Chapter 1

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              My Friend,
              Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three o'clock tomorrow the Diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land.
              Your friend,

              The day ends. My life begins.
              Light reviles me, raising white blisters where other men darken to a smooth, dusky caramel. To those unlucky few who gaze upon me, I manifest ghastly pale, more sickly-white than a dying albino. Life itself enhances imperfection, and the greater and longer the life, the more that life is tormented by base and unwanted weaknesses. Where life extends to maddening endlessness, where consciousness revisits the same concepts century after century, all thought becomes repetition. Then even the slightest annoyance grows into a hated self-revulsion.
              This is my curse, which the witless call a blessing.
              I can't reveal the source of my curse, for I know not by who, how, or why I am damned. My unique torment comes of no known origin but continues eternally, as natural as waves frothing upon the sea, although nothing exists more unnatural than I.
              I was born as most men are, an infant swaddled by a loving mother. I ran and played as a laughing child. I cried, although my dust-dry eyes have dripped no tears for three hundred years. I grew to a blithesome youth, fell in love, fought in petty wars, and was pledged to be married, but my lovely bride died in my arms, and now no child springs from my dead seed. Even my youngest nieces and nephews lie in their graves, forgotten, while I continue to infinity. Like any man, I expected to die, and many times I've come close, but Death shuns me with contempt. I've no desire to continue, but the merciless and everlasting God created my loathsome reality for a reason, and I'd know His purpose before I end my deathless Hell.
              I was birthed in 1431, in a small city that now despises me: Sighisoara, Hungary. The year is now 1897; I am 466 years old ... and no mystery is greater to me than my own.
              My aged bones creak and pop, stiff beyond arthritic, but I never break. My crusty skin crackles, but I never bleed. Pain excruciates to my very core, and the worst is that I suffer willingly, for the price of comfort scars me worse than any acid, sharp blade, or animal's fang. I persevere without hope; madness is the sole fruit of eternal agony, and when existence engenders irreparable torture of the body, insanity manifests ... and then I must feed.
              It is past time, but I mustn't feed yet ...

              The sun set on May the 5th, 1897: St. George's Day, when the local peasants fear me most. I arose with the dark, for the unseen alone comforts me. Men and women alike fear me, worse than devils from the depths of infernal nightmares, such as those dark dreams which frequently challenge my sanity, until I can't discern where the nightmare of my waking damnation deviates from the dementions of my cruelest sleeping fantasies. My dry, aged body ached beyond mortal comprehension, yet I forced my limbs onward. Step-by-painful-step, I ascended the dark-granite stairs of my crumbling, ancestral home.
              In my beloved stable, my horses greeted me warmly, neighs of love from beasts descended many generations from sires I once purchased from the very island to which I'd soon return. Yorkshire Coach Horses: large, strong, brown horses with dark legs, thick manes, long tails, and a surprisingly noble bearing. Yorkshire Coach Horses are the longest-legged carriage-equestrians in the world, with an unmatched combination of swiftness, smooth gait, and endurance. For tall, elegant carriage horses, they are the best.
              I petted them; they were my most-trusted friends, and my attentiveness to their needs endeared them to me. Yet that night, as they consumed their oats and water, I strapped on their strong harnesses, and then my deception began.
              With trembling fingers, my iron will restraining the stabbing crackles as each finger joint bent, I turned the key and opened my ancient, brass-encrusted black walnut jewelry box which I kept upon the middle shelf in my stable, near to its great doors. In the box was a false beard: long, thick, curly black locks grown upon the chin of a sailor long dead. The cord binding the locks slid easily over my hairless, pale, skin-cracked scalp, and came to rest above my ears, binding the false beard over my dry chin. Around my shoulders I flung a heavy cloak to hide my pale features, and I capped myself with my tall, wide-brimmed hat to prevent the friendly moon and winking stars from revealing the truth of my disguise. I opened the great doors, and then, with faltering efforts, I climbed to the top of my sturdy, ancient coach. Sadly, I drew my weapon from its hold: I was late; my only hope was the whip.
              I drove my horses with a mastery no mortal can claim. Over rocks and around ditches I steered, heedless of the towering cliffs that abutted the only road to my mountaintop sanctuary. My coach was of the old style, constructed of dark-stained durmast, the strongest Eurasian oak, its fully-enclosed passenger compartment supported by four large wheels. My driver's bench seat hung in front, and a folding bench extended from the back for a coachman. Downhill and through cool forests I urged my horses faster; I had a long way to go, and I needed to hurry.
              I feared that I'd have to pursue, but as I rounded the last bend, I saw the rugged, boulder-strewn Borgo Pass. The four-horsed, rickety, covered carriage from Bistritz, which had outlasted three generations of owners, started to depart, but his mounts were no match for mine, and I was the better driver. Its driver would take from me that which I must have, despite that he knew I couldn't be thwarted. With the constant and eternal disgust that endless predictability always engenders within me, I crossed his path and drug my stalwart steeds to a halt.
              "You're early tonight, my friend," I said to the driver.
              "The English Herr was in a hurry," the driver tried to excuse himself with a lie.
              Why must these foolish mortals try to deceive me? Centuries have inured me to falsehoods, experiences beyond count training me until every stretch of facial muscles, and every twitch of an eyelash, not to mention their unmistakable attempts to mask their uncalm voices, trumpeted an attempt at deception. These fools were born to lands where I once ruled, whose legends told of my residence 'ere their oldest known ancestors were born.
