Mary Shelley’s League of Supernatural Hunters- A Short Story by Sheila English

Mary Shelley’s League of Supernatural Hunters

By

Sheila English

 

 

Beautiful redhead women with cup of tea

 

Author’s Note:

Some of these names will be familiar to you.  Some of them have been changed to accommodate a future series called The Bloody Quill Thrillers: A Gothic Suspense Series.  The names like Elijah Van Helsing as opposed to Abraham Van Helsing are explained in that series, which is not released yet.  This is a prequel.  So, when you come across names or dates that don’t quite fit with what you know about the classics Dracula and Frankenstein, please understand that I’ve taken great liberties with them to explain Mary Shelley’s League.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Brompton Cemetery

1888

Bram Stoker

 

The mausoleum was empty, but not for long.  The mystery of its contents revealed to those who could never speak of it.  Bram Stoker, once a member of the League of Supernatural Hunters, now a rogue investigator, followed Hannah Courtoy through the graveyard like children playing a game of hide and seek.  This was no game, yet Hannah laughed like a young girl, despite she was older than Dracula himself.  Victor Dracula, who Bram desperately hoped would appear soon, before murderous Hannah stopped running from him.

“Where are you?” Bram whispered into the night hoping Victor would make it there in time.

“Call for him, Bram,” Hannah laughed as she disappeared around the back of the mausoleum.  “Perhaps he’ll get here in time to save you and Van Helsing.”

Another girlish laugh joined with Hannah’s, and Bram’s blood ran cold.  Elizabeth, Hannah’s eldest daughter was mad as a hatter and her laugh was unique, even to the insane, as it held an unnatural tone and echoed when there was nothing in known science that would create that echo, at least not here.  The other daughter wouldn’t be far behind.  The three had travelled the earth together for centuries.  They’d tried to kill him before.  Had killed people he loved.  He was just a boy then, innocent and untrained.  That was not the case now and as his hand fell naturally to the hilt of his knife, blessed by the Bishop himself, Bram felt his heart race as the heat of revenge, so close, filled his veins.

Writing his novel had done exactly what Bram had hoped.  It had eventually drawn Hannah out.  It had also cost him all of his friends at the League.  Not that they hadn’t written of their exploits and sold it as fiction, but Bram had used his real name, the real names of others.  He’d given up secrets the League didn’t want known.  For that transgression he’d been expelled from the League to find allies elsewhere.

He’d lost sight of Eli Van Helsing, but the warlock would be close.  They agreed that finding this place was far too easy.  It was a trap, but traps are riddles and all Bram had to do now was solve it before Hannah could fulfill her plan.  Bram had solved many riddles lately, for Scotland Yard, even ones that had no supernatural ties whatsoever.  Desperation was a harsh taskmaster and Bram took most any job these days.

He stopped in front of the mausoleum.  The door stood open, a candle from within causing shadows to dance as in some macabre ritual, luring him forward.  It was impossible to see inside completely, but it wasn’t one of the larger mausoleums and with the light inside he was certain he could tell if someone were moving within.

He was familiar with this particular mausoleum.  There was much speculation on it.  Brompton Cemetery was typical, but this mausoleum was not.  The dark stone was engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphs and the large bronze door was extremely tall.  Bram cast a glance in the direction of Hannah’s grave.  Who actually lay buried in it, a mystery to him.  It wasn’t her grave that concerned him, but that of Samuel Warner, her lover, purported to be in an unmarked grave near Hannah’s. Bram seriously doubted it was Warner’s body in that grave.  Warner was as insane as his lover.  The League had files on him and his rants of a time machine.  But, time travel wasn’t the craziest thing Bram had heard discussed at the long, involved meetings held by the League.  No one really believed Warner.  Though the hairs standing up on the back of Bram’s neck, the feel of eyes on him from every direction, gave him pause to reflect.  Hannah never wasted her time with frivolous stories.  She was focused.  She was about gaining immortality and being evil, so knowing she’d made a lover of the mortal Warner caused Bram to wish he’d listened closer when Mary Shelley discussed it with the other hunters.

He pushed all thoughts of Mary from his mind.  He needed to focus, and thinking of her, and of Lovecraft, fighting over his fate, made his mind disengage from the here and now.  He couldn’t allow that, so he turned his concentration back to the witch, Hannah.

Lightning struck behind the mausoleum, thoughts of old friends, and old wounds, traded for those of self-preservation.  Bram moved to the far side of the mausoleum, eyes darting between the shadows and where he’d last seen Eli.  He rounded the corner just as a bright sphere of blue light erupted, blinding him.  He closed his eyes tight, opened them wide and repeated the gesture.  He’d seen such a light before.  Eli would only use that kind of power if he had no other option.  The power drained him physically which was not a good idea under the circumstances.

