan coming from the next room.

“And I made the poor boy sick too!” he thinks and, after finding the matches, lights a candle.
Georges is lying on the couch moaning softly.
Doctor Weiss bends over him and sees a few drops of blood on the boys white shirt. His arm is lying across the chest clenching convulsively the stem of a crimson rose.

Doctor stand dumbfounded, “The boy must have climbed out again, so this means I was passed out for some time!” he is thinking “and the blood? Where did it come from? Well as they say every rose has a thorn,” he decides.

Confiscating the flower, Doctor closed the window and reeled off to bed.

In the morning Georges was the first to get up.
He was pale and weak and strangely absent minded. He answered Doctor’s questions reluctantly and swore that he is fine.


At coffee, the news arrived from the village. Another of the workers employed by the castle was found dead.
James and Karl Ivanovich got up immediately and offered to take the money to the dead man’s family, asking Smith to give them the amount that Harry usually allocates such cases.

Georges asked if he could come along. Reluctantly James agreed.
On the way to the village none of the men spoke, each occupied with his private thoughts.

Once in the village someone pointed them to the home of the dead man. The house, a mere hut was leaning to one side, threatening to topple over at any minute. Inside, the raw hopeless poverty was looking out of every corner. The dead man was stretched out on a bench.

His sister greeted them.

“What was the cause of death?” asked James handing her the money.

“I don’t know, Sir. He was fine when he went to bed. He never got up. It was God’s will,” replied the dead man’s sister in between sobs.

“You must have a well around here...Would you be kind enough to give me a drink of water?” asked Karl Ivanovich.

The woman left.

In a flash, James and Karl Ivanovich rushed to the dead man and lifted his head.

Neither of them said a word until Georges, whose presence they have completely forgotten, remarked:

“He has the same sores on his neck as I”

“Sores? You have sores? Show me!” ordered James.

Taken aback by his forcefulness, Georges obediently lifted his chin. The wounds were small with pallid white edges.
James and Karl Ivanovich turned as pale as the dead man lying on the bench. Neither said a word.

The silence was broken by the woman returning with a jug of water.
Without touching it, James and Karl Ivanovich hurried outside. On the way home, they deftly asked Georges about his dreams and whether he is sleeping well in Doctor’s room.
He told them that he discovered the sores this morning, and that they don’t hurt at all, but he has no idea what caused them.

Once he was back at the castle, James wanted to see Doctor Weiss, and was told that he left for a fishing expedition with the remaining guests.

“He has gone far, Sir and is not expected to return until the evening,” answered a servant.

Karl Ivanovich and James didn’t lock themselves in the library for the whole day as usual, but spend it with Georges, hardly leaving him alone for a moment.

In the evening, to everyone’s surprise, Harry joined the guests. His presence livened the meal and the company chatted among themselves as in old times.

“So, Karl, Ivanovich, when can you spoil us again with a continuation of you vampire fairy-tale?” enquired Harry

The librarian was silent.

“Don’t tell me that there is no answer to this mystery?” he asked.

“Come on Harry, what’s the point in dragging out all that nonsense?” interrupted James “Why don’t you host another party before the summer is over. What about a Venetian ball on the lake or a small village celebration?”

Harry pulled a face:
“And then I will have to make all those return visits. No thank you”

“Who is saying that you must invite the aristocrats?” added Wright “Why don’t you gather all the village girls here. Now that would be far more interesting”.

The younger guests were taken with the idea, and in an instant assailed Harry with their suggestions and plans.


James, pleased that he managed to take the attention off the talk about the vampires didn’t take a part in the discussion.

Harry decided not to delay with the celebration but make use of the last few remaining bright nights.

Once the guests were leaving for their bedrooms, James stopped Doctor Weiss and asked if he could come over to him for a cigar:

“I got new ones this morning, and would like to hear your opinion”, he said.

“You’re very welcome, but forgive me if cannot take up your offer of a cigar. Yesterday I’ve smoked so much I passed out”

“Passed out?” asked James surprised.

“Worse. I was seeing things as well”, replied Doctor “Go, put your robe on and come in. I have quite a tale to tell you”

“All right, just a moment”

IX

Georges was sleeping peacefully on the couch.
In the next room, Doctor and James were talking softly.
There is no light.
Georges’ room is brightly light by the moonlight, his drapes are raised and the window is left open, while the Doctor’s half is dark, with only a tiny red star of James’s cigar glowing in the darkness.

Laughing softly, Doctor Weiss, already told James about his “hallucination” and his discovery of Georges’ sleepwalking habits.

James was listening silently his eyes fixed on Georges’ couch.

“So, what do you think?” asked Doctor.

“Wait, don’t talk” whispered James so quietly that Doctor could barely make out the words.

Eerie silence hung in the room. In a few minutes, James touched Doctor’s sleeve as if asking him to pay attention.

A silhouette of a woman appears in the window frame. She is sitting with her back towards them, her legs facing the garden.

“Which one of the servant girls can be so brazen?” thinks Doctor.

He looks closely, but her high intricate hairstyle doesn’t remind him of anyone he knows. The woman turns around, the moon shining on her face. “No”, thinks Doctor “no maid could be so beautiful”. In a moment, her legs are in the room and she slides off the windowsill in a single barely visible movement.

She crosses the room towards Georges’ couch. Wide skirts of her dress accentuate a slender waist, the fabric of her bodice clings to the curves of her high breasts, and she has several red roses pinned to her décolleté.

She leans over Georges placing her hand on his forehead, and the boy moans softly.

James rushes into the room.

The woman turned around, looking up at him and smiled. She rose from the floor and opened her arms, ready to embrace him. Her face shone with unearthly beauty, marred only by her bloody lips.

James was unable to move.

He rushed into the room expecting to give chase, but instead the woman is coming towards him, smiling. A moment more and she will kiss him with her bloody mouth.

James felt waves of fear sweep through him. He tried to move but his body refused to obey.

The woman, still smiling, put her arms around his shoulders, and then pulled away suddenly, her dark eyes wide with surprise and awe:

“Forgive me. I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have dared,” she whispers, swaying.

In an instant, she moved away, gliding towards the window. For a moment, her dress blocked the moonlight and then vanished.

Georges moaned once more, rising both James and Doctor from their stupor. They rushed towards his couch.

The boy was lying on his back with his arms outstretched. On his neck, two small wounds were still bleeding, staining his shirt.
Doctor wanted to wake Georges, but James stopped him:

“Why trouble him? He will sleep safely now”

James rolled Georges over on his side and covered him with a blanket.

“Now, what’s your opinion?” he asked, straightening.

“Judging by your behaviour I must conclude that we both had an identical hallucination”, answered Doctor, “it is an interesting phenomenon and I...”

“And this? Is this also a hallucination?” asked James mockingly, picking up a crushed red rose.

X
In the morning, James gathered his friends for what he termed ‘a war council’.
The ‘council’ consisted of Wright, Doctor Weiss, Karl Ivanovich and James himself.

Earlier that day, James told Wright about last night’s adventures and asked him for permission to tell the others about Wright’s incident at the Hunting Lodge.

The men gathered in Doctor’s rooms and after a brief introduction, James announced:

“Now, the question remains, what are we to do? The danger is real to all of us, and it is even more real for Harry, our friend to whom we all owe so much.”

“Jamie, you really gone overboard this time! What danger? Harry isn’t a hysterical woman to be terrified of a ghost dressed in sheets!” protested Doctor.

“What danger? The very basic one”, replied James, “Death”

“What nonsense!” mumbled Doctor.

Undaunted, James turned towards him:
“Did you examine wounds on Georges’ neck? What do you think could have caused them? Do you think them dangerous?”

“I must admit the wounds are unusual, but to deem them a sign of illness, even a minor one, forgive me, but I cannot,” answered Doctor.

“Do you remember Cornet Visē, the young man who died so suddenly the day after our ball? What would you say if I were to tell you that he had similar wounds on his neck? And if I were to add that our labourer in the castle as well as three hired harvesters in the village also had them?” continued James.

“And who examined them and told you about it?” asked Doctor.

“I did, together with Karl Ivanovich. This was the reason we went to the village, to confirm our theories”

“Mr Watt is telling the truth,” confirmed the librarian.

“So, what’s your conclusion?” asked Doctor.

“Our conclusion is that in all five instances of death the wounds were direct cause of it, and if we weren’t there last night poor Georges would have been dead as well”.

“Jamie, Have mercy!” exclaimed Doctor, rising from his chair.

“I maintain, do you understand, I MAINTAIN even more than that. Viscount Reno, the stonemason and the locksmith all died of the same cause. Unfortunately I didn’t examine their necks, but I am sure that the wounds were also present,” he concluded gravely.


Doctor crossed the room and with a look of worry on his face placed his right hand on James’s forehead, taking his wrist in the left one:

“No fever” he whispered, “and the pulse is normal”.

James smiled:

“Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind and I am not yet suffering from the delirium tremens”

Doctor grew angry:
“Well, if you say you are still sane, then stop beating around the bush and making fools of us all, damn you, and tell us what the matter is!”

“Sit down and listen,” ordered James.

“All right, Gentlemen. An epidemic seems to be raging in our area, and a strange one at that. People are dying, and they are, take note, mostly young and healthy. The deaths are sudden, rarely preceded by an illness and the only symptoms are two small circular wounds on the victim’s neck. Karl Ivanovich and I examined them and we could tell you that the wounds are deep, with white edges that look pale and bloodless. So our conclusion is that something or someone causes them and sucks out the blood of the victim”

Doctor twitched his shoulders angrily but stayed silent.

“Now the question is who is doing this?” continued James unfazed “we must look for an answer to the old diaries and letters that Karl Ivanovich red to us in the Hunting Lodge, the ones that we called the ‘fairy tales’ and had long forgotten about”

Doctor couldn’t keep quiet any longer:
“Jamie, I can’t take it! Haven’t you forgotten that the famous ‘Schoolteacher’s Diary’ was written by a lunatic! He even describes being put in the straightjacket!”

“You are right. He was a lunatic. Let’s leave him out. Now let’s turn to the letters”, agreed James “if you were to reread them carefully as Karl Ivanovich and I have done you would find that a similar epidemic happened before and that the owner of the castle names its source plainly. Vampires”.

Doctor jumped from his seat:

“Jamie, have mercy! Vampires, those medieval fairytales? In our twentieth century?

“Yes”, interrupted James coldly “I do. I believe that vampires exist in our twentieth century. And these letters are not medieval fairytales, but a testament to the awful, deadly truth”.

“Don’t you remember the discussion we once had about these letters? We concluded that they must have been sent here, otherwise how could they have physically ended up in the castle?” argued Doctor.

“And do you remember the last letter, where the author is preparing for his friend’s arrival?” asked James “the rooms in the ‘Forest House’ were being made ready for him , and that the house itself was situated at the foot of the castle rock, and finally, we found the letters here in our Hunting Lodge? Is it not logical that the friend simply brought the letters with him?”

Doctor couldn’t answer and remained silent.

“I think, or I should say I am sure that the signature “D” stands for “Dracula”, Count Carlo Dracula, the previous owner of the castle”, concluded James.

“And yet you were never able to find the famous “Stone coffin from America”. You’ve said so yourself” objected Doctor.

“So what? What about the second crypt, the one made for two occupants only, where Carlo says his parents were buried, don’t you think it’s as good as the American Coffin? And the precipice where you have the clear view of the lake and can hear the sound of the evening church bells? And what about lady’s rooms in the Hunting Lodge, prepared for the Italian fiancé? Do you remember ‘So long the dream and several thousand ducats’? And the Japanese jewel box, is it not the same as the one Carlo calls “Roman”? The one he bought for his Rita? It opens, when you push the apple into the bird’s beak; ask Wright, he will confirm it”.

Wright, surrounded by clouds of smoke from his cigar stayed silent.

Doctor, not finding any support, looked from one face to the next.

Karl Ivanovich broke the silence:

“In the church archive, in funeral books, I found records proving that this area had suffered similar epidemics twice before. In both cases, doctors couldn’t find the cause. The first time it happened was in the same year when young Countess Dracula died, and the second time happened fifteen yeas later.”

“And now this epidemic has struck for a third time. How and why is another question, but it is here, staring us in the face and we have to,-we must- fight it. We have to save Harry, ourselves and yes, even the local populace has a right to expect our help,” said James passionately.

“Wonderful, James, but who is the enemy?” asked Doctor.

“As I said vampires”

“And what is it, a vampire? Where do we find them, how we fight them, be my guest Jamie, I don’t know” admitted Doctor miserably.

James pointed to the old leather-bound volume he brought with him:
“The explanation can be found, to a degree of course, in this old book, dealing with the “Lamias” and the “Undead”.

“I remember this book, Harry gave it to you” interrupted Wright.

“That’s the one. Karl Ivanovich and I attempted to translate it. I say attempted because, I have to admit it was one hell of a job. The book is written in some weird form of Latin, complete with a whole host of specific terms and to top it all off it deals with a subject that we don’t understand. The ‘Undead’ as it calls them are something inexplicable and supernatural. But the fact that this book was found on the desk of the previous owner of the castle speaks for itself...”

Doctor Weiss interrupted impatiently:
“Come on, what did you find?”

“Just a moment” said James, shifting a few papers “as I said half of this book is still a mystery to me and the second half I could barely understand”

“Get to the point”, hurried Doctor.

“Ancient lamias, are a type of creatures”, began James, “or rather they are people who have died, but rose from the grave, can appear to the living and even take part in daily activities. In must of the cases, their involvement with the living is of the malevolent nature and brings disaster.
The “Undead” or vampires are a type of lamias. They also rise from the grave and feed on the blood of the living.
They could live for centuries, and the longer they live, the more powerful they become. With each new victim, their power grows along with new knowledge.
They can assume shapes of certain animals: cats, snakes and bats and so on. They could surround themselves with mist and even turn themselves into mist.
They love bright nights and could levitate in the moonlight, swimming in at as if it were a river.
They have long sharp teeth, strong long fingers with hard nails, enabling them to climb walls and rocks.
The stronger the vampire, the easier it is for him to put their victim to sleep with their stare or a touch. Even the strongest people cannot fight them; no amount of courage can save one from a vampire. A person falls asleep against their will, and once this happens, he or she is a sure victim.
Vampires kill their prey in one or two sessions, sometimes four or three. The first time is the hardest; the victim fears and resists their attacker. Afterwards it gets easier, the person starts to long for their tormentor, expecting and calling them.

Sometimes a vampire falls in love with his prey, and then the killing process takes longer, he is taking the life of his victim in little by little, prolonging their pleasure, keeping their loved creature alive as long as possible.
In these cases the victim turns into a vampire after death, in others it is rare.

Vampires kill indiscriminate of sex or age, though it has been notes that they prefer children and younger, healthier victims.

Vampires are most active at night, especially when the moon is bright, though they could easily live and kill during the day, but these are older, more experienced ‘Undead’.
Many animals obey them; all fear them, especially dogs and horses, it is as if these friends of man could sense the enemy instinctively.
The most powerful of the vampires can control weather to a certain degree. They can move clouds, create mist and wind and so on.

Their Achilles’ heel is that every one of them has to have his shelter, where he has to lie in his dead form for several hours each day. During this time, they are in turn completely helpless, and because of this, they always hide their shelters and have several of them if they can.
The shelter must be situated close to vampire’s hunting ground; otherwise, he is risking falling asleep on the open ground, which is extremely dangerous.
Old experienced vampires could project themselves into their own image, a portrait or something similar, but only for a very short period of time.

When vampires are successful, I mean when they have plenty of victims; they grow younger and more attractive, only their red tinged eyes and blood red lips spoil their appearance.
When a vampire for whatever reason is forced to hide and, shall I put it this way, ”starve” he grows pale and grey, immobile and irritable.
Despite this, he could remain bound to a place, thanks to a spell or a magic rite for many years and stay alive. At the first opportunity, he will slip away and kill again.
The time that the vampire has to spend in his shelter or a ‘vampiric sleep’ as the book calls it is a very murky subject. Either the author doesn’t know it himself, or Karl Ivanovich and I cannot understand him.

There are way too many explanations. Maybe different regions have different timetables, maybe it all depends on the power of the vampire, I am not sure. But from what I understood, the ‘vampiric sleep’ takes place around sunset and sunrise.

Vampires are subject to a form of hierarchy, they obey the strongest. But who are the ‘strongest’ is hard to tell, one passage is even speaking of the ancient gods that demanded human sacrifices.
Here is one passage I will translate directly: “Disobedience or theft of intended prey is punished.” But how and by whom it doesn’t say. I think that there was in the ancient times a race of the “Great Blood eaters”, and the vampires, lamias and other ‘undead’ obey them.

It is easier to recognise a vampire at night, especially if his presence is odd. For instance an appearance of an unknown woman in the man’s bedroom or wise versa. During the day it is almost impossible to spot a clever vampire, they are excellent at mimicking the living.
One of the telltale signs is their inability to eat and drink. A more observant person could notice that they do not cast a shadow in either sun or moonlight. By the way, vampires hate mirrors and always try to destroy them, the reason being that they don’t have a reflection, a dead give away.”
So, this is all, or almost all that we managed to find in the book.
There are a many examples of actual cases and author’s speculations, but all of it is, largely, irrelevant.
Two of the most important questions, the hour at which the vampires are at their most vulnerable and who or what they obey are also the most unclear.

XI
James finished and fell silent.

“What are we to do?” asked Doctor Weiss.