              "You wished him to go on to Bukovina?" I replied in a whisper that stabbed every ear in the Borgo Pass. "You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much."
              "Denn die Todten reiten schnell," came a whisper from the inside of the carriage.
              I smiled, for I knew every language; the speaker had whispered: "For the dead travel fast."
              With a haste caused only by their fear of me, their only foreign passenger, a stranger to my lands, was transferred to me, and his bags loaded aboard my coach. Then they rode off with alacrity evidencing that they regarded me as the infernal counterpart to their unjust God, who alone has the power to curse a man as I have been cursed.
              Now I was alone with my guest ... who knew nothing of me.
              "The night is chill, mein Herr, and my master the Count bade me take all care of you," I spoke to my guest. "There's a flask of slivovitz underneath your seat, if you should require it."
              Without another word, I turned my horse-drawn coach around on the narrow road. I'd need my whip no longer. My friends would draw us back to my castle leisurely ... and then my plan would begin, and a new chapter of my life would flourish. The promise of upcoming novelty almost made me smile; in a world of boring repetition to dull the mind of even the smartest man, novelty alone delights, offering a faint, tantalizing prayer of escape from thoughts and concepts long-ago grasped.
              This man will be my novelty.

              The ride back was long and relaxing, and my dearest friends, the wolves, howled as I drove my horses past them across the Mittel, the deep green hills of the Carpathians, a recent dusting of high mountain snows contrasting their chill shadows. The jarring of my wheels upon the ruts beneath us felt gentler upon my joints than my frantic ride to acquire my innocent passenger. I relaxed and inhaled to absorb the cool night air. The fragrant scents of the forest delighted me; although as frail as the rest of my ancientness, my nostrils filled with their welcoming aromas, and I appreciated their subtleties. I especially liked the trees, although only the eldest had seen more winters than I; it is a comfort to know that some things lived and thrived ere I was born. Yet my nasal passages detected the endless rot suffusing them, the festering molds and slimes that hide, often unseen, in the very soil from which my companions sprouted. Someday even the eldest tree must die, and upon that day, I'll be filled with regret ... and envy.
              "Driver?" cried a voice from inside my carriage. "Driver, what mountains are these?"
              My passenger sought conversation. Doubtlessly he sat bored by his long ride, nervous in a new country, young, inexperienced, and uncertain. In his voice I heard his attempt to mask his timidity. I didn't reply; I'd provided him a bottle of slivovitz, an excellent plum brandy, to pass his time. I shouldn't have spoken to the driver that had delivered him to me, lest my passenger recognize my voice when I threw off this disguise. Yet I had no fear; unless he chose to leap from my carriage or risk the dangerous climb up to the gotza, the driver's bench, while countless rocks and ruts shook my carriage, he'd be helpless when I remained silent.
              At one point, my brother wolves ran alongside my carriage, racing my steeds. My passenger grew alarmed, shouted, and banged his hand on the decorative woodwork of my carriage. I smiled, and at my merest gesture, my brothers fled into the frosted forest.
              Night was deep as I clattered under my portcullis and drew up before the heavy doors of my keep. I hesitated just long enough for my passenger to disembark, and I lowered his baggage to him. Then, abruptly, I cracked my whip and drove my horses away. He shouted at my back, impotent, choking in a cloud of my dust. Without hesitation, I rushed my horses through both courtyards and into their stables, where I dismounted as fast as I could, and then I closed the wide doors behind me. I quickly barred their entrance, in case my passenger should tire of knocking at my front door and come exploring.
              With as much haste as I could manage, I flung my hat, cloak, and false beard onto my bench, unhitched my horses, and then hurried to my front door. Many long minutes had passed, and his knock was loud and frequent; he was impatient. I gathered my shaken nerves, lit a lantern, and drew back the massive iron bolts, their heavy chains clinking loudly. My door creaked long and loudly as it opened.
              In the light of my lantern, held high, the stranger's eyes fully widened. He was indeed young, with pale, flawless fawn-brown skin. He had a moustache, thin and trimmed, his smooth cheeks and chin recently shaved, a high forehead, and a strong, straight nose. He was large and well-built, but despite being covered by several layers of cloth, I could tell he was no laborer, for his tall frame lacked the natural imposition of a man who works with his back. If not for his startled expression, seeing my ancient face for the first time, he might've been mistaken for a son of nobility, but he had a look of mildness, an impression of gentleness rare among the men of Transylvania.
              If all of England was populated with men of his ilk, then his country would indeed be a feast.
              Far stronger than his appearance arose his smell; fresh, rich, youthful blood pulsing through every artery and vein. He was full of life, on the verge of his prime, when a youth's body has grown to the limit his bones will reach, and his frame and muscles harden into those of a man. The tantalizing, delicious aroma of his blood flushed my features, and the urge to surrender to violence, which would ease my unbearable agony, was almost overwhelming. To the aged, memories of energetic flexibility, of taut skin and soft bones, are taunts and torments, but the inevitability of time and death condemns mortals to accept their coming doom. Where remedy for this tragedy exists in the pulsing elixir of every human on Earth, only then is the mind tested for its moral convictions.
              I hungered for him, but I must keep to my plan.
              His reaction was no stranger. In the flickering lamplight, my deep-set eyes, low brows, and skeletal head was draped with skin like a horse wearing an elephant's hide, wrinkled and parched. My large, domed head, once graced with thick black hair, was as bald as a boulder. My height was taller than his, and my shoulders wider; I was true royalty, and had once been a leader of armies, driving back even the mighty Turks. My frame had been the most imposing in the land, but now I appeared ghastly.
