LA MORTE FIANCÉE
For Adam, the dark-skied “morning” after Alice’s joining was, to say the least, tumultuous. Make no mistake, reader; he, as unofficial chief peacemaker, was happy for her friendly pledge. Yet he writhed in his sleeping coffin with the fury of a thousand grubs! In his cloudy head, memories quaint and vile converged, and voices, foreign far voices like a distant country’s dead, cried out to him, pleading! For what—for what?
“FOR WHAT?” he ejaculated, ejecting himself from the coffin with a lid-flinging flourish…only the flourish, he now realized, was useless, for he had destroyed that lid with his prior night-writhing, ripping it to shreds with paper like rough devil’s tongues.
Thanks to his brief lunacy, the pillow and sheets were not only stationed at opposite ends of the guest bedroom, but torn asunder in confettic formation. Were it not for Adam’s luminous eyes, the room would have been pitch-black, for the lamps lay shattered, a few pummeled almost into powder. Torn in eighty places was the picture of Dorian Gray.
“Great Greek gods!” he cried. “What have I wrought upon this room of my savior’s home-and-bat?”
Hearing his cry, Robert came to check on him. The hallway door provided more light, and he provided his own gasp of alarm. Still, he was far calmer. “That’s the least of our worries,” he said. “Dracula’s a multi-multi-billionaire. He knows you’ve got baggage on your back and a chip on your shoulder. I’d say you both have every reason to be down in the dumps right now.”
“Down in the—but nothing has happened to me!” insisted Adam.
Yet he knew that was not true even as the words spilled from his lips. No great personal tragedy had happened to him lately…but the clouds of his memories were clearing and, in fact, had been perfectly absent during his nightmare, he was sure. Now, if he could only find some “alone time” in which to recollect those memories in this time of waking…
Robert focused on the present. “I disagree,” he said, and he gestured to the ruinous room.
“Well, do not shed tears for my sake,” Adam replied, wearing a grin. “It was nothing but a night fright. I sit here becalmed. Many thanks to you, friend.”
“Are you sure? Your complexion is a strange new nauseous yellow. And you look weak somehow…I can make out your muscles and arteries from here. And that papyrus! Is it giving off dust?” He came closer, kneeled by the coffin, and gently touched a papyrus pape. When the wrapping met his webby finger, it instantly sucked the digit dry, not of blood, but of moisture. “...Do you think it would be wise to replace this soon?”
“I believe it to be more of an extension of my flesh than a cover for it, but now that I consider, I do feel a mite bit thirsty.”
“Ah!” The gilled one lit up, unlike the lamps. “I brought just the thing in case it could help.” By the door on the floor he had set a foodened tray, which he now carried to darling Adam. It held moist, pale tofurky cubes and a selection of salad forks. “You may prefer real meat, but at least it’s moist! Give it a try, won’t you?”
Adam took a fork, and then a bite. A taste. An unexpected visit to that gustatory land of pure—revulsion! This gnarled and contorted his expression into one even creasier than a dead mummy’s! He moaned, “Auuuhhh, tofu bad! Tofu bad! Auhhhn!” He dashed the utensil against the floor, then dashed himself into the bathroom.
“Well, you don’t have to act like such a cliché over it.”
Poor Adam shoveled the soy off his tongue and into the sink as fast as he inhumanly could. As the flavorless flavor fell off, however, his common sense returned. Then came his sentiments. Suddenly there was a vibrant happiness welling up in him, and dripping from faucet eyes.
“How long has it been,” he whispered to the sink, “since people fretted over my well-being? People neither blind nor imaginary?”
What was his nightmare? Nothing but his old life; not a night fright, but a years-long plight. His relationship with Dr. Frankenstein, ruptured from the very start...his agonizing footrace with the Van Helsing party...and a segment in between, something long forgotten. Yet its trauma, most torturing of all, remained: it was Ozymandias in the sands of the heart.
For he, Adam, was meant to have an Eve. This he recalled vaguely, could never repress fully.
“But I have the Count. In this most peculiar of worlds, I owe all the friends, security, and blessings of my life—my life itself! —to the Count. But what if our coup should fail? No, what if it goes right? What if my companions all fly to their places, and I alone fall—placeless?”