“Well, if we all agreed that the vampires do exist, we have to find their shelter and, at an hour of their ‘vampiric sleep’ kill them. This is our duty,” replied James.

“That’s true, Jamie, but how?” asked Wright.

“We can look for clues in the old letters of the previous owner and some other papers, I’ve discovered since” added Karl Ivanovich.

“Jamie, you are our acknowledged “Sherlock Holmes”, so think and tell us what to do. I promise to listen,” said Doctor with unexpected obedience.

James smiled and bowed slightly:

“Thank you for your trust”

“All right, let’s see” he began after thinking for a moment “judging from Carlo’s letters we can conclude that his mother was a vampire and therefore was killed by one. Who killed her is hard to tell. Maybe it was the American servant, the one who vanished so mysteriously, maybe it was the dead grandfather. Remember she saw the old man in her dream on the night she first fell ill, so maybe it wasn’t a dream at all. Perhaps the snake played its role as well... Either way I am inclined to believe that the American servant and dead grandfather is the same person.
I am also very confused by the fact that we were never able to locate the great stone coffin described in the letters. Karl Ivanovich and I both went into the crypt and searched it top to bottom”.

“We also looked in the second crypt, the one for whose discovery we should thank you, Doctor. We found nothing”, he added.

“Are you referring to the crypt where I found the skeleton?”

“Yes. In the letter, it is called the ‘new crypt’ constructed especially for the Countess. Remember, Carlo mentions that it was carved into the castle’s rock.”

James paused for a moment, and then, extending his hand towards Doctor, said:

“Forgive me, but I also think that you are the cause of the reappearance of the vampire...”

“What rubbish!” exclaimed Doctor.

“Wait...Just think” insisted James, “everything was peaceful until your fall. We haven’t heard of a single death, let alone a mysterious one, but the very next day after you fell, it was as if someone had opened a nasty cornucopia. The stonemason, who carried the statue’s head was the first to die, next...”

“Hold on, hold on, are you saying that I’ve opened an entrance, perhaps guarded by a spell (I couldn’t believe the bloody nonsense I am saying myself) and let out a vampire? And yet, you forget, my dear friend, that the crypt wall had a crack in it, so large that a grown man squeezed through it, whose skeleton we found, let alone one of your mist-shrouded vampires. In the Schoolteacher’s diary we read about the ‘lake women” and since we”... doctor pulled a comical face “don’t believe in the ‘lake women’ but believe in the vampires, we can conclude that they were free to roam the countryside long before we’ve arrived”

“Don’t laugh, Doc”, answered James “the lunatic’s diary holds many valuable clues. I analyzed both the letters and the diary and came to conclusion that we’ve read them in reversed order. We read the diary first, and then the letters, while chronologically they are the other way around, first came the countess, then the schoolteacher. Old Petro confirms this.
Carlo mentions old Petro in his letters, mentioning that the old man left for a pilgrimage. If we were to suppose that he returned and found that, the young count and his fiancé or wife have already left the castle, perhaps fearing the vampires...

Karl Ivanovich wanted to add something but James wouldn’t even let him open his mouth, and continued talking, completely carried away:
“The castle was abandoned and old Petro become the church watchman, making crosses and growing garlic. This makes sense. I don’t think I am wrong in believing that the skeleton found in the crypt belonged to the insane schoolteacher, Peter Dorich. His diary ends with him going to meet his lady somewhere in the mountains and there is the note confirming the disappearance of a mental patient and the futile search for his remains.
The skeleton was dressed, as you’ve said yourself, in either a robe or some kind of a dressing gown, so we can conclude that it was a hospital robe. You’ve also told us that his hair was shaved, or some type of moth had eaten it, now we have no doubt that it was shaved, as with all mentally ill patients”.

“Harry shares your belief”, interrupted Doctor, “He ordered for the body to be buried under the name ‘Peter Dorich’”

James was pleased:
“Now you can see, it only confirms we are on the right track”

“Now for the rest...” he continued.

“Are trying to tell” interrupted Doctor again “that the poor man, in his delirium climbed up the mountain and squeezed into the crypt and possibly under the influence of opium fell asleep there, and later died from exhaustion, cold, hunger or possibly all three?”

“Not quite, I have a different theory: the schoolteacher in his delirium made his way to the crypt and there he had one moment of clear thinking... He realised not only the horror of his own position, but the danger facing his village. He sacrificed himself to the vampire, sealing the creature inside at the same time with some sort of a ritual that he could have easily learned from Petro, and then sat at the entrance as if to guard it”.

Doctor couldn’t let it pass:
“Damn, you are such a poet, Jamie!” he laughed sarcastically.

“This is only a theory, not proven fact” said James, a little embarrassed “it could have happened this way: Petro saw the teacher and followed him, sealing the crack. Both ways the result is the same, the exit was blocked and we, in our carelessness have opened another”.
“Now for the conclusion,” continued James “we’ve all agreed that the vampires exist, we know of it’s hiding place, we know it’s supposed hours of sleep, or should I say the hours of his helplessness, and we must kill it”.

Everyone agreed:
“Yes, we must kill it”, they echoed.

Suddenly there was a loud crash and the sound of glass breaking. Everyone jumped to their feet:

“What was that?”

One of the panes in an open window facing the garden crashed into the wall of the building with the force great enough to shatter the glass.

“Must be the wind,” said Karl Ivanovich.

“If only, Karl Ivanovich, if only. There isn’t even a slightest breeze in the garden!” exclaimed James “and we were caught like stupid schoolboys, we were overheard. Well, no use crying over it now, we must hurry,” he added a little calmer.

“Tomorrow I will ride to the city and bring all the necessary equipment, and then, at sunset Wright and I will go down into the crypt and hammer a wooden stake through the Countess’ heart. Secondly. We must guard Harry and young Georges. The former I give in your care, Captain, with you Doctor, as his helper. The later I will watch myself. Sitting in the open window on a warm summer night is a pleasure anyway, and a few hours of sleep after the sunrise is good enough for me, but tonight, in my absence, I relinquish my post to Karl Ivanovich. All right, the fight is on, gentlemen”, he finished solemnly.

“We are with you”

“Be strong and we will prevail,” added James.

“What makes you so certain?” asked Wright.

“Sometimes, at night I hear a voice in my head that says, “Fight and I will help you”, replied James.

“And I hear a voice in my head that keeps repeating, “I am hungry! I am hungry!” said Doctor in all seriousness.

Everyone, including James laughed and the mood changed instantly.

XII
The next day, after finding some excuse not to join in the hunt, James and his friends made their way to the garden crypt. It was one hour before sunset.
On the steps, at statue’s feet, they’ve picked up the tools James had left there earlier: a crowbar, two pick axes for breaking the bricks, iron pliers for unscrewing the coffin lid, aspen stake and a hurricane lamp.

The statue had been repaired and put back on its pedestal. James and Wright removed it with difficulty and after the even bigger struggle lifted the trapdoor.
James, lamp in hand, was the first to descend the narrow steps, with others following closely behind.

The crypt was in total darkness since the crack had been repaired. When James lit up the wall where he was expecting to see the white marble plaque with the inscription ‘Frederick and Maria of the illustrious Dracula Family” he stopped dead in his tracks. The plaque was gone and in its place, he could see only two dark empty niches.
The coffins were gone.

Doctor Weiss rubbed his eyes. Until this moment he viewed James and his friends as a couple of schoolboys out on some harebrained prank, but now, for the first time he felt as if a cold hand squeezed his heart. He saw the coffins with his own eyes, and now they were gone! Who could have taken them and for what purpose? Only the marble plaque was left behind, leaning against the wall in the corner.

“We are too late,” said James in a strangely hoarse voice.

Without saying a word, they climbed back up the stairs and tidied up. Everyone was feeling the seriousness of the situation for the first time and remained silent.

James was first to speak:
“Let it be a lesson for us, not to speak in places were we can be overheard. It’s best to discuss our plans at sunset, like right now. Things have become more complicated. We will have to search.”

“You know what’s strange? No one would have moved the coffins without telling Harry first, and he never kept secrets from us before. We always knew his plans and orders,” said Doctor in a quiet voice.

“And more importantly, if he did keep quiet, it would be tactless to ask him. Besides, how can we explain the fact that we were in the crypt in the first place?” added James.

Suddenly he brightened:
“Hold on, all of Harry’s orders go through Smith, and I will get the truth out of him” he said confidently.

..........................
James was wrong. It wasn’t that easy.
Smith was busy organising the lake party and was gone for days on end, and when James finally managed to corner him, he answered roundabout questions with jokes and vague replies, and when frustrated James asked him directly, Smith answered dryly:

“You must speak to Mr Cardie, I cannot tell you more”.

James reported his failure to his friends and all agreed to keep quiet for now.

XIII
Karl Ivanovich came into James’ bedroom carrying a pile of assorted papers. Some were large sheets covered with writing on both sides, others were little pieces of paper torn out of notebooks and some were folded into little triangles as people often did with the notes back in the old days.

“I’ve collected these from the desks in the Hunting lodge”, said the old man “judging by the handwriting they were written by the young Carlo, and I think were addressed to his friend in the Hunting Lodge. Most of them are trivial, invitations to a breakfast or tea, but some are very interesting. Take a look at this one, Mr Watt”, said the librarian, handing James a large sheet of paper covered with handwriting on both sides. There was no date.
James thanked him and began reading:

“First of all I would like to thank you and apologise, my friend, that instead of the promised holiday and peaceful work I dragged you straight into the middle of our drama. But what can I do?
Francesca’s tragic death affected us all, and Rita hasn’t slept properly since.
The old doctor suggested a change of scenery. So those rooms will come useful, after all! All I need to do is to send down the ‘inventory’, dresses, lace, ribbons and flowers. Please forgive me; I know that to a scientist a woman is nothing but an irritation.

I hope that the ‘great migration’ would be of short duration, and as soon as Rita is well again I will bring her back to the castle, to another room, of course, not to remind her of the horrors she must have witnessed.
I haven’t had the chance to ask you about all this. What’s your opinion?
The old man is blaming everything, predictably, on vampirism, but since you’ve set my head straight and proved him insane, I cannot agree...and yet, the whole story has something illogical, odd about it.

For instance, why was Francesca’s body found on the floor, next to Rita’s bed? Her hair was dishevelled, the nightdress torn and her face and chest covered with bruises and scratches. It appears as if somebody strangled or crushed her with supernatural strength as if she were a mere insect.
Have you noticed the look of horror in her dead eyes and the way her lips were clenched as if in determination? One could have used her as a model for a painting of a Christian martyr back in the Roman days.
If she died fighting, then why and with whom?
She took the answer to her grave.

I forgot to ask you not to question Rita about that terrible night. It is clear; she lived through something dreadful and doesn’t want to, or cannot talk about it. She trembles at the mere mention of that night.
Imagine if Francesca was ill and died in convulsions next to Rita’s bed. Even a stronger person than Rita could have lost consciousness.
I know I will never forget her scream when she woke up and saw a bloody corpse at her feet.
The old man is convinced that, despite everything being quiet in the area, Francesca was killed by a vampire.

He says that he killed her, literally killed her instead of drinking her blood. According to him, Francesca interrupted him enjoying Rita’s blood and possibly her love as well. He thinks that the poor girl had died defending her friend.

Of course, Rita could answer all these questions, but I have to ask you once again not to question her. We must let her rest first.
As for your own opinion on these matters, I would very much like to know it.
Please, order for the couch to be moved to the middle of the room and near it a small table for Rita’s books and flowers.
I already ordered for a bunch of fresh roses to be delivered to her each morning.
Her pet canary will also arrive shortly, but I promise you, this little songstress will disturb you more than my own poor fiancé. Rita is so quiet and sad. I don’t dare to mention the wedding.
I will be so lonely up here!
I will take solace in the fact that I will spend most of the day with you both. The mornings are crisp. Please order for the stoves and even the fireplace to be lit.
Till tomorrow,
D”

“Take a look at this one,” said Karl Ivanovich, handing James another piece of paper.

“Of course” began James “I couldn’t ever possibly begin to consider my conversation as stimulating as yours, you are, after all, a great scientist, and yet I cannot help but be annoyed when I see that Rita, my fiancé favouring you over me. You will have to agree, I am starting to look rather foolish!
While Rita was still living in the forest house, your relationship seemed natural, but now... maybe I am wrong, maybe there was nothing to see.
I don’t know what caused Rita to change so much...
She has a new whim every day; she spends three or four hours each day, usually at sunset, alone in her room, locking the door. She also refused to eat with us. She is served separately in her salon, and I often see that the meals are returned untouched. She refused to have Lucia live near her room, saying “having Cecilia around is bad enough”, without realising how much she’d hurt the poor girl’s feelings.
Yet, despite these eccentricities, Rita is feeling well again, her colour has returned and she is strong.

Even the succeeding deaths of both of her Italian footmen didn’t disturb her much. When told, she shrugged her shoulders both times and refused to attend the service or follow the coffins to heir final resting place.
And yet, when she is waiting for your visit or decides to go down to the forest house, she seems to come alive in anticipation!

When it comes to me, she is always coldly polite, despite the fact that I cater to her every desire. I even agreed to her most ridiculous caprice about the coffin, leaving it right in the middle of the chapel, when she asked me to. She is fond of it with some strange painful tenderness and goes to see it every day.
When she first awoke from her coma, I told her that, when we believed her dead, we decided to lock her rooms in the forest house and never visit them again...and that in our grief we forgot her canary, and now, when everything has turned out well, I must hurry and rescue the bird.

She answered coldly: “Why bother? Leave it”.

I can no longer understand her. If I didn’t know you so well, I would have suspected that something dishonourable had happened. But I do trust you and I trust...”

“There is no end,” said Karl Ivanovich, seeing James turning the page around. James put the letter down and picked up the next one:

“I am so sorry, that I cannot be with you both, today. Alf, please see to it, that Rita’s rooms are well heated and make sure that she does not take off her thick shawl. She is so weak and ill, my heart bleeds for her. Yesterday I didn’t even dare to ask her to sing for us. Her only answer to all of my worried questions is: “I am fine, but it is so cold up here in your mountains”. She is still refusing to see the doctor.
Oh, what a happy coincidence, just as I was about to send you this note a parcel had arrived from Paris, a beautiful warm cape. Wrap Rita in it...oh well, though it is already late, I will come tonight, even for a quarter of an hour. I do think that crimson plush will do wonders for Rita’s complexion and would contrast beautifully with her black hair. My deepest bow.
D.

James finished reading and, turning to Karl Ivanovich, asked:

“So what do you think?”

“I think, Sir, that you’ve made a mistake in thinking that Count Dracula left the castle. I believe that his friend Alf was joined in the forest house by his fiancée, Rita. I think that mademoiselle Francesca’s death was the reason for the move. The Count himself remained in the castle and was very worried about his fiancé. In this pile of notes, I found repeated requests for the rooms to be heated, for the furniture to be rearranged, for new books and sheet music to be delivered, along with fresh flowers, and so on.
The rooms in question are undoubtedly the same ones that are still standing untouched in the Hunting Lodge. Even the red cape, the one you’ve read about in the last letter is still lying at the foot of the couch, the same couch that Count had ordered to be moved to the middle of the room”.

“You are hundred percent correct, Karl Ivanovich, I also gave up thinking that Count fled the castle. But what happened to him and the others? We know of Francesca’s death and that of the Italian footmen, so there was an epidemic raging, but it is hard to believe that everyone could have died.”

Karl Ivanovich answered a question with a question:
“Did you notice, in the letters, there is a mention of mademoiselle Rita’s coma?”

“This is something completely unclear to me,” answered James.

“If you were to read this pile of letters and notes several times over, as I have done, then you would come to a conclusion that the fiancé was moved to the Hunting Lodge and lived there for a while. She was ill and getting worse, finally falling in a coma, so deep that it was mistaken for actual death. She was dressed in her favourite outfit, laid in an open coffin and taken to the castle. The rooms where she lived were locked, never to be used again; especially the one she used most, her salon. The only door leading to it was blocked by a wardrobe.

In their hurry, they forgot the canary in her cage as well as a bouquet of field flowers. The red cape was left where it fell on the floor.
I suspect that mademoiselle Rita awoke while in the castle and from then on made an astonishingly rapid recovery. Carlo writes: “She is as fresh as the roses that she still loves to wear” and “Rita’s complexion had returned and she is no longer weak” and so on. Yet, at the same time, her character took turn for the worse. She became capricious, stubborn and, worse of all, became infatuated with her fiancé’s best friend.
Count grew terribly jealous and on numerous occasions let his friend know of his anger and hurt.

What happened next is hard to tell, it appears that Count and his friend had a falling out. The letters became progressively shorter, turning into dry notes, and then stopped altogether”, finished the librarian.

“Bravo, Karl Ivanovich!” exclaimed James, “I am so glad your theories agree with my observations. This is a sure sign that we are on the right path. But what do you think happened next?”

“I think that the times grew darker for the inhabitants of the castle”, continued Karl Ivanovich “death toll in the castle and the surrounding area increased. Castle’s income-expenditure books testify to that. Every page bears a note on funeral expenses, corroborated by the funeral service records in the church archive.

Mademoiselle Lucia also died, her funeral, as well as that of Francesca cost in an excess of a thousand guldens each.
Mademoiselle Rita’s coffin was even more expensive, though I’ve never managed to find the record of its purchase.”