              "Welcome to my house. Enter freely ... and of your own will," I said.
              An uncomfortable moment passed while I sized him up even further, noticing his immaculate suit, which he must not have worn much on his travels, and shoes that were freshly polished, although they showed feint scuffs of having been worn for a while, and a tiny scent of brine wafted from their soles; the unmistakable smell of the sea. I wasn't surprised, for I'd received several letters from his employer informing me of his nautical route.
              "Thank you," he said somewhat over-forcefully, in an attempt to hide his embarrassment at being startled. Then he swallowed hard, as if summoning a strength never before used. "I'm Jonathan Harker ..."
              He held out his hand. Slowly I held out mine, and dead flesh grasped the living. He startled again, dropping his eyes to stare at my cold, hard, white, dry hand, which he longed to recoil from, but couldn't politely attempt. He seemed so perplexed that I repeated my invitation.
              "Welcome to my house. Come freely, go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring."
              At my words, he seemed to recover. He shook himself, as if to fortify his resolve.
              "Count Dracula ...?" he bowed in a courtly way, but with no forward movement.
              I noted his strong English accent, and his stresses on the first sounds of my title and name, so different from the usage of my homeland. I needed to adopt his speech pattern; my plan had begun!
              "I am Dracula, of the royal house of Draculesti, Prince of Transylvania, Count of Hungary and Bulgaria, Voivode of Wallachia, Order of the Dragon," I said forcefully. "I bid you welcome, Mr. Harker, to my home. Come in; the night air is chill, and you must warm yourself, eat, and rest."
              When he still took no forward step, I hung my lamp on a wall-bracket, and stepping out, I took his luggage and carried it in. He attempted to object, but I shook my head.
              "Nay, sir, you are my guest," I said, trying to smile without revealing the points of my teeth; there was no sense frightening him now. "It is late, and my people are not available. Let me see to your comfort."
              Jonathan Harker entered my house as a man might enter his own crypt, knowing that his demise was inevitable. To this I gave him credit; his senses understood more of his fate than his mind, which would break under the burden of the countless memories I possessed. Yet he was born of a younger nation, an innocent race, and I perceived him as an adult assesses a child, blissfully ignorant of the tell-tale signs he blundered past unknowingly.
              He stared with wondrous alarm at my foyer, with its tall ceiling and single iron chandelier, wrought of swords once wielded in defense of these lands, now glowing with the light of a single thickly-wicked candle, but shrouded in cobwebs and dust. The carvings upon my columns and around my doorways were intricate and fluid, of a style almost forgotten save by we who cherished the old ways. Every treasure was old, dreadful, with layers of histories unknown except to me. Dust lay thick in every crevice and upon the surfaces of every carving, and even on their rounded undersides; I'd long ago given up cleaning, and my maidens were chosen for their beauty, not their usefulness.
              The next time I choose a maiden, I'll choose wiser.
              I watched the young man intently, discerning far more than an astute detective. Jonathan Harker walked with a stiffness that seemed unnatural to him, as if he were a free spirit being forcibly restrained for fear of revealing an unprofessional demeanor. The duration of his eyes upon certain sights identified his familiarity or interest; he barely glanced at a statue of magnificent craftsmanship, but he gazed at an empty torch sconce intently, as if seeing one for the first time, and a portrait of a beautiful young woman mesmerized him. Yet he was careful not to be obvious; clearly he was intelligent and educated, but neither worldly nor sophisticated in matters of art. I suspected that he'd never been inside a castle before, as he glanced through my doorways and down side-passages as if confused by the labyrinthine turns of my manor.
              I gestured for him to precede me up the winding stairs to the room I'd chosen for him. Forcing my creaking, aged body after him, I longed for the ease of movement which he displayed with every step upon my stairs, and how his neck rotated almost effortlessly from side to side as he glanced for the first times at the numerous paintings, statues, and mosaics of my ancestral home. In his wake, the scent of him wafted even stronger, surging my hunger. But I had work to be done; my entrance into a new life couldn't be heralded by news of a murder for which I'd be blamed.
              We entered his room, which was elegant but spartan; I'd specifically chosen it for its location more than its comfort, and this room I'd meticulously cleaned, to insure that my guest would have no objection to sleeping there. A fireplace with aged wood sat, ready to ignite, beside a wide bed, a small writing desk, many sconces with new candles, and a single window which looked down upon a cliff of unsurpassable height. Unless my guest could scale walls as I could, then he couldn't escape these rooms. Yet the thick carpets and bright tapestries made it a pleasant room, a little too boisterous for my austere tastes, but this boy, who'd always be a child to my eyes, would doubtless find it pleasing.
              "Please, rest here," I said to him. "I'll see that my servants have your supper ready, and then I'll return."
              I hurried as best I could to the kitchen. In my rusty oven I'd cooked paprika hendl, a traditional Hungarian recipe of chicken surrounded by vegetables, mostly red pepper. It was still warm, and looked and smelled fully-cooked, so I brought it to the small dining room, placed it before the one table setting that lay waiting, lit the candles, and then returned to fetch my guest. He greeted me rather warmly, having recovered from his initial shock at my appearance, and gladly followed me to his feast.
              "I pray you, be seated and sup how you please," I said. "You will, I trust, excuse me that I do not join you, but I have dined already."