Adam flung faucet water into his mouth and face to swish out the rest of the offending “meat,” and spat. Then he returned upright, looked into the mirror, and realized just why he hated tofurky.
Ever since his visage had faded in Dracula’s hand mirror, almost since his arrival in this year of 3001, he had never seen his face. No more of that old pathetic Adam, watching himself in brooks and streams and crying like the reverse Narcissus. Nothing anymore but a floating hat, patches of papyrus on an invisible form. At last his taste for victuals, too, had faded, replaced with a need for scarlet ichor.
No longer was he a stumbling babe in a far-future world. Whatever lie in wait, this was his time, for his initiation, the Baptism of Blood, was over.
He ran out of his bedchamber, past Robert, screaming all the while, “I’M A VAMPIRE! I’M A VAMPIRE!”
“Strange,” remarked Robert, “I thought he knew.”
He was a vampire—he was kin—his body itself reaffirmed his belonging, and the completion of the process was like as to the seal of a promise. So potent was Adam’s jubilation, so much like the jumping bean, that he careened down the halls, up a swooping staircase, and into parts of the castle so deep that he had never yet seen them. And with those eyes he could see these parts, though the electric lamps along these walls were unlit (Dracula does cut financial corners somewhere, you know).
Until he nearly tripped on carpet, which convinced him to check himself. Adam, steadying, bewildered by his own fancy mood, said to himself, “How reckless. I have let myself be carried away, it seems.”
He found himself in an empty hall, with all doors shut. Neither hostile nor welcoming; simply lonesome. He cast his eyes on a bronze, bat-head doorknocker which, to him, shone as readily as if in brightest sunbeams—since, in fact, they were in eyebeams, two lights as bright as little lamps, thoroughly changed by the whims of the Baptism.
“When situations call for stealth,” said an ethereal voice, “you may wish to invest in contact lenses.”
“Dracula!” said Adam, breathless with surprise. He whirled around, but could see no one. “Is my host invisible? Or has my metamorphosis produced a telepathic link between us?”
“Neither,” said the fiend nocturnal, and in that moment the door behind him, whence came Dracula’s voice, drifted open with a soft creak. “You happen to have found my office and reading room. Come in, and stay a while, if you will.”
Adam was glad to. His entrance illuminated a space which had been black not long before. There at one end was Dracula, sitting at a principal-worthy desk, aboard the corners of which were short piles of books and a hilariously outdated globe; these, Adam remembered, had slid about the captain’s quarters during the Cape Agulhas expedition, and now were put away at last. At the other end, extending into further dark, were bookcases of all manner of matters, though not deserving yet of much scrutiny—not while interpersonal study of vampiric matters was so high on Adam’s agenda.
Dracula looked tranquil, though a little flaky from yesterday’s sunburns, and as Adam entered, he set down a novelette and folded his hands on the desk. “I was hoping your Baptism would end today, and it is well that you should find this room, for connected to it is a very special blood bank. Consider it your reward for being such a good sport with these sleepless nights.”
“Wh-who told you?”
His host guffawed!
“Was it obvious?”
“It is done now!” said Dracula with a wavelike flourish of his cape. “Rest assured, your future will be more restful.”
“Can I join?” said Alice, who had been there all along.
Only now did Adam cast his eyes into the other side of the room, as if depth sounding; there Alice sat, in human form, an atlas in her lap, and she glared at their lot with as much seriosity as when she had been their foe. Adam felt his heart beat; he became aware of a quiet jumble of conflicting voices within himself, the unsettled opinions concerning Alice.
“…I mean join you in the blood bank,” she said, misconstruing this silence as confusion.
“I was hoping,” said Dracula, looking away, “that it might be a special, one-on-one moment.”
Alice stood upright, soldier-quick, and the atlas plopped to the floor. “Then I’ll do what I can to prove that old adage: ‘the more, the merrier.’”
With an uncertain glance to Adam, Dracula declared, “Uhhhh…”
“Then it will be done,” said the mummy. Proud, he was, to be her advocate; few knew better of social awkwardness, after all.