“But what could have happened to Count, Rita and Alf, not to mention the others?” interrupted James impatiently.

“Unfortunately, these are the questions I have no answer to” answered the librarian “I read every piece of paper in the desks and cupboards in both the castle and the Hunting Lodge. I even opened every book, except the bible and turned over every scrap of paper,” he concluded.

Suddenly James jumped up from his chair:

“Wait a minute, there is something we haven’t read. I suspect it is Rita’s diary”

“Where is it? Why haven’t you told me about it!”

“Oh, I will get it for you, no problem, Harry has it. But, I think it is written in Italian,” he added with disappointment.

“This would not pose a problem. I know a little Italian and with the aid of a dictionary, I could make a translation for you. Tomorrow, when everyone has gone to the lake party I will have the entire evening to myself”.

James thanked the old man and went out to get the thin exercise book he first saw inside Japanese jewel box on the day of the masked ball. He was convinced that it was Rita’s diary.

The Lake Party.

The remaining guests were eagerly preparing for the planned festivity.
The entire lakeshore was illuminated by coloured lights and blazing torches.

Despite the promise of a light summer’s night, a large supply of sparklers, fireworks and lanterns was prepared in advance, since the moon, though bright, was rising late.

Small tents were erected for the rest and refreshments and a large dry piece of ground was cleared for the dancers, with several chairs and small tables surrounding it for those who wished to watch. Nearby a barrel of beer was hauled up on a platform and above it, several strings, decorated with small flags and Chinese lanterns were stretched all the way across the dance floor.

There were no invitations, and anyone was welcome.

To emphasise the informal atmosphere Harry and his friends decided to wear simple hunting costumes, though most of them were, doubtless, specially made for the occasion.

Since early morning, most of the younger guests were noisily getting ready for the party. Georges, completely recovered, wasn’t lagging behind.

Even Harry spent the better part of the morning trying on and inspecting his costume. He was unusually restless and loud, which of course, couldn’t escape Doctor Weiss’s eagle eye:

“Harry seems very anxious to me, it is as if he is waiting for something,” he said to James.

“Not something, someone,” grumbled James “that damned girl in the blue dress”

Later, James pulled Wright aside:

“Listen, I ask you, no I am begging you, don’t let Harry out of your sight tonight. I have such a heavy feeling... do you remember that night on the Amazon, when were crawling into the Indian camp? Would you believe me if I told you, that I felt easier back then? Every stone, every blade of grass could have concealed an enemy, but I knew then what the enemy was... and now? Mist and ghosts, damn it”.

XIV
The party is well under way. Huge crowds of people are walking along the shore. City women, in their light summer dresses, mingle with the village girls dressed in colourful folk costumes, and quite a few of the stylish ladies of fashion secretly envy thick dark braids or the beautiful complexion of some peasant beauty.

Two bands on the opposite sides play music without pause and dances follow one another. Only instead of the formal Black Lancier or Contra Danza, the night is ruled by the lively Hungarian folk tunes and the energetic czardas.

Men spin their ladies across the dance floor instead of leading them gently as if they were porcelain dolls, ready to break at any moment.

Dozens of garden benches, some at the edges of the clearing and some hiding in the darkness of the forest, offer a welcome rest for the tired, breathless dancers.

The entire lake, garlanded from shore to shore with coloured lanterns and lights, shimmers with all the colours of the rainbow. White water lilies look magical under pink and blue lights.

Large patches of open ground are bathed in moonlight and the play of light and shadow contrasts beautifully from the brightly lit dance floor to the dark forbidding pines of the forest.

Harry, dressed in a new semi-hunting costume, which is specially tailored to show off his muscular built, is polite and friendly to all, without showing preference. He is walking quietly from one group of people to another, as if searching for someone.

Wright is following him like a shadow.

At the other side of the crowd, James is trailing young Georges, but his task is a lot harder. The boy is having a great time, dancing without a pause, leading each new girl into the protective darkness of the pine trees, where he ambushes her with compliments, and, if the luck is with him, steals a kiss or two.

James is starting to get tired chasing after the boy and is beginning to wonder if he may have been wrong after all. ‘Perhaps Doc was right in calling me a fool’, he thinks and his desire to abandon his post grows with each minute. James is no longer as vigilant as before, his thoughts wandering.
‘Enough’, he decides looking instinctively in Georges direction for a last time.

“What’s that?”
Georges emerges from the forest with a new woman on his arm. She wears light, old-fashioned dress with a single red rose pinned to its bodice; her black hair is pulled up high and secured by an ornate comb.

Neither her dress or the hairstyle look exceptionally out of place, but the roses? James knows that there are no such flowers anywhere in the area, except in Harry’s private garden. Then, who is the woman? James hasn’t seen a girl like this among the servants, so she must have come from the city or the village, but then, where did she get the flowers from? Harry never allows them to be picked and keeps his private garden locked at most times.

“Well, maybe some of the youngsters stole them,” thinks James, but his tiredness and apathy vanish.

“I saw her before” he thinks, squinting in an uneven light, trying to catch a glimpse of her face “Yes, it’s her, the woman in the blue dress”, he says to himself.

Meantime Georges leads his lady across to the dance floor. They move to the lively music, several times passing close to James, so he can smell the familiar lavender fragrance.

“Definitely her” he decides, and, worried that he was seen, hides in the shade of tall pine trees.

The dancers stop and Georges, asks his lady if she would like to take a walk in the forest, which lies across the brightly lit clearing. The woman is reluctant.

“Aha” thinks James, “she is worried someone might notice she has no shadow”.

Georges is persistent. The woman looks around and seeing that nobody is watching them agrees and takes his hand. They cross the clearing quickly. And James, from his hiding place clearly sees Georges cast a long dark shadow while the woman next to him has none.

“A vampire”.

No matter how much he had believed himself prepared for this conclusion, for a split second James lost his ability to move.
In that moment, Georges and the woman vanished amid the dark trees.
James ran across the clearing, but the moment’s hesitation was enough for him to loose sight of them. Only the first few meters of the forest were lit with bright lanterns, the rest was dark.
James stumbles in the darkness, calling out Georges’ name.
There is no answer.
James runs out into the brightly lit area outside then realises that a vampire would lure their victim to an isolated spot, and rushes back in to the forest. The forest is dark, dense and eerily quiet. James could hear faint strands of the waltz reach him from outside.

“I will be too late” he is thinking, and rushes outside again, running to the manager’s tent demanding for a search party to be formed. He has forgotten that his actions could lead to panic, ruin the celebration and anger Harry.

“We will be too late!” he keeps repeating and without waiting for help, rushes back into the forest.
James thought that the forest rose uphill, all the way to the castle rock and was horrified at the thought of the search, but now, to his relief he saw that there was a moonlit clearing ahead of him that reached all the way to the foot of the mountain.

“Thank God I was wrong, it’s the other side of the lake, it would be easier to find them”, a thought rushes through his head, “oh, there they are”

He sees two figures approaching him across the clearing but as they come closer, he sees that they are both women. The first one, dark haired and lovely is undoubtedly Georges’ dancing partner, but who is the other one? Tall blonde in a light, old-fashioned summer dress.

They walk with their hands wrapped around each other’s waists, their eyes shining with a strange look of satisfied happiness, giving their beauty otherworldly mesmerizing form.

James had forgotten all about Georges, all he could think about are the two beautiful, seductive women. He feels the rush of blood and desire, but it lasts only a moment. His mind takes control of his young, passionate nature.

He no longer sees the shining faces of the women, but notices that both cast no shadow in the bright moonlight.

“The other one is also a vampire” a thought, oddly diffused passes his brain “What are we to do? There’s a whole nest of them”

As the women come closer, strange tiredness begins to overcome him.

“We are all doomed”, he thinks, feeling his legs buckle under him as he falls at the feet of the women.

“Death”, is the last though in James’ mind, before the darkness envelopes him.

XV
Last strands of waltz are still heard above the calm lake, but the lights are starting to dim. Tar barrels and roman candles are burned out, besides, there is no more need for them, the dawn is already breaking and the sun will soon rise.

Most of the guests are already gone.

Harry, pale and tired is sitting on the shore of the lake, looking sadly at the remains of the celebration. Wright, frowning, is standing at his side.

“So, Captain, are you happy? Did you manage to catch a pretty fish? And where is James, I couldn’t believe he is still trailing skirts?” asks Harry tiredly.

“I am worried about James, no one had seen him” answers Wright.

“What is there to worry about, unless he was abducted by a mountain fairy”, replies Harry with a weak smile.

Suddenly Smith appears before them; he is as pale as a ghost and could barely speak:

“Mr Cardie, we have a tragedy. Young Mr Georges was found dead”.

“What?”, shouts Wright “and where is James, where is he?”, and without waiting for an answer he rushes away.

Servants arrive, quietly bearing Georges’ body. They lay him gently in the middle of the dance floor.

“Get the doctor,” shouts Harry, bending over the corpse.

The expression on Georges’ face is peaceful, even happy. There are no signs of a struggle, even the two red, slightly weltered roses are still tucked in the lapel of his hunting jacket.

“Who could have given them to him? These came from my garden,” asks Harry angrily, “have you forgotten, Smith, that I ordered for them not to be touched?”

“Have I ever dared to forget your orders, Mr Cardie?” replied Smith, “I even have the key to the garden here with me”, he added.

“Strange”, said Harry a little calmer, “but, what’s all that noise?”

A crowd has gathered close to the edge of the forest. Somebody screamed.
Suddenly people moved and several of them started to walk towards Harry, carrying something heavy, close to the ground. One more body.

Captain Wright, who was crossing the clearing, stopped dead in his tracks.

“Don’t let it be Jamie, my best friend! Only yesterday he was heaving a premonition, but he was worried about others, not himself”. Wright felt tears come to his eyes, and rushed across the tall grass.

The crowd meantime reached the dance floor and lowered second body on the rug next to Georges.

It wasn’t James.
The corpse was that of a young boy of about sixteen, and judging by his costume, a city artisan. No one knew who he was.
The crowd had gathered around the corpses, not knowing what to do.
Captain Wright was running across the grass towards them when he tripped on something and fell. He got up instantly, mechanically glancing on the ground, and stopped, unbelieving. James’ body was lying at his feet.

“Am I mad? James is here, and James is being carried to the dance floor?” he thinks, and bending down lifts James’s body across his shoulder and starts to walk to the dance floor, not thinking. There he gently lowers it to the ground without saying a word.

Someone in the crowd screams, the sound rousing everyone. People start to rush, getting into the carriages, saddling horses, or making the way on their own two feet. Panic sweeps everyone. In between hysterical screams, one could hear threats and curses towards Harry.

Soon Harry is surrounded only by few of his closest friends and even fever servants.

Warm rays of the sun light up a strange scene: luxurious carpets, bright flags and tinsel decorations. The ground is littered with ribbons, gold and silver stars. Half empty beer mugs, ladies’ fans and gloves lay abandoned on the tables.

Everything spoke of life and yet the three pale corpses lay in the midst of it!
All three are young, beautiful and lifeless. The features are sharp and the dead eyes are wide-open, staring unseeing in the rays of the morning sun.

Harry and his friends stand helpless, not knowing what to do, when a loud voice is heard in the distance. Doctor Weiss, who had left the party many hours ago, had arrived from the castle. Instantly he takes charge of the frightened servants:

“Hurry, hurry, maybe there is something we can do. Take them to my rooms, come on, move it!” he orders.

The servants move the bodies and the sad procession heads uphill towards the castle on foot.

Harry is gloomily silent, while Captain Wright could barely hide his despair.

Doctor Weiss was already in his room, having ridden up the road. He and Joe already prepared the examination table.
Georges and the young artisan were pronounced dead. Quietly, Doctor pointed to small wounds on the corpse’s necks, whispering:
“James was right, after all”, moving to James’s body he began by lifting his head, searching for the familiar wounds.
There was none.
The body bore no injuries, only the brilliant blue lotus tattoo on James’ left shoulder stood out brightly under the electric lights, its colours vivid, yet delicate, almost shimmering.

“He is in a deep coma, maybe some form of hypnosis”, said Doctor, “there is hope, help me, Captain”

After a long time and effort, James woke up.
He was put in a warm bed and Wright volunteered to watch over him.

Meantime panic was still reigning in the castle. The remaining guests and most of the servants were packing their belongings, in a hurry to leave the place before dark.
Smith was shouting and cursing in most of the European languages, vainly trying to get the servants to help him and get the bodies in a decent state.
Harry locked himself in his study without bothering to bid his guest a farewell.

XVI
Dusk fell.
James had recovered completely after several hours of deep sleep and asked to see Karl Ivanovich.

“Have you read it?” he asked as soon as he saw the old librarian in the doorway.

“Yes, Sir, I did, and it is so sad, it is hard not to cry. Poor mademoiselle Rita” replied Karl Ivanovich, lowering his head, “she was killed by a vampire and she was fully aware of her fate, and yet she could tell no one, and this was the horror of her situation”.

“Don’t waste your pity on her. She is a vampire herself and she murdered Georges. Now I know why her face seemed so familiar to me...I saw it before in the portrait gallery, she is the young Italian bride in the white gown with Catherine de Medici collar. It was that very collar that confused me, it gave her face a different expression. Now I am certain she is guilty of Georges’ death”, said James with conviction.

“I am afraid you are wrong, Sir. Mademoiselle Rita, she is such a sweet, tender creature...Let me read you her notes, they aren’t long”, offered Karl Ivanovich.

“Please do”.


Rita’s Diary.

“Up until this moment my life was like a fairytale and I was a Cinderella who had found her prince. Only my Carlo is far more handsome, kinder, and wealthier than any prince in this world!
His castle, my castle, is built on a high rock, surrounded by a garden drowning in flowers, so many beautiful blooms, and among them my favourite red roses. Beautiful, perfect, I love them still, even though now I have many jewels. I want to wear only them.

And all of this is thanks to Carlo. He is so generous, sometimes I feel that he is going to buy the entire world for me.
Wonderful Carlo, if only you knew that I love you not for your gifts, but for you.
I am happiest when you hold me and I rest myself against your chest.
And last night had started so wonderfully. Carlo stood at my window for a long time and we both were looking up at the moon. I didn’t know that it was to be for the last time, and that nothing would ever be the same again.
What happened? I don’t know myself, but I am no longer the same and everything has changed.
During the night, cold wind blew into my window. Lucia and Francesca swear that the night was hot, but I know different. Cold wind blew into my room, stale, cold wind.
I wrapped my shawl around me and closed my eyes.
Soon I felt that I was no longer alone in the room, and unseen presence was there, and at the same time, I am unable to open my eyes.
Someone is coming closer, could it be Carlo, and then a strange thing happened,-through my closed lids, I see a man approaching my bed. It is not Carlo.
He is tall and lean, dressed in dark velvet, his eyes glisten and his thin, malicious looking mouth is closed in a cruel line.
Who is he?
I can see in his features the resemblance to Carlo’s ancestors, and yet, I have never seen him before. I know each and every portrait in the gallery and he is not among them.
The longer he stares at me, the colder I feel. My panic is rising and I hear, not with my ears, but in my heart: “You are my chosen one. I love you”
Terror overwhelms me and I loose consciousness.

Warm ray of the sun wakes me. Everything is silent and I am alone in the room.
The feeling of cold remained and my neck feels sore. I look in the mirror and see two small wounds. How could I have hurt myself? But then I remember the sharp carnelian pin.
At coffee, I wanted to tell Carlo my dream, but before I could open my mouth, I clearly heard: “Don’t you dare!” I fell silent, shocked, and then Carlo began pestering me with questions about my health, telling me that the nanny heard me moaning last night.
Before long, I was assailed with questions and advice and when I showed them the wounds on my neck, Carlo turned white as a ghost.
Why? Are they dangerous?
He and the others think I’ve caught a cold when I was in the crypt. It is true, it was quite damp down there and it was my own fault for leaning against a stone coffin, but the strange thing is, I felt as if the cold had left the stone and entered my body, taking possession of it.
It is as if it owns me.
And so from that wretched night I’ve lost my peace and happiness.

I am cold in daylight, and at night, especially if the moon is bright, I am filed with passionate longing. But what, whom, do I long for? At first, I didn’t know myself, but now I know, I know I am waiting for “him”.

Dreadful, black stranger. He orders me to call for him, telling me that then it is easier for him to come and I obey, yearning for him to appear.
I don’t know who he is, I fear him, hate him, and long for him.

He enters my room like a master, caressing me, whispering: “Your love gave me back my life, my youth”.
I see that he is right, he looks younger now, his skin is warm in colour, his lips are red...and I feel even more repulsed.
Everything around me sways and pulsates and I try to lie very still, but how it all ends and where he goes to, I don’t know.

I think I may be ill with some unknown sickness. Carlo wanted to call for a doctor but I couldn’t dare. “He” will be angry.
My wounds are not healing; instead, they are larger now and look horrible. I am forced to cover them with ribbons and lace.


The moon is young now and “he” hasn’t come to me for a few days.
It is as if I am waking from a nightmare, still unable to tell you what was a dream and what really happened to me.
I know one certainty: I am in danger. In danger from him, if he exists, or in danger from insanity, if he doesn’t.
I have to tell Carlo, and he is away in the city. Something has delayed him there.

I am calmer now, and my wounds are healing well.
I need to do something, and Carlo is still in the city!