              I poured for him a rare wine, Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable. By smelling and carefully looking at it, he pretended to appreciate it before tasting it, although I could tell that his understanding of fine wines was limited. He complimented me on the taste of both the wine and his meal, and then he fell silent. I stared at him the whole time, and he stared equally at me, as if memorizing every detail of my appearance. This bothered me, although it shouldn't, for my plans meant that he'd never leave my castle alive, but I decided to divert his attention; I gave him the last letter his employer sent me, and he stopped eating to read it:

              Dear Count Dracula,
              I regret that an attack of gout, from which malady I am a constant sufferer, forbids absolutely any travelling on my part for some time to come; but I am happy to say I can send a sufficient substitute, one in whom I have every possible confidence. He is a young man, full of energy and talent in his own way, and of a very faithful disposition. He is discreet and silent, and has grown into manhood in my service. He shall be ready to attend on you as you will during his stay, and shall take your instructions in all matters.
              Mr. Peter Hawkins

              As he finished reading it, he looked up at me and tried to smile. I handed him a fine cigar, imported from Budapest, and excused myself, claiming that I didn't smoke, before I lit his tobacco. Smoking obviously relaxed him, but he still seemed nervous and looked about anxiously.
              "Do you think broadly?" I asked, startling him from his inspection.
              "Broadly ...?" Jonathan Harker asked.
              "Broadly," I repeated. "A mind is evaluated not by its speed or breadth of knowledge, but by its extremes of reasoning."
              "I .... I'm afraid that I don't understand your meaning," Jonathan Harker said.
              I frowned, and the intensity of my displeasure must've shown, for his expression paled and a sheen of concern masked his youthful features. I forced myself to remain calm; this man was a child compared to me, and I had to treat him accordingly.
              "How widely and how narrowly one thinks impresses me more than memorization," I explained. "A simple man may think about what he must do each day, while a sophisticated man ponders the nature of the universe, and the structure of the smallest leaf; it is to those who seek both extremes whom I respect."
              "Ah!" the young man brightened. "Forgive my sluggishness, and thank you for making your meaning clear. I hope that my slowness to understand doesn't affect your opinion of me. To answer your question: I'd say that I'm somewhat in the middle, mostly because I've little time to dedicate to the fullness of the greater. I'm just starting out in life, and the countless details of improving my situation leaves me little time for personal reflection."
              "You'd be wise to share your time accordingly," I said plainly, although I wasn't sure yet if he was capable of deep mental feats. "Momentary concerns create who we are. Personal reflections create who we choose to be."
              "Oh, I do love discussing the breadth of the universe," Jonathan Harker said with a brief smile between bites, for he was careful to swallow before he spoke. "I spent two years at Cambridge, where I studied the planetary movements ..."
              My scowl caught him by surprise, and he fell silent, fixated upon my face.
              "The sciences are how men think small, not large," I said, slightly angered, for my new toy wasn't nearly as interesting as I'd hoped. "How objects in the heavens move is fascinating, but true scholars know that there's more to the universe than mortals can see."
              "Ah, you mean philosophy!" Jonathan Harker said, pausing before he took another bite.
              "No," I said firmly, my voice deepened to a command. "Philosophy is merely a statement of beliefs; but perhaps you're too young for such subjects. My years exceed yours as a mountain does a dust-mote, and matters you would deem philosophy are to me as real as the planets."
              "I beg your pardon; I'm certainly too young to know this world as well as you," Jonathan said. "But I'm eager to learn, if you'd be willing to impart any wisdom ..."
              Frustrating as it might be, I can't blame a person for the recentness of their birth. His entreaty pleased me; perhaps he wouldn't be as boring as I'd feared.
              "True wisdom comes with knowledge, experience, and deep introspection," I said. "Even the greatest teacher can only give you one of these treasures. As to the Great Mysteries of Life, even the ultimate treasures are conjectures, but ... ah! What conjectures they are! After endless introspection upon conjectures, the Great Mysteries become tangible beliefs; parts of them become certainties, and the remainders become conditionals, and it is only by both of these that the true nature of man may be ascertained."
              "I fear that I've none of the elements required to ascertain my nature, if indeed I have one," Jonathan said. "I must apologize for being a poor guest ..."
              "You are not a poor guest," I said. "But I judge you a poor man, as you are unenriched by the wealth of treasures that your mind could possess. It is my hope that you, that all men, and women, for they are not reluctant to learn, given the chance, would avail yourselves of the bounty of certainty that each could have ... if only they took the time to delve into their own minds."
              At this, a look of unexpected excitement came upon my guest's expression.
              "Master Dracula, if I may refer to you by the title that I perceive you deserve, I can't express my delight in your company, and if it's not too bold, my gratitude would be yours forever if you'd become my tutor in these matters ... and share with me even the smallest part of the vast knowledge you've amassed."
              I grinned widely, finally amused, for my young guest had at last shown the novelty which alone delights me. No man born in the Carpathians would entreat to prolong my company. However, in my excitement, I forgot myself; Jonathan Harker's smile froze and his face paled, and a look of abject horror superimposed his taut, unwrinkled features. I quickly closed my mouth; I'd shown him my teeth ...!
              No time to contemplate; I had to distract him at once.
              "Death cannot be the end of consciousness," I said with absolute finality.
              He absorbed my words, but his alarm didn't lessen. He visibly shuddered, still stunned by his first glimpse of my fangs. I had to continue.
              "Mountains once were barriers to human passage, but we learned to scale them," I said. "Oceans once limited our travel, yet now we sail them. The upper airs were once unreachable, yet now balloons fly above the clouds. As science advances, barriers fall. Is not time such a barrier? We all exist trapped in time, but will not science someday master that which flows us from our cradles to our graves? What then will become of those long dead? When we can return to any time at which they were alive, will anyone truly be dead ... or will they just be ... unvisited?"