The light grew, then snapped out like someone snuffed out a candle just as Bram caught Eli’s silhouette.  A heavy thump came from the same direction.  Behind him the crackle of twigs brought him around.  The pain at his temple was his only warning.  Hannah was the only one powerful enough to fight Eli, but that didn’t mean her daughters weren’t powerful, or sneaky as Hell.  Just before it all went black he heard Elizabeth laughing, and had a fleeting thought of Mary Shelley’s encounter with Hannah.  That hadn’t ended well either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Dracula at Byron’s

1816 Day 1

Mary Shelley’s Story

 

Byron had gone mad, or at least we suspected that.  He’d always been unsettled, but this, this was far afield of even Byron’s usual darkness.

My sister, Claire, loved Byron even though the man would never love her in return.  She’d hoped that by introducing Byron to Percy and I, there would be some kind of magical element come from our meeting that would inspire Byron to have deeper feelings for her, as Percy had for me.  I tried to talk sense into her, but who am I to judge or advise on matters of the heart?

Byron’s doctor reached out to Percy, though it wasn’t until we were on the road, now accompanied by Dr. John Polidori, headed to Lake Geneva that the contents of the letter were divulged.  Polidori had conveyed that Byron was ill and needed us immediately, but the letter told us something quite different.   Trusting Dr. Polidori would be a challenge now that we knew he’d deceived us.

“As the personal physician to Lord Byron,” Dr. Polidori began, “what I am about to tell you must remain in the strictest confidence.  As Lord Byron himself has requested your presence as well as that of your wife and her sister I have been granted permission to share certain information that will shed light to the necessity of both your confidence and participation.”

He produced the note, glanced at Percy who nodded and its contents were revealed.

     Percy,

     Two full moons have passed since our new neighbor made his fateful visit here. He was more concerned that we not call upon him than that we come to know one another.  The man is truly mad, but it was his companion, not a wife, but a woman who seems to control him.  The woman is uncommonly beautiful and entirely evil.  It wasn’t long before they let their true mission be known.  My housekeeper first, then my valet, both disappeared, as well as several women in the nearby village.  The night my valet went missing I saw the woman the doctor calls Hannah.  She had lured the man out into the night using some light that came from her being. I had caught sight of this light as I prepared for bed and watched through a slit in my curtains to ensure I was not seen.  She is a witch to be sure.  What they are doing with those they take I cannot say, but to add to the horror of it, bodies from fresh graves are missing.

     Several nights ago a man who calls himself a Count, Victor Dracula, found me at the nearby tavern and convinced me he could help.  He is here now and though he seems to know much about the woman, Hannah, he is equally concerned with what her companion is about.

     Dr. Polidori had come when I told him of the valet.  He can tell you more about Victor, as he’s spent much time with him scurrying about the graveyard, trying to figure out what they’re using the dead for.  For now, I ask, no, I beg of you, come here and help me escape from this nightmare.  You are the only one I know who might come up with a plausible story that could bring the authorities here without also condemning me to the mad house.  Local authorities are too superstitious to do anything, so perhaps you and Mary can convince Scotland Yard to come?  Help me, my friend.

-B

 

It was obvious Dr. Polidori was uncomfortable reading the letter.  He sputtered as he read, wiping sweat from his brow, a nervous tick causing his top lip to quiver.

There was no reason for Claire or I to come, especially if danger was afoot.  When Percy asked about it the doctor claimed he’d recommended Claire come to sooth Byron. That Byron himself spoke of her. Claire fell into the belief Byron needed her, but I was suspicious.  Polidori fidgeted too much for my taste.  He wouldn’t make eye contact with any of us for any significant amount of time.  I never trust someone who won’t look me in the eye.

But, Percy and Claire were committed and I was merely the element that held us all together.  Claire’s sister, Percy’s wife, Byron’s friend.

The idea that Byron needed Percy’s writing talent and imagination, as well as stronger connections that might convince Scotland Yard to come was plausible.  Percy assured me he knew of Dr. Polidori, and the man was exactly the kind who’d be Byron’s physician.  Either way, Percy brought a pistol and that served to calm my nerves just as it served to frighten Claire.