Today I am so happy, I’ve found my prayer book, my precious little book. I though I lost it, and without it, the prayers left my memory.
Now I no longer fear you, black ghost!
Francesca promised to read evening prayers with me before bed. I told her I have been seeing a dark man, and she assured me that no ghost can withstand the prayers of Saint Anthony. I am happy now. I only wish Carlo would come home.


The moon is growing, soon it will be full.
My confidence and courage vanish and the yearning and longing for sweet pleasure grow stronger and stronger. The desire to be rocked in the moonlight is overwhelming me. Silver waves are streaming, streaming past you, you feel as if you are flying, and he is here, with you, both hated and desired.
Now, I will conquer myself, I will not give him the reason to come here!
My prayer book is at my side, all I need to do is control my nerves, haven’t I had enough of hallucinations?
Francesca sits with me on the bed every evening and we talk for hours.

Carlo came back. He is thinner and looks unwell, as if something is bothering him. Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to worry me. How can I add to his burden?
Besides, I am well now.
Carlo brought with him a funny old man, a friend of his father’s. He is so attentive to me, bowing and asking concerned questions, as if he were a lovesick knight!
He is so comical.
On his neck, he is wearing a funny little symbol on a black cord. When I asked him what it was he replied solemnly:

“It is a pentagram, madam. Against evil spirits”

I wanted so badly to ask him for it, but I couldn’t dare. I will ask Carlo to order the same one for me.
We are expecting a new guest soon; Carlo’s best friend is due to arrive from Nuremberg. The forest house is being prepared for him.
Carlo says that he is terribly learned and does not like company, especially that of females.
It’s a pity, I never saw forest house, though Carlo had prepared two rooms for me there, but now I wouldn’t be able to go there at all, Carlo would never allow his friend to be disturbed!

Everything is over.
The full moon came and he took my soul.
To my misfortune, Francesca had a headache and left me to go to bed. I have no strength to fight him. He is not a ghost, he is real. Real. He lies across my chest and quietly, oh so quietly drinks my blood, my very life. My wounds are open now, their edges white.
Again, I cannot walk away from under his control, cannot ask Carlo for help. He forbade me from caressing Carlo, he is terrible jealous. “There will be no wedding” he told me.
How will it end, what will happen?

Oh, horror, horror of last night!
We were all sitting in the garden and I felt him coming and hurried into my bedroom. In my haste, I forgot to lock the door to Francesca’s room.
He was soon here, sucking on my neck.
Maybe I moaned and Francesca came into my room.
I saw her rush at him, grabbing his shoulders. It was a terrible struggle!
Francesca fought for me as if possessed, her hair came undone, the shirt was torn off her body and yet she was unaware. But how could she have won, he is strong, so supernaturally strong, it is a miracle she lasted that long.
Maybe the blessed rosary that she wore on her breast helped her, for the moment the beads broke; she fell to the floor, dead.
He vanished.
Darkness swallowed me, for how long, I cannot tell.

I woke up and Carlo was holding me, Francesca’s body was gone...
They are trying to hide her death from me! It is even funny, if only they’d known...
Carlo wants me to move to the forest house. I don’t mind, why not?
Who knows, maybe this is the key to my salvation. If I go away from him, stop calling him, maybe, he will forget about me. Carlo’s ‘learned’ friend isn’t as old or grumpy as Carlo told me. He is welcoming me to “his” forest house.

I am doomed, finally doomed!
I wanted to find a shelter, an escape in the forest house and instead...I walked straight into his lair! My god!
His eyes were glowing in his hellish triumph! He was smiling his arrogant, evil smile...now he no longer needs me to call him.
It is his home. A single wall stands between us. And no one knows.
There is no salvation for me, goodbye Carlo, Farewell my happiness, my very life!

The time drags on and on, he is taking my life slowly, prolonging his pleasure, and I am forced to live not only through the horrible nights, but now even days!
Who could imagine that between my room and the one with his horrible portrait, or should I say him himself, there is a secret door...and no one knows of it save us both!
He can come and go as he pleases.
My end is close, pray for me. Soon...”

“Poor girl” said Karl Ivanovich softly.

Before James could answer, the door of his bedroom swung open and Harry stormed in, followed by Captain Wright, Doctor and Smith. Smith was pale and Harry was clearly enraged. He slumped into a chair and started talking so fast that James could barely follow him:

“What the hell is this?! Goddamned bedlam, that’s what! These backward fools are yelling that I brought death with me from America. Damned idiots, that’s all I think of them. How dare they attack my messenger and beat the hell out him? I will make sure these harebrained bastards pay for this.”

“Calm down, Harry, and tell us properly what happened” said James.

Harry swore again. Then he pulled out a cigar and lit it. After a few drags he calmed down and nodded to his manager:

“Smith, tell James what happened”


“This morning”, started Smith “Miller and I left for the city. After we bought provisions and collected parcels, I told Miller to go back with the cart. I left on the horseback to see a landowner to make arrangements about a horse that Mr Cardie wanted to buy. The man wasn’t at home and I hurried to catch up with Miller.
You can imagine first my shock and then fury when I saw the overturned cart, provisions scattered in the dust, parcels broken and contents lying in the dirt right in the middle of the village road.
I searched for Miller and saw him leaning against the wall of the hut. His face was bloody and he was surrounded by the screaming mob. The villagers were cursing and shaking their fists at him.
I rushed to his aid and as soon as the mob spotted me, they completely lost their minds:

“There he is, damned heretic, heathen American, he and his devil master brought death with them, kill him, kill him!”

They rushed towards me.
I lashed the first few with my riding crop and they pulled back. I got my revolver out and, pointing at the mob, said:

“The first one to move will die; I swear it by your God”

Cowards moved back even further.

“Now tell me, what are your grievances? What do you need, what are you complaining about? Isn’t your village flourishing since Mister Cardie moved here? Doesn’t he help your enough? Feeds your poor and looks after your sick? Come on, speak!”

“You’re right, Sir” said the old, grey peasant, “All that you say is true, with the arrival of your master we forgot all our troubles, but the calamity is, that, in these three months we have had more dead than in an entire year, all of them young. The sickness is strange, so strange, we’ve never heard of it. One day you’re fine, tomorrow your are dead. So the lads are thinking, maybe your master brought something form overseas. They say there is no God there and people live unbaptised”.

“Gentlemen, how can you think that?” I said to them “we are as much Christian as you are, pray to the Holy Virgin like you, and all death is simply God’s will”

They quietened a little. Some started arguing and whispering among themselves.
Quietly I pulled Miller up in the saddle behind me.
Suddenly a peasant woman came running, her hair dishevelled, dress torn, screaming:

“Help me, Christian people, my little girl is dead. The black Devil smothered her; I saw it myself, with my own eyes. All in velvet, he lay upon the child, and when he saw me, he ran, straight to the castle! I wanted to grab him and look what he did to me!” she was shouting, her words broken up with sobs and curses.

The crowd rushed towards me and, well, I thought it prudent to flee. Luckily, I was riding our ‘Peacock’, in few seconds he knocked over the first row of the villagers, the ones in at the back jumped away and Miller and I were on the open road. Of course, no other horse could catch him. Now the gates are locked. What are the orders?”

Harry’s rage returned and he stood up:

“I will level their damned village to the ground. How dare they, “Brought death with him?” Smith, telegraph Colonel, I need a detachment of soldiers. Tell him I will pay all the expenses beforehand.”

Smith was about to leave, when James stopped him:

“Please wait. Harry please listen to me, or rather, us” he said “We are all as good as a family and I consider Smith a loyal and honest member of staff, and I think it is necessary that he also hears this.
Yes, Harry, no matter how insane it may sound, the villages are partially right in blaming us”

“What, that we brought death with us?” asked Harry, his eyes wide in surprise.

“No we didn’t bring it with us but, how can I put it, unleashed it on them” replied James.

Harry looked at Doctor who clearly read the question: “When did he lose his mind?”

“James is fine, he is not insane. Listen to him and you will see why” replied Doctor.

James began telling Harry and Smith his theories. He started with Wright’s vision in the Hunting Lodge, the incident with Georges that Doctor mistook for sleepwalking, brought up the strange disappearance of a woman in a blue dress. He quoted Carlo’s letters and the diaries of Rita and insane schoolteacher.
James told Harry and Smith of his own observations concerning the deaths of Viscount Reno, Cornet Visē and, finally, that of young Georges. Lastly, he told of his fruitless attempt to destroy the vampire.

At first Harry was smiling suspiciously, thinking that his friends were playing a prank, but as James carried on speaking, Harry grew more serious, frowning and rubbing his brow.
When James finished, Harry rose up and paced the room back and forth, gathering his thoughts:

“I’d be damned if I know what goes on here, it’s like a tale from the Arabian nights, or something” he exclaimed “but, then, your words have a lot of truth in them. Bravo, Sherlock Holmes” he said, smiling at James
“I was also wandering about all the strange things going on here” he continued, “People are dying like flies, and we keep hearing about weird dreams and visions, and me, with my own adventures.”

Harry’s Dreams.

“I didn’t want to tell you before, partly because I thought you’d laugh at me, and partly before I didn’t know myself...but now I can”, said Harry.

“The first time was still at the Hunting Lodge, on what night I cannot remember. I went to bed.

You all know that my bedroom was the third one down the passage, a little larger than the rest but still with only a single window, facing the garden.
This part of the grounds was very overgrown with lilacs and bird cherry. The branches, heavy with flowers, would push into my open window.
I couldn’t sleep.
I tried lying very still, tried, - on Doctor’s advice- to count slowly to a hundred, tried thinking about my plans for the castle.
Nothing would help.

My pillow felt unbearably hot, my straw mattress seemed as soft as down, which I cannot stand.

I was ready to get up, when, all of a sudden, I felt a pleasant cool breeze wash over me, as if thousands of unseen wings were beating in the darkness...
Vague shapes began to rise from the shadows and strange inexplicable desires filled my mind.
The shapes, formless and fluid, were unrecognisable at first, but as my eyes adjusted, their contours became clearer and clearer.
You’ve guessed it; the images were those of beautiful women.

But they weren’t real; I mean they weren’t modern women.
Their faces and bodies were dark, bronze in colour, as if their delicate soft skin was burned brown by the tropical sun. Glossy black hair were pulled up in an intricate coiffure, separated into hundreds of thin braids and decorated with bright feathers of tropical birds.
Instead of clothes, they wore leopard skins slung around their thighs, and for some the entire costume consisted of a single gold belt.

The images moved, shifted and merged like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope.

The air was filled with pleasant rustling sound, like beating of bird’s wings. Strong, aromatic fragrance that I never smelled before was making my head spin.
My pulse was hammering against my temples, I felt as if my soul wanted to leave my body.

“Find the talisman, give us life and be our master,” a wonderful woman’s voice whispered in my ear.

I couldn’t take it anymore and tried to rise from my bed and...woke up.

My blood is still ringing in my ears; my heart is beating like a hammer.
I get up, open the drapes, and push at the window frame. The moon is bright. Lilacs and Bird cherry are blooming and their scent fills the air, but it seems dead and unpleasant to me.
I want what I saw in my dream.
I want to hear the beating of unseen wings, want to see beautiful women...
But it is all in vain. Whatever it was, it is gone now.
I couldn’t sleep until dawn.

I decided to label my adventure a ‘dream’ and blame it on the old Tokay. Do you remember how surprised you all were when I stopped drinking my favourite wine?

Now, after most of us have seen dreams similar to mine, I mean something more than just a dream, more real, actual, I am inclined to believe that this dream and the others that followed were a part of the strange events happening around us”

“What, you saw more?” asked James, surprised.

“Yes, twice more. I will tell you,” said Harry taking several drags off his cigar “The second time was again at the Hunting Lodge, and again I cannot remember when exactly. I only know that Viscount Reno was already buried.
I went to my bedroom and dismissed Sabo.
I didn’t feel like sleeping.
I pulled open the dark curtains and opened the window. The moon is bright, just like the last time. Bird cherry and Lilacs are blooming again, only tonight their fragrance is pleasant to me.
I sit on my chair by the window.
Long branches, laden with flowers push into the open frame. At the slightest stirring of wind, they move and white petals fall on me and the floor at my feet.

Unconsciously, I follow them with my eyes... shadows of the branches cast an intricate pattern on the light- coloured floor and the white petals only increase the effect.
They seem to pull closer together merging into a single white spot.
But, what’s that?
The spot moves and I see an outline of a white muslin dress, humble an unpretentious. I can see a woman’s face, her thick golden braids and blue, bottomless eyes, spilling with sadness and grief. Her face is so pale, it seems transparent...
She looks like a typical German “Gretchen”.

Afraid of frightening the ghost I force myself to sit very still.

She moves closer to me, her movements unsure and cautions. She bends over me and her small delicate hands with their long, transparent fingers wind around my neck.
One more moment and we would be kissing.
Suddenly I hear the familiar beating of wings, except now it is hundred times stronger, the sound is deafening. It forces itself between me and my “Gretchen”. She moves back further and further, her image fades and vanishes and in her place, I see the spinning, writhing copper-red naked bodies.
Their dance is more violent, more passionate than before; the aroma of hot flesh is almost unbearable.

I hear a familiar voice: “Return the talisman, bring us back to life!”

In the morning, Sabo discovered me, close to unconsciousness, in my chair. I ordered him to keep quiet.
What could I say? I had no logical explanation for this. I couldn’t even blame the old Tokay”.

“Now, for the last one” said Harry, taking another drag “Today, you’ve mentioned an incident with the woman in blue, the one that came to our masked ball.
I must admit, I was quite infatuated back then.

Of course, I didn’t believe you when you insisted that she didn’t exist and the whole thing was a hallucination. I was convinced that she was real. I saw her, felt her and I had the carnelian pin she’d left behind to prove it. What else could I need?
If I was so diligent in making my past- ball visits, it was because I was hoping to find her. I hired two Jews to do the same. Nothing...not a trace, not a clue.
Finally, I lost all hope of ever seeing her again.
Do you remember my lousy mood back then? I was blaming it on the tiredness and being forced to make all those daily visits.

Then, when I wasn’t so much as beginning to forget her, as accepting my fate, I was walking alone, on foot, from the Hunting Lodge back to the castle.
Do you remember a small bright clearing in the middle of the forest? As I was approaching it, I saw something blue through the thinning leaves. I stopped, trying to focus my eyes.
A dress. The same fabric, the same light shade, the colour of the sky. It must be her. I can even glimpse her red roses through the leaves...it is her.

I didn’t even bother to think what she would be doing here, in the middle of the forest, in her evening dress!
“I’ve found her!” was all I could think.
I rush through the bushes, a moment more and I will be in the clearing and I will see her...
Something rushes past my face.
I can hear the familiar beating of wings, could smell the aroma of the heated flesh, though I cannot see anything.

“Our master, our master” the voices ring in my head. And then, nothing.
I am standing in the middle of the clearing.
Everything is quiet, the sun is bright. In the middle of the clearing, a large puddle from yesterday’s rain is reflecting the endless blue of the summer’s sky.
A single red poppy is growing at its edge.

I was almost ready to cry from disappointment. To mistake a rain puddle and a poppy for a woman, isn’t that ridiculous?”

Harry fell silent.

“Well, what happened next?” asked Doctor.

“Next? What do you think about this?” Harry answered Doctor’s question with his own.

“What do I think? I think that the Old Tokay isn’t the only culprit here”

“And you, Jamie?” asked Harry, turning to James.

James didn’t answer.

“What do you think?” asked Harry again.

“Forgive me if I don’t answer”, replied James “I have few facts, even less evidence. And what I do think is so far-fetched that all of you would be mocking me for the rest of my life”

Smith’s dream.

Smith, who hasn’t uttered a single sound throughout the conversation, suddenly turned to Harry:

“I don’t know, Sir, if the gentlemen would be interested in hearing my dream...”, he asked, unsure.

“Of course.” replied Harry.

“A dream, but not a true dream” began Smith.

“I’d bet there were women involved, with roses or nenufares”, snorted Doctor.

“Oh no, Doctor... what women? Even peasant wenches in the village call me “The Red Devil”. I wish I were back in America, at least there the redheads are respected”

Everyone bowled over laughing, despite the seriousness of conversation. Once the laughter died down, Doctor, barely able to keep his face straight, asked with mock solemnity:

“So, Mister Red Devil, what did you dream?”

“It was the night before the masked ball. I was dead tired after spending the whole day going up ant down the stairs from the attic to the cellar I swear at least a hundred times. My head was full of the things that still needed to be done, but the moment it touched the pillow I was gone.
How long I was sleeping, I cannot tell.

I am in a cellar. Why did I come here? No, I am wrong, this isn’t our castle, I am some place different. Maybe it is an underground prison, but who could have put me there, and why?
No, impossible.
And yet I know that I am deep underground. Everything is dead silent and a faint, almost undetectable smell hangs in the air.
“Oh, it must be our new Mexican mine”, I think and the fear and hesitation vanish.

I walk on. Strange, but our shafts, especially the lower ones are much narrower, with low ceilings, and here I cannot feel the stone around me. I reach towards the walls, trying to find the wooden scaffolding, but, to my surprise, my fingers touch a smooth, polished surface.