              The look of shock upon Jonathan's face lessened, and he shook himself, ashamed to have again lost control in my presence.
              "I ... I've never thought about it, but it must be true," he said, rather clumsily. "That's an amazing thought!"
              "You must think deeply to fully understand this concept, for there are aspects of this which I still ponder," I said.
              "Tell me more, I beg you!" Jonathan pleaded.
              "Have you not seen a fly dash away from the hand that swats at it?" I asked. "Does not the deer flee the wolf? Clearly, all creatures fear death. What does that tell us?"
              "What?" he asked. "Pray, tell ...!"
              For a moment I doubted my plan; could he not see the obvious?
              "We see the world around us, but unless everything that exists is visible, then we don't see everything," I explained slowly, as if to a child. "To know everything, we must become reservoirs of all knowledge; we must be aware of what all men think, and then determine which thoughts are invalid, inconsequential, or irrelevant to our goal. However, since animals also fear death, then it is equally obvious that animals think, and to know all, we must consider the thoughts of animals."
              "But animals ... think poorly ... if at all!" Jonathan argued.
              "It is not for facts that we consume the thoughts of animals, but for clarity," I said. "Humans lie, to ourselves and to others, until truth is but a single grain of sand upon a beach of falsehoods. The study of animals reveals far more about the base nature of men than the thoughts of men."
              "Ahh, I understand," Jonathan said. "By recognizing the concepts of those who know only truth we can divine the lies of those who believe falsehoods."
              I grinned, for I couldn't help being impressed.
              "You have a gift for insight and eloquence. I'm glad to host you in my home."
              I'd much to do, and it was far past midnight; my guest must be tired, despite his carefully-arranged appearance. I decided to end our first evening together, as far as he was concerned. With my mind, I reached out to my distant brothers, and called to them, and commanded them to respond to their master. A moment later, the languid, mournful howls of my wolves filled the nearby forest, echoing through my hallways. Jonathan startled again, and looked about, visibly shaken.
              "Listen to them: the children of the night. What music they make!" I said, and I rose from my chair. "Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city can't enter into the delights of the hunter. But you must be tired. Your bedroom is ready, and tomorrow you'll sleep as late as you will. I've many demands upon my time, and have to be away until late afternoon, so sleep and dream well!"
              "I thank you, generous host, and I hope that we may continue this discussion tomorrow," Jonathan said.
              "It would be ... my greatest pleasure," I replied.

              I closed the door to his room and waited outside it, breathing deep breaths to control my lusts. As he prepared himself for bed, I listened carefully, for his movements were swift and certain, without the agony of one whose body has succumbed to the ravages of time. Even through the thick door, I could smell his delicious scent, which lingered in the air and was nearly-overpowering. Yet I was determined; quenching my thirst upon him would spoil my carefully-orchestrated plan. I had to resist; the lives of my people depended upon me.
              Yet his heart beat loudly, and I could feel each pulse in his arteries, even through the thick door. Memories of the taste that I longed for and despised haunted me, but I forced back my hungers, and finally I walked away, more silently than a shadow in the moon-glow, after he fell helplessly asleep.
              I'd much to do; he'd awaken during the dreadful day, and no one would be there to greet him. I wrote him a note and placed it where he'd find it:

              "I have to be absent for a while. Do not wait for me.--D."

              Then I cleared his dishes, but I didn't wash them, for that would never be done. Normally I commanded my brides to do such chores, although they worked poorly and were lazy, driven only by their immortal thirst, but I'd banished them from this part of the castle, for their strength to resist our cursed appetite was pitiful. However, once cleared, I arranged new breads and cheeses, and a clean place setting for Jonathan to find tomorrow, and then I descended into the dungeon of my castle where I'd imprisoned my loves.
              "He's here!" Lorita snarled as I unlocked their door and entered. "We can smell him. We must taste him!"
              "He shall not be touched," I said darkly, my tone implying a beyond-the-grave threat.
              All three of my maids hissed angrily, but none dared to refute my commands. However, my orders would be forgotten if they spied my guest, so I stayed firmly between them and the unlocked door. They glared at me, their eyes red, their snarls showing gleaming fangs. I watched them closely, for they'd fulfill their lusts ... even against my commands.
              Dark and olive-skinned, Lorita was my eldest, my first deathless lover, a peasant whose beauty was astounding even before arising into the perfection of immortality. Now she was a temptress without compare, a seductress who knew every trick to inflame the desires of men, taught by centuries of expertise in hunting would-be lovers ... and convincing them to accompany her to some dark and discreet hideaway, where amid their writhing satisfactions they'd never realize that they were dying.
              Mieta, my princess, the daughter of an emperor, was wise, cunning, and dangerous, the only maiden on Earth who posed a threat to me. Of all those who inhabit the worlds of the living or the dead, Mieta was closest to being my mental equal, and she understood the depth of my purposes, and even my feelings nearing compassion, which she didn't share. Her delight of cruelty intensified in the two centuries she'd walked the night. Killing was no delight to Mieta, for death ends the suffering of her victims. She was my torturess, to whom I send those who anger me.