Dracula accepted this, and rose to lead them into the carmine crypt. When he removed a particular book from a shelf, it rumbled, and clouds of ancient dust rose from shaking crevices. With a slow spin, the bookcase revealed a passagespace, heretofore unglimpsed!
They stood at the precipice now, the dust settling betwixt their feet. A moment of quietude and awe might have transpired, had Alice not said, “Oh, bother. It just occurred to me that my presence here is a little suspicious.”
Dracula said, “What? How so?”
“You really have no clue? Or are you just playing nice?” Before he could answer, she turned away, biting her lip. “For all you know, I could be a double agent, and what this room holds could be of value to the World Government—if nothing else, vital to stopping you.”
A moment of quietude and baffled deliberation passed.
Then Dracula said, “Why on earth did you say that? What are you prompting me to do here, kick you out?”
“I’m just informing you of the possibilities,” she said, and her tone had scarcely changed—neither grown more guilty or sorrowful, nor risen to furor.
“Oh, look,” boomed Adam, throwing his voice into the chamber so that it produced an enticing echo, “such fascination ahead of us…”
The concrete floor, all cracked, suggested that none were to tread here, for fear of aching feet. A desk or table under a white cloth, along with various strange-shaped apparati, stood in the center of the room. These were but distractions in the face of the chamber’s impressive right wall: blood in vials, in rows, shimmering in their glasses like amber, each one underneath a different portrait done in charcoal sketch, and each labelled with its owner’s name and vital statistics. Like a quilt they filled the wall, making the room thick with history and sad essence of the dead.
Almost all of the portraited people were human. A few were werewolves, depicted in furréd form. Adam’s eyes, like mobile headlights, were torches that roved back and forth over their faces. They lingered, however, on the top-left portrait, whose containee was Dracula, looking then as now. Then they rested on Igor, his face as lumpen as his back, looking eerie in the pencil’s charcoal fog.
Spellbound by the immensity, this record that could well have told of a millennium, and feeling his hunger for blood rev up like an angry lawnmower, Adam not only salivated, but also stammered, “A-all these people…”
“Which people?” said Alice, for Dracula had assuaged the fears which Alice had projected onto him by blindfolding her and spinning her around three times. Now she would never know what secrets hid within. Unless somebody told her.
The question caught Adam off-guard, but he soon obliged. “Over there is Dracula…there must be Igor…and then, down the line, are specimens who are, if I may assume, unknown to you and I both.”
Dracula darted to the wall with an excitement not expressed in days. “There are stories here,” he said grandsomely, “and not all ill-fated! This vial,” he said, raising a tube from its stead beneath a crazed youth, “comes from a man named Renfield. I wronged him, making him a wretch…and that was years before I righted Igor, making him a wretch. We made up, however.”
“Odd. Is he still alive?”
“Perhaps, if there are still rats alive on this planet. (He can only eat rats, you know.) I am not certain whether he is alive or dead, for I have misplaced his phone number.”
Alice offered, “Shall I look him up in the phone book?”
“Which phone book?”
“There’s only one now.”
“And what happened here?” intruded Adam, who now gestured to an empty portrait. It was probably blank because Dracula had been lazy.
“Ah—that is Griffin’s. He is dead now. Interesting blood, that. He had the power to…”
Despite his efforts, Adam’s attention began to wander, caught up in the maelstrom of so many faces and the stories they carried. Dracula had lived a full life, aeons long, in the shadow of which Adam, like a lowly mote of a firefly, winged his way. In that same shadow were many others, live and perished. What he felt was not belittlement so much as realization of his little status. This choked his heart, though selfish it may have been; their value was not mutual.
Had it not been that way with Eve? In her gaze the greatest rejection, and in his a yearning, unshared?
“That was a fine story, Dracula,” said Alice, and Adam had to pause, for it was the kindest thing he had heard her say. “But can you tell me what’s under my hand right now?”
Adam pulled his focus to the peculiar flat object in the center of the room which, as indicated, was shrouded in mothballen cloth. Alice’s hand, blinded and feely, was set on the top.
“That is a sort of white tablecloth, repurposed,” said Dracula.