“Must be marble or granite”, a though flashes through my mind, and I keep walking. The passage seems to go on forever.
Soon I am able to distinguish vague shapes alongside the walls. I couldn’t tell what they are first, but as I walk further, I begin to see a little better. The walls of the passage have niches carved into them, each holding a coffin. I see shadowy female figures in the caskets; their long hair and clothes leave me in doubt of this.
I start to run, faster and faster, until I come to a closed door.
I push it open and stand frozen.
I cannot see anything.
The light is so bright it is blinding me.
Finally, I am able to see where I am; I am inside an enormous empty hall, its walls are made of running water, like a waterfall. Bright light is coming from somewhere; it is neither sunlight, nor electricity.
In front of me stands a tall golden structure, a throne, or maybe an altar. I hear, not from the depths of the room, but rather, from all sides a voice:

“Find the treasure, dig, and search, get up, get up!”

I realise that the voices are in my own head.

I am inside our castle cellars once more, but I am not sure which one. I can see faint light seep through one of the walls.

“Here”.

I feel something heavy in my hand. A pickaxe. I lift it, swinging...and wake up.

Miller is standing over my bed, shaking my arm:
“Get up, get up. Go find Mr Cardie, there is an urgent telegram from the plantation”.

The morning sun is bright in my room, blinding me.
I was thinking about this dream for a whole week”, continued Smith “Find, dig!”, maybe it was fate, a sign. The castle is old; perhaps there is a buried treasure.
Forgive me, Mr Cardie, but I couldn’t help myself, I tried to search in the cellars, everywhere. I even dug in the crypt. Nothing”, sighed Smith.

“And what happened next?” asked Doctor.

“Nothing. It was all a lie”

Nobody spoke.

“So, gentlemen, lets here your opinions about this dream?” said James, straightening.

“Jamie, have mercy! To discuss every dream!” begged Doctor in mock horror “what couldn’t one dream about? Just a little overindulgence at supper and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a disaster. Last Sunday I decided to give a Russian dish a try. “Siberian Pelmeni”, that’s what it was called. And I swear to you, the blasted things were dancing and flying around me the whole night! I’d open my mouth and try to grab one, and it would be gone, returning a moment later to dance some more under my nose. I’d wait for it to come closer... snap! No luck. I suffered that night. In the morning I had to drink some Ricini”, added Doctor with a serious face.

Everyone laughed, except James, who waved his hand angrily at the ever-cheerful Doctor.


“All right. We need a battle plan”, said Harry once the laughter died down “At least this is more interesting than dancing and making visits”

“Firstly, Smith” he continued, “Tomorrow you will visit the village priest and ask him to hold a special Mass. Make it all sound as solemn as possible and tomorrow, all of us will go to church.
Then, a formal breakfast. We will invite the priest, the village headman, their doctor and about five or six leading figures. Let it be known that I blame today’s incident on the rowdiness of drunken youths and have, magnanimously, chosen not to pursue the culprits. Prepare a good donation for the village school, church and the sick-house. This I will hand over to the local representatives after the formal breakfast.

At the same time, deliver some festive food to the village. Find any excuse, tell them it’s my birthday or I have become a recipient of a new order, anything will do.
With this, we will temporarily shut up the loudest voices in the village and it will give us necessary time to deal with our unwelcome housemates.
Now, the first question: you’ve told me that you went into the new crypt and found it empty”, continued Harry, “I was the one who ordered for the coffins to be removed”, he opened his walled and pulled out a small piece of pink notepaper. Even without the smell of lavender that accompanied it, one could easily guess that it was written by a woman. Harry read aloud:

“Every knight, before he can posses his lady, must perform a great feat, or fulfil a whim of hers. It would be desirable for the coffins of Frederick and Maria Dracula to be moved into the common crypt, before tonight. Reward awaits you at the Lake Party. You will recognise me by my blue dress and the roses”

“I found this note lying on my desk” added Harry “new burial place of the couple is well known to Smith”, he finished.

Getting up Harry stood silent for a moment, then spoke again:

“The second question is, if she, or should I say “it” is trying to posses me, how come I am not only alive, but even my neck is still in one piece?”

“Good question. We’ve been following you for a while now, and are wandering why she’d left you alone”, interrupted James “Wright and I have been keeping watch every night”

“Is it true, my friends?” said Harry, touched and embraced both James and Wright.

“What’s so strange? Haven’t we all swore to watch each other’s backs?” said James simply.

“Thank you again, friends,” repeated Harry “Do you know what? I am starting to believe that Carlo, the previous owner, knew about his dangerous neighbours and took precautions. Now I understand his passion for the sign of pentagram, you know what I am talking about, two interlocked triangles. The symbol is found everywhere in my rooms, on the headboards of my bed, on the fireplace, windowsills, door entrance. It is made of metal, carved into the wood or made into a mosaic. Even my riding crop and a walking stick are decorated with the same symbol. It all fascinated me to so much that I decided to start wearing it around my neck. Laughing I decided, let me be marked by the cabbalistic symbol along with the rest of my possessions
And now it turns out it has been protecting me”, added Harry as he unbuttoned his waistcoat, pulling out a thin gold chain with elegant pentagram pendant, set with diamonds.

“Smith, tomorrow you will order for the same signs to be made in silver for all of our servants and staff. And draw a pentagram above every door in the castle”, continued Harry “I trust that you will do it as inconspicuously as possible”

“Yes, Sir”

“Now, for the rest. Karl Ivanovich has told me we’ve read all that we could find on the subject,” said Harry, facing the librarian.

“Yes, sir, as I’ve already told Mr James, I even looked inside all the books, except the big bible, but I doubt there will be anything in it”

“I hear you. Nonetheless, Smith will bring it up to the castle tonight and we can take a look at it, as for now, friends, I would like to examine all of your papers myself. I need time to think”

James handed Harry a pile of papers.

“All right. Till evening”, said Harry, getting up.

XVII
In the evening, surrounded by his friends, Harry read aloud from the several sheets of paper he discovered between the pages of the large bible. Karl Ivanovich was barely able to contain his misery at having nearly missed such an important document. He was clutching his bald head in despair:
“I don’t know what came over me to think that there was nothing important in that bible!” complained crestfallen librarian.

Alf’s farewell letter.

Harry began reading:

“Dear Carlo, we need to talk. Our current situation borders on unbearable, and although I can honestly declare that I have tried several times to explain myself to you, you have been steadfast in avoiding me. I ascribed it to a coincidence at first, but now I am certain that you are avoiding me, avoiding my explanations.
I am left with no other choice than writing this letter.
Carlo, my dear friend, we have known each other since childhood. Our friendship isn’t of a few days duration, and I dread the though of it ending over nothing (I confess the idea of leaving without talking to you has occurred to me).
Let’s not leave anything unsaid, let’s not beat around the bush, I will be the first to say it: you are jealous of me and you fiancé.
Are you insane?
Have you forgotten who I am? A poverty-stricken lab rat, with stern views on women. Do you remember when the entire university was laughing at me?
You are my best friend, my only friend, do you think I will betray all I believe in and try to steal the woman you love, your fiancé?
I’ve analysed my conduct up to this point and I could safely swear that I am not guilty of a singe inappropriate word or an immodest glance towards Rita.
I swear it to you.
But, when I think about it honestly, I cannot blame you either. Rita has changed, and, -forgive me my candour- she has changed for the worse.
When she was ill and you’ve moved her down to the forest house, she was a different woman. The three of us would spend entire days in each other’s company, Rita, poor Lucia and I. We would discuss poetry and reminisce of Italy. The ladies would sing and play the lute. I was telling then about the latest scientific discoveries.
Even the most strict, merciless judge couldn’t have found a single instance with which to reproach us for our conduct.
And you yourself, when you would arrive unannounced, at any given hour, did you see anything hinting at the secret relationship?
I would wage my life you didn’t.

On that horrible day, when Rita fell into stupor so suddenly, we all lost our heads.
She was better in the morning, though she seemed strangely nervous, as if she were waiting for someone. Was it premonition?
I was convinced she was waiting for you, that you both had agreed to meet secretly. But after your bouquet of field flowers had arrived, I became certain that it was something else.
When I was putting the flowers into a silver vase at Rita’s request, I saw tears glistening in her eyes, as she was paging through a small black book on her lap, which I recognised as her Psalter.
Later she complained of tiredness and asked Lucia and me to leave her with Cecilia. We left.
Cecilia joined us few minutes later. Rita sent her away as well:

“Senorita is writing something”, the old nurse told us.

Lucia and I sat in the salon, waiting to be called back. Suddenly we heard a terrible scream. We rushed into Rita’s room, but it was old Cecilia who was screaming.
Rita was lying on her couch; her body ramrod straight, her head thrown back.
I rushed toward her; she opened her eyes, slowly with great effort, closing them again. I though she was feeling ill and got up to fetch water, but the moment I raised her head to give her a drink, she looked at me again and for the first time...I felt something strange in her eyes...I must be honest here...something passionate, lascivious. She whispered in a low, barely audible voice:
“Kiss me”
Afraid and not thinking, I bent over her and kissed her lips.
In the very same moment, she arched her back exhaling and fell into a stupor, which we all mistook for death.

I bend over her again, and pulled back, frightened. Rita’s face looked evil, her lips parted as if snarling, even her teeth looked animal. It was as if I were looking upon a complete stranger. Soon the expression on her face changed, becoming peaceful again, and this is how you’ve found her.
Do you remember how we, all of us, lost our heads, and this is why I never told you about the kiss before.
Afterwards we were too busy preparing for the funeral; we moved her body to the chapel, your grief, all of it.
Then, according to your wish, we locked her salon forever, forgetting the poor canary bird, and then, her sudden resurrection (I don’t know what to call it), in the middle of the night, during a storm, that terrified all the servants, and- if we were to be honest-, all of us.

After Rita’s “Resurrection” it was impossible for me to tell you about the kiss, and I would have probably forgotten all about it if I didn’t, from time to time, catch Rita looking at me with the same kind of look that preceded the kiss.

You have written to me recently about strange changes in Rita’s character, and I am forced to agree. I also see it, and the longer it takes, the stranger the transformation. You are right; she is blossoming physically and, at the same time, descends lower and lower spiritually.

She was so sensitive, so compassionate, and now she is appallingly cold. Nothing, not even the deaths all around her, seem to elicit a single drop empathy. Even Lucia’s tragic end failed to affect her. Her reaction to her canary’s death was disgustingly cold.

She is no longer bothering with her outward appearance, judging from the fact that she ordered for all the mirrors to be covered as a “sign of mourning”, even her own dresser.
There is no more singing or music (I think her lute was also left in the salon). Rita prefers solitude.
Her character also took turn for the worse, here an example.
In the last days before her stupor, she was inseparable from her prayer book, the little black volume we both know so well, and I asked her if I should bring it for her. Rita became terribly angry, her eyes narrowed, she looked positively snarling as she heaped me with abuse.

The other time I handed her a hand mirror, another treasured companion, and she not only threw it on the floor, but broke the glass with the heel of her shoe, without sparing the delicate gold frame.
Despite all this, I, as I’ve told you before, have felt that strange look from Rita, full of desire, passion and...something else. I fear it, and not only because of you. There is something otherworldly, eerie in it.
I was interrupted by a letter from you, inviting me to the castle. How different from our old letters, the official language, cold tone.
I declined, why bother?
Tomorrow, or the day after, I will be out of you way. At the beginning of this letter, I was hoping to clear things up, but now, after thinking long and hard I have decided to leave, without farewells.
I am leaving this letter for you; you will understand that the best solution is for me to go away. Thank you for the love you’ve showed me before and I believe with all my heart that you will show it to me again once more. I am, for my part was and always will be your faithful friend. My regards to Rita, may you both have all the happiness in the world.

Yours,
Alf.

A day and the night. A day and the night had passed and yet my whole world has been turned upside down. I still don’t know what happened. I must write all of this down to make sense of things. Usually, jotting down the facts and figures helps me understand, so here it is:
I wrote Carlo a farewell letter and left it in my desk, wanting to add a few more wishes and goodbyes before I left.
Next.
I went for a walk in the garden, the night was quiet, the moon bright, and the lake was as smooth as a mirror. Only the air felt heavy, as if before a thunderstorm.
I went to bed with my window open.
In the middle of the night, I felt someone in my room, and something heavy was pressing down on my chest, I’ve opened my eyes...
Holy Virgin Mary, Rita is in my bed, lying upon my chest. What is this? I want to cry out, get up and I cannot...I will defame her! What would people think? What would Carlo say?
Obvious, Rita is ill; otherwise what would she be doing in my room, in the middle of the night? She is either delirious or sleepwalking.
What am I to do? I must not frighten her. The thoughts rush through my mind like a hurricane. My head starts to spin, I feel dizzy. Strange sweet tiredness is invading my body. The room starts to sway before my eyes.
I lose consciousness for the first time in my life.

I open my eyes. I am alone. Everything is silent and the moon is starting to set, I could feel cool predawn breeze on my face. I try to think...and cannot.
Where did she go to? I am sure that she was here; I can still smell her favourite perfume, lavender. What happened to her? Why did she come here?
I didn’t even think that the whole incident may have been a dream; this is how real it was. Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind: maybe something terrible had happened and Rita came to me for help.
I jumped off my bed and was dressed in a few seconds. In my haste I didn’t notice that my bedroom was still locked from the inside, only now, writing this down I remembered.
So, it is one more mystery. I ran around the building, but everything seemed fine, the house dark, quiet, asleep. I rushed into the garden, and lost my footing in the tall grass, falling face down into the rosehip bush, scratching my cheek and hands and piercing my neck with a dry branch so severely that the entire front of my shirt was stained with blood.
When I returned to the house, the servants were already getting up and all of my enquiries if something happened last night were met with blank stares and complete denial.
These are the facts. What are my conclusions?
I am so sure that she was in my room I am prepared to wage my soul on it.
First question: how did she get in?
The door is locked. I have the key. She could have used another key, a specially made one, which hints at premeditation. And the window? It is not high off the ground and I’ve left it open last night. Still premeditation.
Second question: why did she come here?
Damn it, I just felt a wave of cold sweat rush over me, maybe Carlo is right and she loves me, loves me enough to throw all caution to the wind. Was I too blind to notice this passion? And my sudden fainting came in at the worst possible moment. What is she thinking of me now? She is probably despising me right now.
Third question: what am I to do?
Flee; I must flee as soon as possible. But what if she loves me, truly loves me? Well, she will get sad than get over it. But then not everyone can forget one’s love...
I will never forget her.
Do I have the right to go now? She disgraced herself. Even if no one were ever to find out, she herself knows. A young woman, beautiful and engaged to be married was alone in the bedroom of another young man...yes I am still young. Lay on his bed, on his chest. Wouldn’t she be raked with guilt?
Isn’t it my duty to remain?
No, no and no, don’t try to turn this around, Alf. This love is not for you. While you have any decency left, you must flee.
I will not go up to the castle but will make my way straight for the city and get horses there, leaving in the evening.
It is decided.
*****

Dawn.
Here I am again. As the old saying goes: Men tracht und Gott lacht “man makes plans, but God laughs”, but God, I am sure had very little to do with all of this.
I prayed badly, believed even less and tonight He left me.
Right now, I am calm, as calm as a condemned man, awaiting his executioner.

The horror of the unbelievable truth, the hopelessness of my own situation, all of it has passed. Fear of death and longing to live, all of it burned itself out within me and the only thing that has remained is my duty to warn Carlo.
I cannot do it in person; “she” will not allow it.
Let these notes open his eyes to the horrible reality. To save them from the “it” I will leave them inside the bible. There will be an investigation of my sudden death, I am sure, the room will be searched, the notes found and given to Carlo.

To make it easier for him to understand I will continue with my story:

I decided to leave, leaving for the city on horseback. In the forest, when I was approaching a sharp turn my horse buckled and stalled. Neither a whip, nor spurs could help. I wondered if my trembling, sweating horse had sensed a wolf hiding in the bushes.
Confused, I dismounted and went on foot, dragging the reluctant animal behind me.

I made a turn and froze. Rita was sitting on the tree stump. In the first second, I was suddenly as afraid of her as my horse was of the wolf.
Then it passed. I walked up to her, trying to look as casual as possible and greeted her as if nothing happened.
Yet one look from her told me that she remembered everything and could see right through my pathetic attempts at evasion.

I lost my composure for a moment and the horse broke free and galloped away.
Rita was staring at me, unblinking and I felt my head starting to spin. Suddenly ill, I sank to the ground.
Rita leaned close to my face, whispering:
“Why do you run? Don’t you see, feel that I love you?”

I wanted to say something.

“Leave it, be quiet. I know what you want to say” she continued “but why should we concern ourselves with Carlo, with the mortal world? You will be happy, eternally happy! You will be immortal; I will give you an eternal life, there with me, where no one else can go... Carlo cannot be there, cannot belong to me. He is “protected”, she said with a twisted smile.
“Agree to love me and will tell you the mysteries that no living man can know. I will take you far away, the moonlight will be our roadway and when the hour of peace comes, we will sleep together, side by side.
Do you know what pleasure it is to taste warm blood, drinking the eternal life with it!” she continued.
I pulled away, horrified.