              Helgreth, my last true love, was born of the young races in Europe's farthest northwest. Her bright, sun-radiant hair and azure eyes shone like the stars of sapphires, and enhanced the innocence of her appearance, her gentle, deferential manner which was her trademark. Her mild demeanor dispelled all reservations her victims might have, as with submissive bearing she set aside worries and doubts, and with hands as soft as a newborn canary she lays men down to a deep sleep from which they'd never awaken. Even her fangs were small and delicate, and the sharpest, for she could bleed a sleeping victim to death without ever awakening them.
              Lorita, Mieta, and Helgreth stared at me, three different glares, all the same hate. I alone stood between them and their closest source of gratification. Once they'd had many sisters, but those maids dared to seek their own nourishments among my people, who knew and understood what they were ... and how to destroy them ... or worse: they defied my will.
              In the end, after I've departed Castle Draculea, long after my current guest is drained of every drop of life, hunger will force my nocturnal trio to seek frequent sustenance, and the neighboring villages will eventually rise up and destroy them. On that day I'll be sad, for at one time I loved each of them, but they've become anchors that tie me to this life, to my ancestral bonds, which I'm determined to escape.
              "Where's the meal that I commanded?" I ask them.
              Helgreth moved aside a cloth and lifted a tray, prepared as I'd ordered, and she approached with slow deliberation, flowing across the broken flagstones.
              "Master, will you not explain ...?" Helgreth asked sweetly.
              Her pleasantness affected me, but I couldn't succumb. Mieta watched and listened, and my only fear was that she might perceive my intention, for she alone could thwart my purpose.
              "I said that I'd explain, but not yet," I said. "I'll give you his name, Jonathan Harker, but I warn you again; he's forbidden ... until my business with him is completed."
              "What business is that?" Lorita asked, gliding to the other side, as if to distract me, but I kept my focus on Helgreth, for only she was close enough to attack without warning. I didn't fear them; I excelled all enemies, for I was the ultimate warrior, trained from birth to conquer and command, a Prince of Transylvania, and now the King of Eternal Darkness.
              "You know the penalty of defiance," I warned them. "Curb your hungers, or you'll never feed again. Trust me: when I'm finished you may drink your fill."
              "We smell him on you," Mieta said, her very tone an accusation. "He's young and strong. Will a single drop remain after you've finished him?"
              "We're dry as dust," Helgreth said. "Can we have nothing now?"
              "The night's almost spent," I said, and I reached out and took my guest's meal from Helgreth's graceful hands. I glanced at the tray; it was food fit only for the living. "I'll bring you something as soon as I may."
              As I stepped back toward the door, all three women hissed at me like vipers, eager to bury their fangs in living flesh. Yet I heeded them not; I firmly closed and locked their door behind me. Through the stout wood, I heard Helgreth scowl, and then Lorita screamed in anger. As always, Mieta made no sound, offering me no evidence that I could use against her. I'd have to feed them something soon, but I had to be certain that they were starving first; I couldn't allow them to increase their numbers, creating others in the hopes of killing me, as several of my past maiden-lovers had tried ... right before I killed them permanently.
              Hurrying back, I set Jonathan's next meal beside the bread, cheese, and my note, where Jonathan would find all. Then I began my other chores, including feeding and watering my horses for the day, as my maidens couldn't perform their usual duties. I made sure that all of the doors out of the section of the castle where Jonathan slept were locked; it'd ruin my plans if he strayed upon secrets that he didn't need to learn. Then I felt the customary weakness saturate my limbs; the cocks would soon crow.
              With no small amount of trepidation, I returned to my maidens and locked myself inside with them.
              "It is time," I said, and jeweled daggers seem to spike from their eyes. Yet they'd no choice; our weakness was evident. I gestured for them to precede me, and followed at a safe distance.
              Our resting-chamber lay in my vast dungeon, topped with a high ceiling, under which our coffins lay. On the bottom step I waited, watching as my three lovelies, my immortal damsels of death, opened their lids and reposed themselves in their customary positions. I stared at each of them in turn and held them long in my gaze. Admiration and appreciation of beauty is a trait that enhances with age, and the long centuries have imbued me with a love of beauty far greater than I possessed when last my heart beat. Only when I heard the first cock's cry did I ascend my stairs to the topmost earthen platform, where my own splendid coffin lay. My weakness was almost complete, but I couldn't risk being attacked while I lay helpless; I had to wait until they were as sedate as I. With my last ounce of strength, I pulled my lid down over me, and it slammed shut like a cannon's boom, as I was too weak to restrain it. Then my exhaustion took hold; I'd accomplished many trying tasks for one as aged as I, who'd not fed in almost fifty years.
              But soon I'd feed again.

              On May the 6th, Helgreth screamed at me as I moved to unlock the door ... and to seal them in for another night. I'd commanded them all to be silent, for fear that their shrieks would alarm my guest, but they were hungry, and I, too, felt their desires.
              "One more shriek and you'll have not a sip of my guest; I'll let your sisters suck him dry," I warned her.
              Helgreth bit back a retort as Lorita grinned, but Mieta glared.
              "Creatures of the night shouldn't be caged," Mieta snarled. "Our curse shall turn us."
              I met Mieta's eyes with a stare as baleful as hers. She was pushing me, hoping for a reaction that would reveal my secret.
              "I'll bring you relief soon; you'll not starve," I said, locked on her gaze. "Restrain yourselves for but a few more nights ... or I'll restrain you ... forever."
              "What does this mortal give you that's more important than us?" Lorita demanded.