When we stopped for the night Percy and I were able to discuss in the developments in privacy.  We both agreed Byron had fallen victim to drugs and alcohol. Speaking of ghoulish grave diggers and glowing witches were not the sign of a man in his right mind.  Perhaps Dr. Polidori had even prescribed the drugs and was also partaking in it.  That would answer for most of what had transpired thus far.  The doctor’s twitching and inability to hold eye contact, even some of his ramblings as Percy asked for more details, and the doctor couldn’t recall much.  It would answer for Byron’s strange behavior.

Claire thought Byron was being clever and it was all a game.  I couldn’t rule it out until we arrived, but that had also crossed my mind.  For Byron to inconvenience them all in such a way was just as possible as Byron drinking or taking drugs.

Byron was dark and dangerous, brooding and handsome, talented and taunting.  No wonder Claire loves him.

 

 

Day 2

 

I hate long carriage rides.  I was happy to have it over with, but did not look forward to the madness I was certain would ensue.  We dismounted from the carriage and Polidori instructed our driver to bring in our things.  There was little light in Byron’s home though he expected us.  Polidori was distracted the moment we arrived and at one point I would have sworn I heard him whisper, “Yes, master.” Though he denied saying anything at all when I asked him what he’d said.

We followed Polidori into the foyer and he asked us to wait there as he went further in, swallowed by shadows.  Claire, never one for patience, decided we’d waited quite long enough, but before she could follow Polidori’s path Byron stepped out of the shadows, causing Claire to squeak like a mouse.

Byron laughed and it was as though all the worry vanished.  A game it was and we’d all fallen for it.  At least that’s what I thought at first, but as he came closer you couldn’t miss how pale he was.  He had always been pale, but this was something more translucent and made more markedly so by the dark circles beneath his eyes.  Claire embraced him and he was extremely affectionate toward her, which only added to the entire odd scene before me.

“It’s so good of you to come.” Byron’s voice amplified in the foyer, a bit too loud, a bit too cheerful.

Regardless of the fact that he’d specifically asked for Percy’s help, it was Claire’s attention he sought with his good humor and charm.  She, of course, was all bliss and happiness over the change in his attitude toward her.  He’d grown cold for a time, but it was as though that had never happened, as though he were courting her with the vigor of a new lover.

“Byron, we’ve come at your urging,” Percy spoke as Byron led us into the parlor.  “Give up this game or tell us what’s going on.  It’s as though you’ve gone mad and taken your doctor with you.”

Byron frowned at Percy, not a frown of frustration, but one that caused my blood to run cold.  Byron was moody to be sure, but this look was something new, at least to Percy and I.  This was anger, a warning.  It held for just a moment and then, with sheer will, he wiped it clean and the charm had come back.

“In good time, my friend.” He smiled as he sat Claire in a nearby settee.  “The only thing longer than your journey is my story.”  He laughed and it was Byron’s laugh, not maniacal, not angry, just Byron.  “You should rest, eat, drink!”  With that he quickly moved to a cabinet and brought out five glasses and a bottle of cognac.  “Drink!” He poured equal amounts into each glass, the fifth set aside for, I surmised, Dr. Polidori.

“Shall we not wait for the doctor to begin this odd merriment?” I asked, looking around for signs of the doctor a; cold breeze blew through an open doorway and chilled my skin.

“Odd merriment?”  The new voice was masculine, assertive, yet held a hint of humor to it.

Byron jumped up as the new guest walked in through the doorway I’d been looking at.  He was tall, easily the tallest in the room, dark hair and blue eyes, so blue I could tell their color from several steps away.  It was as though energy traveled in the air around him and I felt it before he ever took my hand.  His lips touched lightly to the back of my hand, but when his eyes raised up to meet mine there was something there.  That energy lived in them, burning bright, unnatural.  He held my gaze long enough to be impolite, then one side of his mouth raised in a half smile, the light in his eyes changing back to something more, for lack of a better word, human.

“Both beautiful and strong willed.” He stood, releasing me, and shook Percy’s hand, but his eyes remained on mine.  “Delightful.  I am Victor….”

“This is Claire, the one I told you about.” Byron interrupted the greeting as he pulled Claire from where she was seated and thrust her toward the newcomer.

“Dracula.” Victor finished, then turned toward my sister.  “Count Dracula.  But, please, do call me Victor.” He took Claire’s hand and repeated the gesture he’d just offered to me. When he looked up at Claire, she gasped, likely seeing the same unnatural event of the eyes.  She blushed then and curtsied.  “You’ll make a lovely bride.”

“Bride?” Percy stepped forward, putting himself in front of Claire which I was grateful for.  “Is there an announcement I’ve missed?”