Even from the moment she started to speak, I sensed something odd in her words and promises, and now, to my horror I came face to face with the very thing I didn’t want to believe in.
After I received your letter saying that, according to your old family doctor, your mother was a vampire, I became fascinated by this ancient believe and bought an antique Latin book dealing with Lamias or the “Undead”. After flipping through it, I tossed it aside. How could I have believed in this rubbish?
And the eccentricities of your old doctor, reinforced by my conversations with him, only confirmed my belief in his insanity. I was convinced that the vampires were a figment of his delirium. And now this delirium was staring me in the face, with all the horrors that came with it!
I understood that Rita loves me and is pushed by this love to reveal things to me that cannot be told to a living soul. Or maybe she is so confident in her possession of me that she lost all of her hesitation.
She is a vampire and she was destroyed, or as she puts it “given eternal life” by the old Count Dracula.
“He rests in the stone coffin, he waited for her for so long...and finally she came and raised him from his grave with the touch of her young fragrant body”
But to be given an eternal life one has to die to this world.
And this is how it happened. And on the second night, Dracula bade her to rise and live among the living as if nothing had happened.
She was talking so much about the pleasures of vampire’s life that my brain started to go numb and I felt dizzy once more.

“This is how I will reach my first degree of power”, she finished.

As if in a dream, I remembered that the old book said that a vampire casts no shadow, neither eats nor drinks, hates mirrors, sleeps at sunset. And, to my horror, I noticed all of this signs in Rita. I either saw them myself or heard about them from Carlo.
My strength left me.

“You agree, my darling, give yourself to me, do not fear”, she whispered, “I rest in my coffin and I will order Carlo to put yours next to me”.
When I heard this, I leaped to my feet:
“No, I don’t want to!” I shouted without thinking.

She laughed mockingly:
“Too bad for you. You cannot go back. Do not imagine that the wounds on your neck came from a dry branch, oh no, I lay my seal on you last night. You are finished. You only have one choice left: death, real death with warms, maggots and the earth of the grave, or the eternal life I offer you. I am giving you until tonight to decide. Tonight I will come. You cannot hide, cannot leave me,-don’t bother trying. Choose both my love and immortality or picture yourself in the near future as a skeleton with rotted eyes and a hole for a nose”.

Suddenly I heard voices and saw several servants, sent by Carlo to find Rita.
I had nothing left to do, but take her hand and walk back with her. I was looking at Rita at every opportune moment, trying to see a shadow, hoping against all hope.
There was no shade.

Up in the castle I spend several indescribable hours. “It”, Rita, wouldn’t let me out of its sight, Carlo was beside himself with jealousy, and I didn’t know what to do, how to save myself, my thoughts jumbled, I tried to pray but could not find words.
My whole life was flashing before me, it seemed so wonderful ... and the future?
Interesting work that could have awaited me, new discoveries, and maybe love, but not this tainted, cursed one, but pure and sacred...
I was ready to cry, but Carlo was near me with his harsh words and Rita was looking at me, as if saying: “You are mine, there is no escape”.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer and I ran, forgetting my hat, gloves and even my riding crop.
So here I am, writing this in my haste to fulfil my last duty, to warn Carlo, open his eyes and what would happen then...May God have mercy on my soul.
I have chosen to die; I will not become a vampire. It is close to midnight and the moon is bright.
My sweet mother, bless me and help me not to be weak and betray everything in the lasts moments of my life, agreeing on the disgusting existence of a vampire”.

*****
Harry finished reading and lit up a cigar, puffing furiously. No one spoke for a while, until James couldn’t take it any longer and broke the silence:

“Gentlemen, If any of you still had doubts, I am sure that after reading this letter, they are gone”

Doctor nodded his head in agreement:
“If we are to analyze all of the written material and compare it with our present troubles, then you are right, Jamie. I am forced to believe in vampires, and in the fact that they are living alongside us”

“And that they are my dear relatives”, mumbled Harry.

“They like to keep it in the family”, joked Doctor.

“Enough, gentlemen, lets get to business at hand” said Wright irritably.

Harry agreed:
“You are right, let’s get to business. James, since you were the one who started it, it is only fit that you should continue”.

James blushed with pleasure:

“Smith, please check that no one is listening and come back”, ordered Harry.

“I am not going to repeat” started James “neither the facts of the present, nor conclusions reached by reading these documents of the past, but will start by stating that all of us had accepted the existence of vampires and agreed to either destroy them or return them to a sleeping state, as they were before our arrival.

Now for the questions that still remain to be answered. How many of them are out there, where they hide and what can we do.

Here we enter the realm of assumptions and guessing.

The first of the “undead” is the ‘Old Grandfather’, Count Dracula, who came back from America. His portrait is at the Hunting Lodge. Since we were never able to find his coffin, we don’t know the place where he hides during his ‘sleep’.
We haven’t seen him during our stay here, but then, since he is, undoubtedly, very old and clever vampire, we can assume that he could hide his crimes well. With the exception of the village woman yesterday who screamed that she saw ‘a man dressed in velvet’, we were only dealing with females up to this point.

The second vampire is Maria Dracula, a young woman dressed in white with long blonde hair, often adorned with nenufares. Her coffin was in the vault under the goddess statue. It is now in the common crypt. Smith knows where to find it.

The third one is Rita, Carlo’s Italian fiancée. Her portrait hangs in the family gallery. We know her as a dark haired beauty in the blue dress. Her empty coffin was discovered in the chapel. It had been lowered into the crypt. Smith also knows where it is.


So far, we haven’t heard of any other “undead” and for now can hope that there no more to deal with.

Now for the difficult question: what can we do?

We can only act during the sunset and sunrise hours, I mean during the hours when our enemies are helpless. Besides the time constraint, we are forced to act as quietly, and as secretively as possible as not to alarm the servants.

Tomorrow, after the formal breakfast we will give most of them day off and send them to celebrate in the village. While the servants are away, we will go down into the crypt and open Rita and Maria’s coffins.
As for old Dracula, we will have to catch him, and for this, we will need to take turns watching the crypt. The volunteers will have to spend the entire night down there. Captain Wright wants to take the first watch and I will accompany him.” finished James.

“Agreed” said Harry, “I will take the next shift. I hope that Karl Ivanovich, as an elderly man, would be excused from the watchman duty”

XVIII.
The mass and the formal breakfast had the desired effect. The villagers enjoyed the feast and drank endless toasts to Harry and his friends. And once the host announced his charity contributions, the toasts and praises were redoubled with even more enthusiasm

Harry and his friends didn’t participate in drinking, all realised that they would need a clear head later.

They weren’t facing danger for the first time.

At sunset, led by James, they descended the chapel’s inner staircase into the crypt.
It was decided beforehand to open Rita’s coffin first.

Smith unlocked the heavy door. It opened with an unpleasant sound. The crypt smelled of damp earth, with faint odour of decomposition lingering in the stale air.

It was pitch black, and the lamps failed to dispel the darkness. With every downward step the stench increased. Though it was all to be expected, even the bravest among the company felt a strange eerie feeling.

Stumbling over the monuments and tripping over coffins, they made their way to the wall, where Smith remembered lowering the empty coffin found in the chapel.
Here it is.
Beautiful white fabric has grown mouldy and dark. Friends dragged to coffin to the middle of the crypt, gathering around it.

James armed himself with his aspen stake and Wright got a hammer ready. Smith started to undo the heavy bolts that were holding the lid down, and Harry and Doctor held the torches. All the men wore pentagram pendants around their necks. Everything is ready. Doctor pulled out his watch and announced amid the silence:

“It is sunset”

The lid is pushed aside. Unbearable stench of decomposing flesh forced everyone to take a step back.

The casket is empty.
For a moment no one moved, they were expecting every other imaginable outcome, but this.

It was James who came first to his senses. He took Harry’s torch and bend over the coffin examining it. White atlas pillow still retained the shape of the head. The lace was crumpled and stained with drops of blood.

“She was here, no doubt”, said James “and if she comes here, we will catch her sooner or later”, he added to encourage his friends.

“Now, Mr Smith, show us where are the other coffins”

Nearby two coffins were sticking out of the niche, one on top of the other. Friends pulled one of them out and stood puzzled trying to remember which coffin belonged to Count and which to Countess.
When asked, Smith shrugged his shoulders and admitted that he couldn’t remember which one of the coffins was found in the lower niche in the garden crypt.

“No problem, we will open the one we’ve already have”, ordered James.

This time old rusted bolts refused to budge. Finally, after a long struggle the lid came off.

Inside the casket was a skeleton covered with few scraps of cloth that tore at the first touch. Empty eye socket stared at the ceiling, teeth were bared in fleshless grin and the lower jaw drooped to one side in a complete picture of human mortality.
While the finger bones of one hand remained intact and lay across the man’s chest, those of the other broke apart and lay in the coffin. The clothing was so decayed, it barely covered the bones.
Judging by his short grey hair the skeleton belonged to man.
Count Frederick.
Everyone bared their heads and crossed themselves.

“Rest in peace”, said James replacing the lid.

“Hurry up, get the other coffin”, said Doctor “the time is almost up and she will escape”

Friends pulled out second coffin and hurriedly undid the bolts, pushing the lid off.

The involuntary cry of disappointment disturbed the stale air. This casket was also empty.

In the same moment, strange, malicious laughter rang through the crypt. Friends exchanged looks; it could not have been an echo.
Before anyone could speak, a gust of wind blew in the darkness, the flames flickered and died; something howled and crashed to the floor. Without thinking friends rushed to the steps and, tripping, ran upstairs into the chapel. Behind them from the darkness came another burst of laughter.

Once upstairs, in the great hall, the friends calmed down.

“Damn”, whizzed Doctor.
Smith was as white as a sheet, Karl Ivanovich’s teeth chattered, Harry was chewing on his dead cigar and Wright motioned the servant and shouted:

“Rum and glasses”

The failure affected James worst of all, he suddenly looked thinner and older, as if he had aged several years in these few hours.

First bottle of rum was followed by second and then, third.

Servants exchanged surprised looks among themselves,- the gentlemen were sitting in a tight circle, pale and silent, emptying one glass after another.

Suddenly always calm Wright smashed his fist into the table and bellowed:

“I’ll get him! The world is too small for us both. “Undead”, is he? I will show him what it means to be dead!”

Wright got up, and headed back towards the chapel when James stopped him and with great difficulty convinced him to go to bed.

XIX
The next morning, before dawn two of the guards came to Smith asking for their pay, saying that they “cannot work in the house ruled by unclean spirits”, complaining that “the dead in the crypt where howling, laughing and breaking things all night”.

Soon their tales began to worry the rest of the staff.
Smith accused them of drinking too much at the village party and dismissed them immediately.

In the morning news arrived from the village that two more men were found dead last night. But since both were well known drunks, the villagers decided that they had a little too much of last evening’s free beer.
In contrast, the owner of the castle and his friends seemed to be more upset by these deaths than the rest of the populace.

Karl Ivanovich and James spend the entire day attempting to interpret unclear passages in James’ book about vampires, calling on Doctor to help, but to no avail.
Wright kept insisting that, come darkness, he is going back down to the crypt, and James couldn’t think of letting him go alone.


Karl Ivanovich examined the strength of the silver pentagram chains that James and Wright wore around their necks and, despite Wright’s grumbling, filled his and James’ pockets with garlic cloves, even attaching a handful of the plant’s flowers to their hats.

At sunset Wright and James descended the staircase, their friends seeing them off with heavy hearts.

The crypt was as dark and damp as yesterday...holding their lamps high Wright and James made their way to the opposite wall and stopped at the door which led to the garden.
They moved to opposite sides and positioned themselves in such way that they could see each other clearly.

Wright put his lamp on the broad arm of a tall cross and sat on the ground leaning his back against it.
James chose to keep his lamp close to himself on the marble slab. “Wright’s position looks way too comfortable...he could fall asleep without knowing it. Besides, it is better to keep the lamp nearby, even though I have another, pocket torch with me”, he thought to himself.

James sat down and looked around. All around him, he could see crosses, urns and tombstones barely visible in the darkness. There was no uniform burial arrangement. Some of the coffins stood on pedestals, while others were lowered in the ground and marked by tombstones.
In the dense darkness, James couldn’t see the far walls of the crypt. The air was thick and stale.
James looked at Wright, who sat motionless. Only the red glow of his cigar indicated that he was awake.
Everything was eerily quiet.

James’ head began to fill with images of his past: his childhood, youth and life filled with adventures, interesting people and his friendship with Wright. He remembered both of them out hunting with a large party in the Amazon. On the third day of the hunt they managed to find their prey and become so engrossed in it’s pursuit that they separated from the main body of hunters and entered deep into the unknown territory when they realised that the sun was setting and they were both miles from camp.
The idea of spending the night out in the open didn’t frighten them. A flask of wine, water, warm blankets, a bag of rusks and a large supply of meat from their kill promised for a comfortable stay.
James and Wright unsaddled their horses and started a fire. After a good supper, they decided to take turns sleeping, though everything around them seemed peaceful.
This decision saved their lives.
In the middle of the night, a group of hostile Indians approached them, attracted by the fire. They were also hunting nearby and wouldn’t have passed a chance to add two more heads to their trophy bag.
For the whole week, James and Wright were hiding in the tall grasses, avoiding the Indian warriors. When they returned to their camp, both knew each other’s worth and became best friends.

James was so absorbed in his thoughts that he lost track of time. Suddenly he shook himself awake.
Everything was still quiet only the dense clouds of cigar smoke, surrounding Wright indicated the passage of time.
James imagines that something is moving in the dark.
He leans forward, looking.
He is right; an outline of a human head emerges from the darkness, white face with glistering eyes. Soon a hand emerges next to it; thin long fingers grip the edge of the tombstone. Another hand appears, the nails scrape against the marble, straining, pulling the body out of the grave with immense effort.
Quietly, the “undead” rises from his sleep, hauling his body out of the coffin.

James has no doubts that it is old Dracula himself. The vampire walks over to Wright and knocks his lamp down. The light dies.
He starts circling Wright, the circles growing smaller and smaller.

James wants to move, but cannot. His body refuses to obey his will.

Two beautiful women emerge from the darkness. They come close to the Captain and stretch out their arms to him, their bodies swaying, as if trying to hypnotise him, to cast an invisible net around him.

With superhuman strength of will, James breaks through his stupor and, grabbing his revolver, shoots at the old vampire.

His lamp dies and the sound of the gunshot echoes across the crypt. In the darkness, strong gust of hurricane-like wind pushes James forward, and before he could right himself, something shoves him to his knees.

At the same time the door leading to the garden opens, people with lamps rush into the crypt, and from the other side James could hear the voices of Doctor Weiss and Karl Ivanovich as they run down the steps.
Wright and James are taken outside. Both are fine. In the fresh air of the garden Wright comes around and tells his friends, that he remembers nothing. His head feels heavy, as if his brain had been turned to lead. James got away even more lightly, with a small scrape to his knee.

XX
Upstairs in the living room Wright and James were greeted by the news that late in the evening an old man, dressed in the monk’s robe, arrived at the castle seeking shelter. After a while, he asked to see the owner. Harry agreed and they went to his cabinet, locking the door.
Two hours had passed and Smith was getting worried.
Even though it was late, nobody thought of sleep. Another hour passed and Smith’s worry spread to others. Even the servants, sensing the tension, didn’t retire and the lights burned in almost every room.

Suddenly a faint sound of a church bell was heard in the clear night air. The guests looked at each other, puzzled. The bell rang again, undoubtedly a warning. Could it be fire?
Everyone rushed to the windows.
The village itself was dark but a large mob carrying torches was moving slowly in the direction of the castle.
The mob was still far, but in the flashes of fire, the men saw that it was armed with pitchforks, scythes and even rifles.

There is no doubt, where the mob is heading, they are moving towards the castle and their intentions are hostile.
Moments later the doors opened and several pale servants rushed into the great hall with the news that there were two more deaths in the village and that the mob is marching towards the castle, threatening to kill the owner and his guests.


“Lock the main gates as well as every available entrance. And post sentries”, ordered Wright.

The servants looked at each other, hesitant.

Wright raised his arm ready to strike the nearest man:

“I am ordering you to lock the gates and post sentries,” he shouted and the men vanished instantly.

As soon as they were gone, Wright walked over to the door of Harry’s cabinet and knocked loudly.
The door opened and Harry came out, followed by a tall old man, leaning on a wooden staff. His face was weathered yet bore a calm and confident expression.
His long white beard, reaching all the way to his waist gave him appearance of a Biblical patriarch. Though he was dressed in a simple robe of a monk, his every gesture betrayed aristocratic origin.

“Harry, the villagers have revolted. They are armed and heading here”, said Wright.

“I know,” said Harry “we must leave at once”

“How can we, since we are responsible for all the chaos in the first place?” protested James.

Wright nodded his head in agreement:

“Have you lost your mind, Harry?”

“Hell, I’d rather die here. Death is better than running away like a damned coward,” said James angrily.

Harry held up both his hands:
“Enough, friends, calm down. Did you really think I was going to abandon the villagers to save my own hide?”

He pointed to the old monk:
“Let me introduce you to Carlo, Count Dracula, the previous owner of this castle.

Everyone bowed politely.

“The Count and I discussed our situation at length and came to a decision. I was hoping to tell you about it tonight and move out by tomorrow evening. But, as you can see, the events have taken a different turn. We must leave right away. And so, I ask you to go to your bedrooms and gather whatever is necessary. And please do it quietly, without servants seeing you.”

He turned to Smith:
“Please warn Sabo, Joe and the rest of our American staff. We will all meet in half an hour in the hall downstairs”

“And what about Count Carlo? Who is going to deal with the vampires?” asked James.

“Gentlemen, you do not need to fear for my safety. The mob will not hurt me”, replied the old man, his voice calm “as for the vampires, I have already given my word to Mr Cardie that I will do all I can. I give the same oath to you. Neither you nor I can destroy them right now. But I know how to put them into a harmless state again. I will confine the females this castle, since Mr Cardie assures me that it will remain vacant, and as for the ‘Old Man’...I will bind him so securely, he will wish he was never born...It is impossible to destroy him now, his hour hasn’t arrived yet... But the “Destroyer” is already born and soon his child’s hand would be that of a man and then...beware, “Old Devil”!