“Not exactly the answer I wanted,” said Alice.
Dracula came into the center with her. “Oh, you mean this?” he cried, and he flung the cloth clear away—revealing something that shocked Adam so utterly that for almost a minute he was without words!
“I do mean that,” said Alice, “but I’m blindfolded, you see.”
“Oh. Well, it is an operating table, though I am afraid it is fairly ordinary, if dramatically last-season. Come to think of it, such a table may have been in use when you were a child.” (Twitches overcame Adam’s body, numerous as hives and goosebumps. He gritted his teeth, his fine-tuned fangs!) “This was Igor’s operating room in former centuries. His patients begged him to reverse their maladies, werewolfism being the most frequent. How loud they cried…” (Adam wrung his hands, rubbed his wrists and arms, to keep himself from anything stranger, more instinctual—or more foul!) “I have no use for this table, except as a twisted memento; it has laid witness to more tragedies than successes, and may actually be a lodestone bringing bad luck upon the castle. Should you care to keep it for yourself, Alice, as an antique souvenir, I would not mind at all; in fact, I invite such a thing.”
“No thanks. No nostalgia for me. I try to keep moving forward, as they say.”
“Ha, ha, ha—oh my, oh no! Adam, good man, what is the matter?” Dracula entreated, for Adam had fallen to his knees, his claws become nails across his forehead, threatening puncture, and he wailed now, overcome!
Dracula flew to Adam and laid a hand on his back, but that could not stymie his continual shaking, nor the words climbing in volume. Neither could it stop those words from stumbling out of coherence! For example, “did you bring me here just to torment me with items from Igor’s life which coincidentally mirror items from my own, as well as my maligned creator’s, and all this after I suffered a nightmare about the same, which I can near about handle as a memory, but not so much as a physical thing in front of me” morphed into a growl of, “I…Igorrrr!”
Yellow-gray papyrus whipped out, sweeping the table off its feet, and the crash seemed to split the room in two, so deafening and metallic it was. There was unholy resonance in it, a resonance that reached into past and future, and Adam would not let it stalk him to the end of days.
Alice flattened herself against the wall, and Dracula flinched, and all went still…except Adam’s head, the interior of it, a whirligig of thoughts all screaming and bright.
“A-Adam,” Dracula managed, “you are an original. You are no replacement Igor—is that what this is about?”
But Adam was not listening to Dracula, and if he had, he would have considered the point sorely missed. “Keep…moving…forward,” he whispered in a serpent’s hiss. “Move back. Find her…be alone…find someone.”
“I’ve got it,” said Alice with a snap of her fingers. “You can marry me.”
A grave groan erupted from Adam’s core, such that the chamber literally rattled, and thunder was heard to boom!
But it was merely hunger.
Thus Adam remembered the world. The competing voices within him began folding into themselves, and he, knowing now what he had done, folded himself, became a ball, like the scarab, unassuming. “Forgive me” was all he could say. “Forgive me…forgive me…”
Dracula unfurled Adam’s hand and slid in a vial of ordinary blood. “Easily,” he said.
What should have followed was a two-hour session of Adam explaining the demons that now assailed him, some of a known and memory-oriented character, and others, only revealed to him minutes ago, of a psychological character, those being the whirligig of voices not his own and yet his own, the confusion that refused to resolve itself into one clear opinion. Unfortunately, this did not follow, and nothing of the kind was explained, for in that moment Dracula’s pocket watch vibrated, signaling an alarm—and, with a frightful start, he discovered that it had been vibrating for a while now, maybe as long as two minutes!
“I’m late!” he said.
“I’m late!” she gasped.
“Gulp!” said Adam as he downed the blood.
And then they were down the hall, those two, Dracula and Retired Commander Alice, almost too quick for Adam to catch them leaving for their enigmatic appointment. Leaving him alone, crouched next to the rubble. He dimmed his eyes in the solitude; the lamps died out like stagelight over the closing act.
It was not Igor whom he feared he might become, and not even Victor…neither anymore. But these were stories eaten through with rejection, irreconcilable. He feared not to become, but to remain, and he wondered, with his roundabout mind, just how kin became enemies, and why his Eve should run.
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