Byron laughed, which seemed cruel to me as he was aware of Claire’s feelings for him and her hope of one day being the lady of this house.  Claire seemed unaffected though, still held captive by the charming and handsome Victor.

“I only meant that Claire will be a lovely bride one day.  I was lead to believe that is her wish, to wed.” Victor stepped toward Percy, the strange light showing again, growing stronger, then fading entirely.

Percy took a step back, his hand reaching for Claire and pulling her back with him.

“Forgive me,” Victor said and nodded an apology.  “My manners are, antiquated I fear.  Byron?”

Byron snapped to attention, made introductions in a disjointed manner that caused me to rethink the cognac I’d not tried yet.

“Dinner is ready.” Dr. Polidori came, unexpectedly, from a different door and this time I did gasp, grateful it was only that and not a scream.

The strange party moved into the small, but formal dining room where humble, but suitable fare awaited.  There were two servers, both young boys, both pale like Byron.

“So, Victor, tell me how you come to know Byron,” Percy disrupted the silence.  We’d been told, through Byron’s note, but Percy was clever to ask Victor for confirmation.

“I’m looking for an old acquaintance who I believe is in this area.  I met Byron while at a tavern and he invited me to stay here, which I am grateful for.” Victor sat so still I couldn’t stop looking at him, though he’d caught me stealing glances twice before the first course had completed.  “There’ve been many misfortunes during my time here.  I fear this acquaintance may have something to do with those misfortunes.  Byron informed me you had a fertile imagination and keen intelligence. He thought you might be able to help.  And of course, now that I see Miss Claire, I know the real reason he thought to bring you all here.”

He smiled at Claire who blushed again.  Claire loved the theater, she loved attention, to act, to sing.  Now she had attention from two handsome men and the effects were worse than any cognac could be.

“Perhaps, once we’re all rested, I can help,” Percy said abruptly as he stood and pulled my chair back so I could join him.  “But, the ride was long and my wife is tired, as am I.  Let us rest for now and we’ll speak of this acquaintance of Victor’s tomorrow to see what we may do to assist.”  Percy nodded to Byron, Dr. Polidori and then Victor before looking to Claire who’d not stood yet.  “Claire? I see you’re tired as well.”

“I’m not,” she denied.  “The meal was invigorating and I’d rather stay up to find out more about this mystery.  I’ll not sleep a moment wondering what must be happening here.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I added, hoping my voice didn’t carry the desperate worry I felt in my heart at the thought of leaving her alone with Byron.  “After all it would be highly improper as she has no chaperone.”

Byron laughed, “Oh please, Mary, as if you follow convention at all!  Don’t get me started.”

It was not beyond Byron to point out that Percy and I were not legally married yet, but travelled as though we were.  There was much to prove his point, but I couldn’t let him have his way.  Before I could rebut him, Victor joined the conversation.

“I think Claire’s sister has a point,” he smiled and even I felt the effects of his masculine beauty.  “Let them retire for now and tomorrow we’ll start anew.  Everyone to bed,” he commanded.

No doubt it was a command and seats moved away from the table as those still seated stood.  Percy squeezed my hand, he frowned as though he were working to solve a puzzle, then it was gone and he turned to me.

“Let’s go to bed,” he said as though Victor’s instructions weren’t enough.  “We’ll start anew tomorrow.”

It was odd.  Looking at the others in the room it was evident some spell had been cast over them.  Why the spell had not worked on me was a mystery.  Either I had been singled out or I was immune.  It was then that Victor turned a surprised eye to me directly.  As he was the one surprised I surmised that he was the one casting the spell.  It was my mistake not to hide my immunity from him, and too late I cast my eyes away.

Nothing more was said.  Claire followed Percy and I as Dr. Polodori led us upstairs to our rooms.

“You must have an interesting, personal friendship with Byron,” I said to the doctor, now intrigued with all the players of this macabre game.

“Why, yes, but why do you ask?” he pointed to Claire’s room and we all said goodnight before he turned back to lead us further down the hall.

“You’ve been his messenger and now you’re showing his guests to their rooms.  You, yourself are a guest, are you not?”

“I am,” he answered simply.

He stopped in front of a door two doors removed from Claire’s.  He didn’t speak further about his relationship with Byron, but opened the door and waved us in.

“Sleep well,” he said, “We can all start anew tomorrow.”

The door closed and I listened to his receding footsteps before turning to Percy who was already unpacking.

“What do you think?” I asked, curious as to what he made of it all. He’d barely let us finish the last course of our supper before deciding we needed to rest.  I imagined he wanted to speak to me in private, before things progressed much further.  But, now he acted as though nothing unusual had just happened.