Old man straightened his back, his eyes shining with conviction; he raised a clenched first as if cursing his unseen foe.

Everybody looked at him with reverence, utterly convinced in the truth of his words.

“Now, go on your way with God’s blessing. Get the horses”, he finished.

The men hurried to their bedrooms and started to pack, but before they could finish the castle was surrounded by the screaming, cursing mob. The first wave of running villagers crashed against the closed gates, battering the wood and screaming for entry.

How long could the gates hold? The guests gathered downstairs not sure of what to do next.

“Can we make it through the mob without losing anyone? Or harming the villagers?”

“We won’t make through the gate. We must leave the horses and go on foot”, decided Harry, “the castle is surrounded, most of the men are breaking down the gates, and we must risk it, and climb down the wall at the back”

Carlo interrupted him:
“The wall is too steep. You will not make it. However, I have a better idea.” He turned to Smith: “The old dry well, the one close to the castle wall does it still exist?”

“Yes, but it is covered with planks”

“But not filled in?” asked Carlo, his voice betraying his worry.

“No”

“Praise God. The well is an entrance to a secret escape route. It will take you out to the foot of the mountain, near the lake. Get the ladder or rope, hurry!”

His last words were drowned out by the deafening ringing of the bell. The sound was so loud that for a second no one realised that it was coming from the castle itself. The bell rang again and again, drowning out the shouts of the mob. Carlo paled as he looked at the men around him. They all understood. The servants have joined the rebels and now the alarm was sounding within the castle itself.
The gates swung open and the mob rushed in, smashing their way into the hall.

“Follow me to the cellars”, ordered Carlo, “Smith, get pickaxes, crowbars, anything”, he shouted above the roar of the mob, “one of the sides of the well is connected to the castle wall, and we will break through it!”

Epilogue.

(From the family chronicles of Counts Dracula-Cardie, and according to E.L.H.’s wishes)

The red orb of the setting sun is about to slip beneath the waves, bathing the sea in glowing light. Waves crash gently against the side of the ship.
A group of men are sitting on the first-class deck of a large American ship.
Harry, now Count Dracula-Cardie is surrounded by his old friends, Captain Wright, Doctor Weiss, James and the old librarian Karl Ivanovich.

On the night of their escape from the old castle in Carpathian Mountains, Karl Ivanovich fled alongside Harry. No one even thought that he was in no danger from the mob.
Latter, when filthy and tired after a dangerous climb down the mountain the ragged band had finally stumbled into the city, Harry refused to be parted from the old man, especially after he learned that Karl Ivanovich has no one in this world and no other income save what he could get whenever he finds work as a librarian.

“No, Mr Cardie, I am too old, I will be a burden to you”, protested the old man.

Harry, with his usual tact assured Karl Ivanovich that he will not only be useful to him, but rather absolutely necessary, since back in America, Harry’s large library was in total disarray. The old man agreed with tears in his eyes and from that moment on, Harry could count on one more loyal friend.

Three days have passed since ship left Hamburg; the last week before departure was taken up by travel arrangements, bills and other hassles. Now with all the problems and worries finally in the past, the friends were able to, at last, breathe a sigh of relief.

“Thank God it is finished. You wouldn’t be able to lure me back to Europe for a while”, laughed Harry “I’d rather deal with a thousand angry Comanches than with beautiful women who come down to earth on a moonbeam and sink their teeth into you like a rattlesnake. I think I’ve had enough of this rubbish to last me a lifetime”.

“By the way Harry, you never told us about your conversation with Count Carlo”, remarked Doctor.

“Yes, you owe us a story”, added James.

“All right, if you are still interested”, agreed Harry.

The men made themselves comfortable, lighting fresh cigars.

“And the time is rather appropriate. Sunset”, remarked James.

“You can imagine my surprise”, began Harry, “when my visitor, whom I took to be a poor monk, turned out to be the rightful owner of ‘my’ castle. From his first words, he assured me that he doesn’t have any rights to the castle anymore, and doesn’t want to have them either, since he took a vow of poverty many years ago, dedicating his life to fasting and prayer. Old sin was tormenting his soul, and he was hoping to forget it away from the world, wanting to find grace and forgiveness through a lifetime of prayer, swearing never to leave the monastery.

Suddenly, strange rumours reached him about a mysterious epidemic raging around his former castle. The news struck him like a bolt of lightning.
He knew only too well the source of this epidemic and this knowledge was in itself, his greatest sin. Because of his weakness many years ago, the two women dearest to him, his mother and his fiancé, were not destroyed, but continued killing the local people.

He also knew that with each new victim, their powers grew, and it was becoming impossible for an uninitiated person to fight them.
His heart and his mind told him to break his vow and leave the monastery. He felt that, despite his terrible predicament he had to return to the Carpathian Castle and finally fulfil his duty.
Carlo asked his spiritual adviser, a very old and learned prelate for his judgment, and the old man, who knew Carlo’s sad story very well, blessed him, giving him a box of communion host to take with him on his journey. He also warned Carlo that he was well aware about the existence of the “Old Undead” in the Carpathian Mountains, an especially powerful and cunning vampire and that the hour of his death hasn’t come yet, and when it does it would depend on a courageous woman.
As for Maria and Rita, who are much weaker than “Old Undead”, Carlo offered his help and his knowledge. This, as you all well know didn’t happen. The rebellion sparked much earlier than we expected. In the last moment, Carlo and I decided that he would stay behind and return women to the sleeping state with an aid of a spell.
No one can, or will, live in the castle without my permission. You all already know that I’ve sold all of the furnishings I bought for the castle; the only things left inside are the ones that I’ve found there...
Now for the answers to some of the questions that remained a mystery to us.
Count Carlo, in the trying days of his life kept diaries and now he gave them to me. They are remarkably vast, and to read all of them wouldn’t be necessary.
Many of facts are well known to us, while others cannot be made public, so I will read only the portions that are of interest to us.

Harry got up and returned a little later with a thick notebook. He flipped few pages and began reading:

“Jamie’s conclusions were almost always correct. The cause of all the calamities was the old Count Dracula who was cunning enough to transport himself and his coffin in the guise of an old servant. His arrival coincided with the first epidemic, which saw the death of young Maria Dracula, Carlo’s mother.
She was the vampire with long blonde hair. Carlo’s father was aware of the nature of her death, but because of his love for her couldn’t bring himself to kill her.
To safeguard himself and others, he, together with old Petro and family’s doctor moved her body into a specially constructed crypt and returned her to a sleeping state with a special ritual.

Afterwards, Frederick decided to leave the world and spend the rest of his life guarding his terrible and beloved wife. He spent his days in prayer, hoping to gain a pardon for her soul.
In an attempt to safeguard his wife’s memory, Frederick forbade Carlo from ever returning home and made both Petro and the family doctor swear an oath to never reveal to Carlo the circumstances of his mother’s death, or the events that followed it.
With this decision, Frederick made a fateful mistake.
He never thought that Carlo would want to return and prevented the only two people who could have stopped him from revealing the truth.
What his final plans were was never revealed, Count Frederick died suddenly, without leaving a will.
Old Petro buried him in the new crypt, next to his wife and repeated all the necessary rituals.

Afterwards he set of on his pilgrimage to Rome, stopping in Venice to report to his new master.

Carlo’s decision to return to his birthplace terrified the old man, and yet he couldn’t break the oath given to Carlo’s father. After making Carlo promise that he would wait for him, the old man left for Rome, looking for an absolution of his oath.

Old family doctor, wanting to save Carlo’s life broke the oath, which cost him his sanity. It was all in vain, Carlo didn’t believe him, especially after his best friend Alf, whose intellect and learning Carlo admired, not only laughed at the notion of vampires but also proved old man’s insanity.
Unfortunately, Carlo didn’t wait for Petro’s return and moved back to the castle with his fiancée Rita.
Everything was well, at first.
New crypt remained undiscovered and old Dracula lay quietly in his coffin.

“Then everything turned upside down”, read Harry, “Rita was feeling ill, she lost her colour, grew thin, it seemed, in the matter of hours. At the same time she was strangely, shyly gentle with me. She didn’t refuse my kisses, but seemed strangely embarrassed, always looking around, as if afraid of her old nanny’s disapproval. I found it all very funny”.

Francesca’s mysterious death affected Rita badly and Carlo decided, on the old doctor’s advice to take Rita “as far away as possible” to move her to the forest house under an eye of his best friend Alf.
There Rita took turn for the worse, getting weaker and weaker until she fell into a coma which was mistaken for death.

“We dressed our darling”, red Harry again “in her favourite dress of blue silk and I put the empress’ comb in her hair,-she loved it so much. Alf and Lucia took care of the coffin and the arrangements. I only told them not to spare any expenses. I wanted my beloved to rest among the lace and silk.
We draped the chapel with black cloth and I ordered every rose in the garden to be cut down,-let them die along with their mistress.
Alf and I took Rita’s body from her salon, helped by Lucia and old Cecilia. We didn’t want strangers walking in this sacred space. Alf and Lucia instantly agreed to my idea of closing her salon forever. It is this way still.
With the bells tolling, accompanied by all servants and the villagers we carried Rita’s body into the chapel. The funeral service was due in the morning.

Though the evening sky was clear, a vicious gale broke out in the middle of the night. Old servants swear they haven’t seen a storm as violent in a long time
It thundered without a pause, dark sky was split by lighting and the wind was so strong I felt as if castle would come crashing down at any moment.

We all gathered in the dinning room. Our nerves, already taught from our grief, were stretched to a breaking point. The wind outside howled as if it were a live being. We were silent. I felt as if the whole world was breaking apart, not wanting to exist after the death of her, who was its greatest treasure.

Suddenly we heard the sound of panicked voices, rising above the storm. A woman screamed and someone howled.
The doors opened with a crash and several servants, five or six people in all, rushed into the room. They were all pale, with dishevelled hair and one of them screamed at me: “She is walking! She is coming!” Some ran to me as if looking for help, while others rushed into the next room.
And before we could understand from their screams what was happening, in the doorway, to our horror stood Rita, dead Rita.

In the first moment I couldn’t think. As if in a dream I looked around me, my eyes registering Rita, in her blue ball gown with roses tucked into her décolleté, saw old doctor’s bulging eyes, saw Alf’s face turn deathly pale.
How long did we all stand like this, I cannot tell. We were awoken from our stupor by Lucia’s happy cry:

“Dear God, you only fainted, you are alive, oh Rita, you are alive! We are so happy!”

Everyone started talking at once, happy, rushing towards Rita. Only the old doctor stood as still as a statue, his face frozen in an expression of bewilderment and disbelief.

Rita was weak and pale, which was understandable, giving the depth of her coma. And to wake up in her own coffin! That could have broken anyone. But fortunately, she was so weak that neither the coffin nor funeral furnishings of the chapel seemed to affect her.
She never spoke of her experience before or since.

That very night a young servant girl died in the castle, as if death didn’t want to leave us without taking a victim...

Death came and reigned in our home.
Not a week would pass without a new victim. We even became used to it, in part because similar epidemic also took over the village”.

“This was the beginning of so called ‘second epidemic’”, explained Harry, flipping through the next few pages.

“Carlo records the deaths of Lucia, Alf, the Italian footmen and complains that Rita, who was so sensitive and compassionate, is hardly moved by it all. Here he writes:

“Down in the village the funeral bell is tolling every day, reminding me of my childhood. Strange, unexplained fear is gripping me. And then that damned old doctor and his tales of vampires!
Poor man has finally lost his mind. He spends his nights and days walking inside the castle like ghost, appearing before your eyes when you least expect it, stinking the place up with garlic and drawing the sign of the pentagram wherever he can.
He is especially fond of decorating my rooms and things with it. I gave up arguing with him, as long as he spares me from garlic smell. We have a mute agreement about this.
Why aggravate the lunatic?

He and Rita have turned into the bitter enemies now. When they first met, Doctor was surrounding her with knightly attention, while Rita treated him with kindness as an elderly man and a friend of my parents. Now she cannot stand the sight of the old man, she absolutely hates him...
I think he is one of the reasons why she prefers eating alone in her rooms. I also attribute her refusal to accept my latest gift to her hatred of him.
Pity, because the thing turned out beautifully. I am talking about the pentagram pendant on a fine gold chain, studded with diamonds of finest quality, as pure as the spring dew.
And Rita refused to even touch it.
I must admit, I felt hurt. Oh well, I will wear it myself to remind me that everything is a lie. Happiness, love, friendship...”

Harry stopped reading and pushed the notebook aside:

“The culprit was once again the old vampire. He spent fifteen years in his coffin, bound by Petro’s spell, but was still powerful enough to put into Carlo’s mind an idea of taking Rita to the crypt and to Rita, a desire to lean on the stone coffin. The touch of a warm female flesh was enough to break the spell and free him.
He began by destroying the very woman who’d freed him, rewarding her with his love and this love’s terrible consequences.

Rita, with his help, became a strong vampire in a very short time. She lived a double existence: she spend her days among the living and, at night, preyed upon them as a vampire. Her passionate love for Alf, Carlo’s best friend nearly gave her away. She forgot to be careful and exposed her true nature to him, though Alf died without revealing her secret to Carlo.
Alf’s farewell letter, inside the bible never reached its intended destination. Carlo never saw it.

Nonetheless Carlo began to have his own suspicions, at first very vague, but, spurred on by his own jealousy, he started to track Rita’s movements.
Here Carlo is struggling within himself:

“She is so shameless, so licentious”, he writes “and the longer I watch her the more I feel as if I came up to a blind wall. She is either insane, or she is suffering from some mysterious illness, but a mental one, since, physically she is blossoming more and more every day”

“How can I explain this” he writes later “Rita sneaks into my study, looks around and picks up a heavy paperweight from my desk and throws it, with all her strength against the tall mirror that fills up a blank wall. The glass shatters. At the same moment, she knocks a heavy Chinese vase off its stand. Servants rush into the room.
“Nothing to gape at”, she says coldly “tell your master that I accidently pushed the vase off, which in turn broke the mirror”
“Leave now”. The servants exchange puzzled looks and walk away”

“At the same time”, continued Harry, “Carlo came across the old book dealing with lamias. He brought it from the forest house in memory of his friend, and decided to read it on one of his sleepless nights. Carlo admits that he wouldn’t have been able to understand it at all hadn’t it been for Doctor’s constant talks on the subject. Nonetheless, he cannot bring himself to believe in the existence of vampires, let alone add his fiancé to their ranks.

“The book clearly states that “they” leave their graves”, he writes, “then the book says that”, actually it is better if I read it to you, says Harry, flipping a few pages:

“The book says that the closest people to a vampire are the ones in most danger. If it were true then I would have been the first one to die. And I am alive and well, and no one has been bothering me at night...only I cannot sleep. I think I just heard a scream. Maybe...
Damn it, a big black cat sneaked into my room, I even got a fright for a moment. The cat was also frightened and ran down the passage. Where did it come from? I haven’t seen the one like that in the castle, maybe it wandered in from the forest. I will have too...

19th
What a night...the sun is shining and I still cannot shake off the nightmare...or maybe it was real. I don’t know anymore, I’ve lost all the ways of measuring sanity...

19th, later.
Last night a black cat came into my room and ran away. No sooner, I got back to writing when the door swung open again and the lunatic dashed into my room.
He was clad in an old dressing gown with garlic dangling from his hat, his hand clutching a wooden stake, his constant companion.
It turns out it is made of aspen and he travelled far to get it, since that tree doesn’t grow here.
The old man ran into my room and started to look for something. He searched under the bed, opened my cupboard, moved chairs and drapes and even peered up the chimney.

“No, he is gone”

“Who is gone, who are you looking for?” I asked.

“Him. Oh I understand he wouldn’t dare to come here”, laughed the madman, pointing to a sign of a pentagram that he carved on the threshold of my room.

“Do you know what”, he added, “I put garlic paste on the doorframes, blessed herb, and he, and he jumped into the window, as a black cat...up and here, I was chasing him, but you see, my legs are old and he got away...” , he let out a heavy sigh and sank onto a chair.

I understood from his broken phrases that he decorated the doors to the chapel with garlic and waited with his stake for “him” to arrive. And infamous “he” the old man is so fond of complaining about is no other than Rita.
I swear if he were not old, I would have hit him, despite all of his insanity. I believed back then that even a lunatic should know his measure. While I was thinking of the best way to set his mind straight, the old man suddenly leaped off his chair, grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear:

“Let’s go, hurry. He must have gone in the Italian’s room. The painter. He will bleed him dry, the poor boy”

I couldn’t pull myself away and followed him meekly. He was starting to run and climbed up the stairs to the third floor. Once in the passageway, we, like a couple of thieves made our way to the Italian’s bedroom.
Old man opened the door slowly and quietly.
The room was bathed in moonlight, window wide open and the curtain pulled aside.
Your can only imagine my surprise, soon followed by rage when I saw Rita, my fiancée, lying on the painter’s chest, kissing him!

I must have shouted because Rita lifted her head and turned around and, oh horror. In the bright light of the moon, her eyes shone with rage and passion and her lips were dripping blood...