              Believable lies filled my mind; a few choice words would settle them, but I'd taught them to detect falsehoods, and I preferred to never utter lies; lies were monsters that fools unleashed upon themselves. I was a Count of Hungary, a Prince of Transylvania; I wouldn't be consumed by my own lies. Yet I dared not tell them the truth; combined against me, I wasn't certain that I'd prevail.
              "All I've ever had I've shared," I said firmly. "All that you have has come from me. How dare you question me?"
              My question was answered by doubt, and in Mieta's expression, sheer disbelief, but they spoke not another word. I unlocked the door, closed it, and caged them behind me.
              From a special crypt where the chill never ends I fetched the full pot I'd placed there 'ere my guest arrived, and I carried it up the long stairs to the kitchens, where all was waiting. Quickly I threw dry firewood into the hearth, lit it, hung my pot upon an iron hook, and swung it into the rising flames. Assured that the fire wouldn't extinguish, I proceeded up the great stairs and unlocked the door to the wing in which my guest resided, careful to relock it behind me. His bedroom was empty, but a brief search found him in my library.
              My low table in the center was littered with my atlas, English magazines, and newspapers, which I'd had shipped here, though none were of a recent date. Here I'd placed books of various subjects: history, geography, politics, economics, botany, geology, and law, all relating to England and English life, British customs, and formal manners. One of my favorites, a picture book describing in detail the various types of popular horse-drawn carriages, had been moved aside. Jonathan was reading my copy of Whitaker's Almanac, and my London Directory lay beside him. He looked relieved to see me, and hungry, although his hunger paled before mine. To alleviate his worry, I saluted him with a friendly gesture.
              "Forgive me, my dear friend, but the business that called upon me lasted far longer than I'd expected," I said. "I hope you are well rested."
              "Thank you, I am," he said. "I thought that I heard your servants shout from outside, but none came near enough for me to see."
              "The needs of a royal personage such as myself demand their presence as well," I said. "My servants are below, and your dinner is being prepared."
              "You're too kind," Jonathan said, and his face showed a relief that I could only envy.
              "My dear friend, I'm glad you found your way here, for I'm sure there is much here that will interest you. These companions ..." I laid an icy hand upon one of my books, "... have been good friends to me, and for some years past, ever since I developed the idea of going to London, these books have given me many hours of pleasure. Through them I've come to know your great England ... and to love her. I long to walk through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to stand amid your whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its changes, and its deaths. But alas! As yet, I only know your tongue through books. It is through you, my friend, that I must learn how to speak properly."
              "But, Count," Jonathan said, "you speak English well!"
              "I thank you, my friend, for your too-flattering estimate, yet I fear I'm but a brief journeyman upon the road I'd travel. I know the grammar and the vocabulary of your English, but I know not how to express myself."
              "I beg to disagree," Jonathan said. "You speak excellently."
              "Ah, but were I to speak in London, all would know me for a stranger," I said. "That's insufficient. Here, I am a noble; a boyar, which was originally a Russian title ranking below prince. Here I'm the master of all. But as a stranger in your land, I'm no one; men know me not, and to know not is to care not. I'll be content only when I can speak like the rest of Londoners, so that no man who hears me stops and says 'Ha! A stranger!'.
              "So long I've been master of all that I'd be a master still ... or at least speak that no other should master me. You, Jonathan Harker, come to me as agent of my friend, Peter Hawkins of Exeter, to tell me all about my new estate in London, but I must have more. You shall, I trust, rest here with me awhile, that by our talking I may learn the proper English intonations, and I ask that you tell me when I err, even in the smallest way. I'm sorry that I was away so long today; forgive one who has many important affairs."
              "Of course," Jonathan said. "But ... other than your heavy accent ..."
              "Yes?" I asked. "Please speak."
              "Only because you ask, and meaning no offense," Jonathan said. "You do seem to speak in ... very long sentences, and that would be noticeable by most Englishmen."
              "I thank you," I said. "I shall endeavor to make my speeches shorter, but I beg your pardon, for one as aged as I, the thoughts we're accustomed to dwell upon are often complex, with many details, connecting myriad facets of human experience, of which I am greatly endowed, and thus are unable to be conveyed in a few ..."
              I stopped, realizing from the slowly-rising eyebrows on Jonathan's face, that I was speaking exactly as he'd commented. Spontaneously we both began laughing, and humor, so rare an experience for me, warmed my cold heart.
              "I hope I didn't intrude by reading your books without permission," Jonathan said, obviously trying to quickly change the subject.
              "No man should ask permission to gain knowledge," I said, still smiling. "Read any book you fancy, and go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where doors are locked, where of course you would not wish to go. There are reasons for all things here, and could you but see with my eyes then you'd understand better."
              "I welcome any knowledge to aid my understanding," Jonathan said.
              "Understandings take time, and must be digested slowly," I warned. "Beware that you don't understand too quickly, or you'll consume dry facts without comprehending their fullness. Transylvania isn't England. Our ways aren't your ways. Doubtless, here much will be strange to you. From what you've told me of your experiences, you've already witnessed some strangeness. I pray you: explore slowly. Each course of every meal must be devoured fully ... if you'd truly experience your feast."
              "Indeed, I have been mystified," Jonathan said. "No doubt the fault is mine for not understanding your local customs, but many here seem ... afraid of you. Also, the coachman who brought me to meet with your driver stopped several times; seeing a dim blue flame spout up suddenly in the woods, he halted his horses and ran into the forest. Yet the blue flame, whatever it was, always vanished as mysteriously as it came, and each time he slowly came back, grousing and discouraged. He said that on a certain night of the year, last night, all evil spirits hold unchecked sway, and a blue flame appears over any place where treasure has been concealed."