“Do you see? Do you see?” shouted the old man, rushing forward...strong gust of wind smashed the shutters closed and lifted the drape, which hit the old man; he became tangled and fell down.
I rushed to help him, but the moon disappeared and the room went dark. It took me a long time to find a candle and some matches.
In the flickering, poor light of the candle, I examined the room. The lunatic was getting of the floor, complaining and the Italian painter was sleeping peacefully.
I was about to blame everything on a hallucination when old man walked over to young painter and, lifting him by the shoulders announced calmly:

“I was right, she killed him”. He was telling the truth, the painter was dead, his face white, his arms hanging lifeless and the front of his white nightshirt was stained with blood.

Dear God in heaven, what is this? My head cannot take it...it will explode. Is it true that Rita is “Undead”? She drinks the blood of the living...how can I understand it, how can I find some thread to tie it al together...Rita and blood. No and no. I must be going insane myself, under the old man’s influence. He must be forcing his mad ideas into my head, and yet at the same time I know, know very well that I am not insane. But then all the lunatics think they are healthy”, Harry stopped.

“What happened next?”

“Carlo enters horrible phase of doubt, more horrible than even jealous torment he felt before. He admits that he was a hairbreadth away from loosing his mind.
To his fortune, old Petro returned from Rome. He grew painfully thin and aged, but he is solemnly calm and confident:

“Lord had mercy on me and the Holy Father blessed me to serve others and I am no longer afraid. And I will fight all the darkness for your sake, young Carlo. I will save you, have no doubt”, he said.
Petro spent the entire day down in the village and was told about our calamities.
Later he told me about the monastery where he spend his time. “It is so wonderful there, so wonderful, I never wanted to leave”, he confessed “but I had to hurry here, I feared for you, but, God be thanked, I am not too late”

Little by little, with great tact, Petro started to introduce Carlo to the facts surrounding his mother’s death, but seeing a look of sadness on his young master’s face stopped and asked:
“So you know everything? Who told you?”
Carlo admitted that he knew most of it and that the old doctor was the one who told him.

“Ah, this is the reason for his insanity, his oath”, said Petro “where did he go to, do you know?”

“He didn’t go anywhere; he lives with me, up at the castle”.

After Carlo’s confession that he knows the reason for his mother’s death, Petro openly told him about his own mission in the world. This mission is to destroy vampires. He invited Carlo to help him in it.

“Fortunately, your dear mother is peaceful. I already examined the crypt and the rock around it. All is as it should be. Maybe old count’s prayers saved her soul. And thank God for it, otherwise you would have had to knock a stake into your own mother’s heart”.

Petro confirmed that the “Old Devil” was set free by the touch of Rita’s body and the first drink of blood would have fully restored his powers. He is only surprised that the “Old Devil” didn’t kill her, since it is the typical reward of vampires to their liberators.

“I have heard”, continued Petro, “that your bride was ill, close to death, but she pulled through and the people are saying that she looks even more beautiful than she was before illness”

“Have you met my bride?” I asked.

“No, not yet”.

So what am I to do now? Should I share my suspicions with Petro or should I keep quiet, not to put any preconceived idea into his head, which would be even better, since the lunatic left for the city.
It is decided, I will keep quiet for now.

27th
It is an old custom with Rita and me to take a walk in the garden after a midday meal (though we eat in separate parts of the house). We walk along the precipice, enjoying the view.
Before these walks were full of wondrous moments, we had so much to say to each other...and now. Now it is as if we are doing it for the servants’ sake.
So yesterday, we were walking as usual, swapping few comments about the weather.
Petro suddenly climbed up on the terrace. He was dressed in the old court dress, his shoes had huge buckles on them, his hair was neatly combed and he held a small parcel wrapped in paper in his hands.

I understood immediately that the old man came here to be introduced to his new mistress.

“Rita”, I said “this is Petro, he helped to raise me and was a loyal servant of my parents”.

Rita nodded head head.

Petro bowed deeply and bend over her hand. I’ve noticed for the first time the unpleasant change in Rita’s hands. Her fingers, pink with delicate nails, now looked long and white, her nails strong and sharp.
When Petro was about to touch her hand, Rita pulled back and snapped:

“I don’t want to!”

Poor Petro was so taken aback that instead of leaving, he held out his package to Rita:

“I brought these for you, they were blessed by the Holy Father himself”

Rita jumped to the side, her entire face twisted in rage and she not so much spoke, as hissed:

“Get out, you fool!” and walked away towards the house.

Poor Petro was a pitiful sight. The paper broke in his shaking hands and an amber rosary was left hanging in his hands.
For me this scene was full of hidden meaning.
How could Rita, in her present condition, accept the rosary, blessed by the Holy Father himself?

“Calm down, Petro, give the rosary to me instead. I will need it in the days to come”

“Dear Carlo, why? What did I do wrong?” he mumbled, hurt.

“Nothing. Have courage, my friend”, I answered “all this means only that you were too late and the “Old Devil” did his job and ruined the one who released him”.

After Carlo told him all he knew, Petro concluded that Rita is a vampire and that she must be destroyed.
Despite all this, Carlo is hoping at times that he is wrong, that all that happened is a result of a psychosis, hallucination, a mistake. Petro then decides to prove the truth to him once and for all”

Harry stopped:

“If you are not bored, I could read the rest of the notes to you without interruptions”, he said.

“Of course, we want to know everything”, answered James for everyone.

“In this case, Karl Ivanovich, would you be kind enough to read them to us, I am getting tired”, said Harry, passing the notebook to the librarian.

The old man put on his glasses and began to read:

“Petro is following Rita. Now he is convinced that she spends her hours of vampiric sleep in her coffin in the chapel. No wonder she is so protective of it.
Tonight we will go there, to see the final proof.

Last evening, at sunset (which is, according to Petro, the hour when all the vampires must return to their death state) we left for the chapel. Rita has also been watching us and, according to Petro, at this hour, she would be powerless to do so.
We hid on the choir balcony. It was very quiet.
Last rays of the setting sun lit up the dark draperies in the chapel, dried roses on the floor and the casket.
Petro pulled up two chairs for us, drew a circle around them with a piece of white chalk, and then, mumbling something, drew a pentagram in its centre.

Half an hour passed. Everything is silent and the sun has set.
The shadows grow darker.
Below us the casket’s outline grew less and less visible, the candlesticks, draped in black fabric, the open pulpit with its bible are swallowed up by the night. I felt vague, inexplicable fear.
Petro from time to time touched my knee as if trying to reassure me.
I closed my eyes in the darkness.

When I opened them a while later, the moon had risen and the chapel is filled with its silvery light. Familiar objects seem to change shape. Even dead roses on the floor seem to come alive. I swear I could smell their fragrance.

Petro squeezes my knee again, inviting me to pay attention.
What is this? The door leading to the crypt, securely closed a moment ago, stand wide opened and a dark figure appears in the doorway. I see a tall old man, dressed in velvet with an expensive thick gold chain around his neck. I swear it is old Dracula.

If, instead of the dark background of the chapel he was surrounded by a golden frame, I could have sworn that I am looking at the portrait that my father banished to the forest house so many years ago.
The old man slowly approaches the coffin. His steps are unhurried and measured.
The lid slides off. In the casket, dressed in her favourite blue dress, with fresh roses adorning her, lies Rita.
She opens her eyes, happy smile lights up her face:

“It’s time, my dear”, she says, stretching her arms out to the old man, “You are my master, you made me so strong and I love you”.
Rita pushed herself and sat up in the coffin. A moment more, and she is already standing on the floor.

“Why do you insist that I continue living with them? I want to be with you in the crypt. They disgust me, and I suffer among them. Even now, I swear I can sense their presence”, she said, looking around.

“Enough, they wouldn’t dare to come here!”

We sat quietly, holding our breaths.

“But what if they are here?” said Rita, looking up at the balcony.

At the same moment, I saw Petro pull out his small box of communion host.

“Let’s leave this place”, said Rita. They embraced and, effortlessly lifted their feet of the floor, melting in the beam of moonlight. For a moment, their bodies blocked the window and then disappeared.

Petro and I clearly saw that the door to the crypt and the coffin were now closed.
I felt as if I saw a dream.

“We will wait”, said Petro, “summer nights are short. She will return soon”.

I don’t know how long we waited. I was tired, my back sore, my legs wooden. My head was heavy with dull pain.
The air was thick with the smell of death, as if a rotten corpse was lying next to us.
Sun was about to rise. There is no sign of Rita.
Only a large black cat is sitting on the windowsill. I want to get up, but then the cat jumps into the chapel and a moment later, it is no longer a cat, but Rita.
She walks towards the coffin with tired steps. Her eyes shine with pleasure and her lips are stained with bloody foam.

“Hurry, we must leave”, whispers Petro, taking my hand.

“Yes, let’s leave”, I whisper, “I’ve seen enough”.
I barely made it to my bed, falling down as though dead.

7th
Last night was even worse than the night when Rita first rose from her grave.
Let me explain.
After a sleepless night, spent in the chapel, tormented by my thoughts, I fell upon my bed and was soon sinking into a deep, dark, dreamless sleep.
Suddenly I feel someone push me angrily. I open my eyes and see Rita standing before me, her face contorted in anger, long nails digging into my arm:

“Get up! What insolence, your fools broke into my chapel and are refusing to leave. Throw them out immediately! And order them to take down the bars and idiotic flowers!” she is shouting.

“What bars and flowers are you talking about?”I ask.

“I knew it! They did it behind your back. Let’s go”, and she is puling me towards the chapel.
It turns out that the lunatic left for the city to order several wooden grills made of mistletoe and installed them in the chapel’s windows. Petro completed the picture by hanging wreaths of small flowers from them. Their strong smell revealed them to be garlic.

“Order for this to be removed! Now!” screamed Rita.

“All right, Rita. I will order for it to be removed tomorrow”

“No, right now!”

“Rita, it is already late and the sun is about to set. And I promise you no servant would agree to work after dark in a room with a coffin, even an empty one”, I answered in an even tone, “Take the key to the chapel if you want and tomorrow I will have it cleaned”

Rita took the key, unsure.
Petro, without addressing anyone in particular said softly:

“We should read “Ave Maria”, the sun is setting”

“Get out, I am locking the door”, said Rita.

We left. Old men were smiling and nudging each other.

“So, Carlo, time for a fight. While you were asleep, Petro and I prepared everything”, said the lunatic, his voice sure and determined.
I looked at him, surprised. His eyes appeared strangely light, his gaze direct.

“Yes, dear Carlo, I am better now. I am no longer alone. Petro is here to help me. And you. Now you know I was telling the truth. I know from my helplessness my head spun and I felt as if I were loosing my mind. And today, when I saw Petro and we spoke I feel as if a great weight fell off me. I will help you both, and when I am done, I will go to the monastery Petro told me about. He says it is like heaven there”.

“Yes, we will, but now it is time”, interrupted Petro.

“Yes we decided to close the windows with mistletoe as a precaution. No unclean spirit can pass through it. All the doors except the entrance we sealed shut and filled every crack with lead, into which we mixed the communion host, so that they will have nowhere to go except through the front door.
We have two aspen stakes and hammers ready. We will leave in quarter of an hour.
I will guide the stake, Petro will hold the sacrament and you, Carlo, will have to strike the stake with a hammer. Don’t worry, I will guide it straight through the heart, I am, after all a doctor. After we’ve dealt with the woman, we will go down to the crypt, All right?”

I agreed.

We went back to the castle. The rooms were empty, the servants were given a day off.
The old men went off into a corner to pray and I sat in the open window, watching the setting sun.
Image after image played themselves in my mind.

Another sunset, dark canal and a long shape of gondola gliding quietly and the eyes, black and beautiful. The church. Organ is playing softly and the same eyes are so close to me, but they are looking away. And again she looks at me her face shining with love and tenderness, I feel her hands caressing me, the fragrance of roses and soon she will be mine, my beloved wife.

“Let’s go”, a voice says and someone takes my hand, leading me away...where?

Forbidding walls are hung with dark fabric, decorated with white pungent flowers. Silver coloured coffin is covered with a richly embroidered tapestry. Dried roses crumble into dust under my feet.

The sun has set and the dying rays fill the room.
I am hot and it is hard to breathe.

Two dark figures move towards the coffin. Silently the roll up the cover and slide off the lid.
Inside the casket, resting on the silk pillow, lies my beloved, her black hair is held, as if by a crown, by the high edge of the jewelled comb. Her white teeth glisten between her moist lips. Memories of our meetings on the canal and in the old church rush through my mind.
My pulse is echoing in my temples.
One of the dark figures gives me something long and pushes its end into my fiancé’s chest. Someone gives me a heavy hammer and I hear a voice ordering me to strike.
I obey, lifting my arm and then...her beautiful beloved eyed open, her lips part and she whispers: “Carlo”.

“Strike! Strike!” orders the voice and I lift my arm once more. Her eyes are full of pain and sadness, her lips are closed tight and she clutches helplessly with her hand. A moment more and the hammer falls from my hand. I want to move, but all strength leaves me and I fall at the foot of the coffin.

I hear an angry cry and a burst of laughter....and I lose consciousness.

I woke up late at night in my own room. Petro and Doctor are standing next to my bed. Petro is changing a wet towel on my forehead and Doctor is talking to him:

“It is nothing. She bewitched him, but he will be all right”

Suddenly a terrible gust of wind blew over the castle. The shutters banged, the doors closed and I heard the sounds of servants running. Another gust.

“The roof has been blown off and the old oak is split by lightning!” shouted someone outside my room. I leaped to my feet.

“It is “their” doing, it is “their” hour”, confirmed Doctor.

He and Petro told me that after they carried me, unconscious, from the chapel they sealed the remaining door with lead into which they mixed crushed sacrament. And now the “unclean”, are creating a storm in it’s’ rage.
As if to confirm his words, a massive bolt of lightning crashed into the rock. I felt as if the castle were about to break apart.

The old men ran outside, to the doors of the chapel. The massive doors were shaking as if someone was trying to break out. I heard something crashing inside, again and again. The sound of breaking windows and smashed metal was barely audible above the roar of the storm.
Inside the chapel, something was howling and moaning, dark shadows flashed in the window. I saw a white cloud and something green and unearthly.

The storm was growing stronger. The doors were about to break from their hinges. I stood, waiting for the chapel wall to crumble, burying us beneath its rubble.

Petro, his grey hair wild, his monk-like robes blowing in the wind stood up in front of the doors, holding up his precious box of sacrament.
His face shone with deep faith and conviction. The old doctor was lying on the ground with his arms outstretches as if trying to block the way with his own body.

Another flash of lightning, brighter and stronger. The ground shook and I fell down.
The old men started singing psalms in horribly uneven voices. Servants rushed past us, fleeing towards the village.

Suddenly everything grew quiet.
And then in the silence, more frightening than the storm I heard a voice, gentle and sweet, calling my name. The voice broke up in tears, so full of love and tenderness.

I got up, without thinking, against my will.
At the same moment, something heavy pinned me to the ground and Doctor’s harsh and threatening voice hissed in my ear:

“Don’t move. Or I swear to God I will cut your throat”, and I felt the cold steel pinch my neck.

The voice behind the door kept calling me, its sweet promises and entreaties growing more and more passionate. It was as if the old Rita was standing before me.
A moment longer and I don’t know how it all could have ended.

To my salvation, a sound of the bell broke through, then another.
The sound came from the village church, rising up to heaven, begging and demanding, blending the sounds of supplication and alarm.
Our servants ran to the village and told the old priest of our horrors.
The old priest had long suspected that there was something wrong in the castle, rushed to his church and ordered for the bell to be rung, and started to gather people for a procession towards the castle.
As soon as they approached the gate, a bright ray of sun broke through the clouds.
Instantly the voice inside the chapel fell silent.
The bell rang triumphantly.

“We are saved! Saved!” whispered Doctor and Petro, and all three of us sank to our knees. For the first time in my life, I prayed from the bottom of my heart and with complete faith.

Much later...
I have very little to add to these notes. Once we’ve calmed down we decided no to risk opening the chapel again. To weaken the “unclean” we thought to separate them, by barring old Dracula from the chapel. Petro and Doctor realised their mistake in not sealing the door between the chapel and the crypt thus allowing the ‘unclean’ to act together. We dug a deep grave in the crypt, and lowered the coffin, inscribed ‘Brought from America’ into the earth. Petro and Doctor bound it with a spell, the same way as they did my mother many years ago”

“So, James, this is the reason you were unable to find the coffin”, interrupted Harry, “carry on, Karl Ivanovich”

“There are only few lines left”

“All three of us are leaving for the monastery where we will pray for the salvation of the souls of those that were once beloved to us. May the Lord, in his infinite mercy grant them eternal peace of the grave. Perhaps Petro will return to watch over them. And the time itself will destroy their terrifying power”

Everyone stayed silent for a few moments, thinking about the tragedy of Carlo’s life.

“This was their error”, Harry finally spoke, “by the way, I almost forgot”, he added, pulling something long and white out of his pocket.

It was a pearl necklace, its golden clasp shaped like serpent’s head with pair of emeralds for eyes.

“Where did you get it from? This is Maria Dracula’s necklace”, asked James.

“On the night when we were breaking through the wall I found it on a pile of rubbish at the bottom of the well. I put it inside my pocket and forgot all about it. And only today I came across it again”, replied Harry

Everybody is admiring quality of the pearls and the mastery of the clasp.

“Still it would have been better if it had stayed at the bottom of the old well!” sighed James.
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