              "Those treasures have lain hidden for hundreds of years," I explained. "The region through which you journeyed last night was fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxons, and the Turks. Why, there's hardly a foot of soil in all this region that hasn't been enriched by the blood of invaders and patriots. In old days, when Austrians and Hungarians came in hordes, our warriors rode out to meet them: men and women, the aged, and even our children. All awaited our enemies in the rocks above the passes, that they might sweep destruction upon the invaders with artificial avalanches. Also, there are secret paths throughout these mountains, where my people have hidden treasures and fled without detection, and thus my people are fancied to have unholy powers to evade men's eyes. When the invader was triumphant, he found but little, for whatever existed hid sheltered under friendly soil."
              "But how can treasure remain undiscovered when there's so specific a pointer to it, if men would but take the trouble to follow it?" Jonathan asked.
              Reluctantly I smiled, again displaying my teeth.
              "Because your peasant driver is at heart a coward ... and a fool. Those flames only appear on one night; and on that night no man of this land will, if he can help it, stir outside of his doors. And, dear sir, even if he did, he wouldn't know what to do. Why, this peasant that you tell me of, who sought the blue flames, wouldn't know where to look for that same spot in daylight. Even you, I dare be sworn, wouldn't be able to find those places again, ... would you?"
              "You're right," Jonathan said. "I know no more than the dead where to look for them."
              I smiled at his reference.
              "For searchers, there are many dangers in this land, perils of bird, beast, and spirit, but we shouldn't discuss those now, for you must digest what you've learned 'ere you sup another meal," I said. "Come, tell me of London, and of the house which you've procured for me."
              "Forgive my remissness!" Jonathan exclaimed. "I have maps, photographs, and drawings in my satchel; if you'll pardon me, I'll fetch them."
              With a gesture from me, he returned to his room. I used the moment to light more candles, for I wished to see clearly what I'd purchased. When he returned, he showed me all of the documents he'd brought, and I memorized each at a glance – they matched what I'd already learned from my correspondences with other businessmen from his country, of whom Jonathan was ignorant. We spoke long about the residence and area, and I fear that I spoke too freely.
              "How could you know that?" Jonathan asked. "You sound ... as if you've already been there."
              "My friend, is it not needful that I should know? When I go there I shall be alone, and my friend Harker Jonathan -- nay, pardon me, I fall into my country's habit of putting your patronymic first -- my friend Jonathan Harker won't be by my side. You'll be in Exeter, many miles away, working on papers of law with my friend Peter Hawkins. So, tell me specifically about my estate, and why you chose it."
              "It lies near Purfleet, on a by-road, where I came across just such a place as seemed to be required by your letters," Jonathan said. "The estate is surrounded by a high wall, of ancient structure, built of heavy stones, and hasn't been repaired for decades. The main gates are tall, of old oak and iron, all eaten with rust.
              "The estate is called Carfax, no doubt a corruption of the old Quatre Face, as the house is four-sided, agreeing with the cardinal points of the compass. The estate contains in all some twenty acres, and many trees grow upon it, which makes it in places gloomy, and there's a deep, dark-looking pond or small lake, evidently fed by hidden springs, as the water is clear and flows away in a fair-sized stream.
              "The house dates of all periods, I should say, back to medieval times, for one part is of immensely-thick stone, with only a few windows high up and heavily barred. It looks like part of a keep, and it's adjacent to an old chapel or church. I couldn't enter all of it, as I had no key, but I've taken kodak stills of it from various points. The house has been added to, but in a very straggling way, such that I can only guess at the amount of ground it covers. Only a few houses are nearby, one being a very large home recently formed into a private lunatic asylum. It isn't, however, visible from your grounds."
              "I'm glad that it is ... I mean ... it's ...old and big," I said with all honesty, trying to mimic his style of speech. "I myself am of an old family, and to live in a new house would kill me. A house can't be made habitable in a day; and, after all, how few days go to make up a century? I rejoice also that there's a chapel of old times. We Transylvanian nobles love not to think that our bones might lie amongst the common dead. I seek neither gaiety nor mirth, nor the bright voluptuousness of sunshine and sparkling waters. My heart, through years of weary mourning, attunes not to jollity. But the walls of my castle are broken, its shadows many, and cold winds breathe through my broken battlements. I must have a home of a newer build, which bows to my comforts: I love the shade and shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts."
              Something in my tone made Jonathan look up questioningly, and I fell silent. In the rare pleasure of conversation, I'd forgotten myself; despite that he'd soon die, I couldn't allow this stranger to glimpse my soul, if my curse had left me even that.
              Angry that I'd revealed myself too much, I rose and walked out of the room. Jonathan called after my abrupt departure, his voice full of surprise, but I left his cry unanswered.
              My plans were set. Jonathan had already seen too much. Knowledge is power, and I can't allow others power over me. When I enter his England, my chosen feeding ground, I must arrive unknown, unrecognized, hiding in the shadows I choose. My plans were set, and I couldn't allow myself the weakness of liking Jonathan; his last delights would be the kisses of my brides.
              Locking his door behind me, I hastened to the kitchen to check on Jonathan's meal. It was nearly done, and so I took a few precious moments to rest; I'd not pushed my stiff, dry body to this much movement in years, and the pains I normally felt doubled under my current exercises. The smell of Jonathan's blood, so warm, so close, was drawing me faster toward madness. I had to resist, but always, one word dominated my thoughts:

End of Chapter 1