“Think of what?” He removed his night clothes and opened my trunk to help me with my things.  I wondered where the staff was that we were left to unpack ourselves.

“Are you mad?” I felt nailed to the floor with the shock of his nonchalance.  “What do you think of Byron asking us here under such mysterious circumstances? What do you think of him sending a guest to gather us? What do you think of Victor Dracula who, it appears to me, has some kind of supernatural power to control others’ minds.  What do you think of it all?”

We stood as statues looking at one another.  For Percy to struggle to share an opinion caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand straight.  He grimaced which he seldom did.  He shook his head and staggered to the bed rubbing at his temples.  My feet flew to him and I sat next to him on the bed, grabbing his hand.

“Mary, I have such a strange pain,” he spoke as though he struggled to breathe which only furthered my fear.  “It’s as though concentrating causes my brain to heat up.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  I’m so sorry, but I must go to bed now.  Will you help me?”

I helped him change and got him into bed.  Once he closed his eyes and gave in to sleep he appeared peaceful and I was alone.  Alone in a house with strangers, oddities and mystery.  The need to sleep called to me, but the fear of what was happening fed my body and I paced back and forth across the small room trying to determine whether or not I should dress for bed.  When I heard a noise outside the door I was grateful for two things; that I had left on my travel clothes and I knew how to shoot Percy’s gun.  I grabbed the gun and opened the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Imprisoned in a Mausoleum

1888

Bram

 

 

His last memory being of Hannah, knowing all she’d done, it was difficult not to panic.  Bram pulled on the metal shackles, then looked at Eli who hung in similar fashion next to him, hands above his head, shackles tied to a beam above.

Where was Victor? That was the question.  Eli’s spell tied Victor to Eli, compelling Victor to save the warlock.  Unlike with Eli, Bram knew Victor didn’t need to be compelled to save him, they were friends, bound by honor and respect.  The three of them bound by a single tragedy, bound tight.  If Victor didn’t arrive soon Bram feared his immediate future would boil down to torture, death or, if this mausoleum truly was a time machine, being thrown into an unknown time alone and without resources.

“Gentlemen,” Hannah’s voice rang out as though she were inside the mausoleum with them.  He couldn’t see behind him, but the voice was definitely coming from in front of him, so it had to be a witch’s trick.  “So happy you accepted my invitation to join me here tonight.  I must admit I am quite disappointed that Victor did not join you.  Let’s hope he does.  For your sake.”

Eli had insisted Victor hold back in case Hannah had set a trap.  Eli was a powerful warlock with increased abilities since linking to Victor through a spell several months ago.  Victor’s many attributes didn’t make up for his singular fault, that of pride.  Eli was often a man of few words, but being quiet wasn’t the same as being humble.  Bram admired Eli, considered him a friend, but Eli’s rage over the loss of his sister Mina had made him careless in ways that could, one day, cost him his life.  Bram hoped this day wasn’t it.

Bram strained to take in as much as his human eyes could see.  Not long ago Victor had given him some of his blood to expedite healing, the effects of which still lingered and gave him acute hearing and sight.  If this had happened just a month ago, he’d have increased physical strength as well.  He could see through the open door of the mausoleum, but the sky was devoid of stars and the moon’s light was dulled by heavy rain.  Still, he saw her coming.  Elizabeth was ethereal in both beauty and motion.  But, when she was in full power one could see it was just a mask and her true face was ghoulish, skin stretched tight over her skull, eyes sunken and black, lips pulled back in a hideous grin exposing teeth that were sharp where they were not rotted out.  Her movement was far from human.  She staggered forward, then seemed to skip as though she’d passed through time and came out several steps forward though you never saw it happen.  He knew it wasn’t tied to the time machine, if this was a time machine, because he’d seen her move like that twice before.  Her jerky movements were unsettling and caused his blood to run cold in his veins as she grew near.

Bram recalled the file the League had on Elizabeth.  It suggested she was a cannibal.  It was reported that Elizabeth’s illusion of beauty and youth came at a high price from a dark spell.  She had to consume the flesh of the young to keep her façade alive.  Bram hoped his thirty three years on this earth spared him her attention, as well as the fact Elizabeth tended to prefer women, on every level of her evil existence.  Eli was not yet forty, but older, making Bram fear if Elizabeth were to devour one of them, it would certainly be the younger of the two.

Bram struggled to recall everything he’d learned during his time on the League of Supernatural Hunters.  Witches usually had some talisman tied to their power.  Eli tucked his away in his pocket and when Victor attempted to fight the binding spell that linked them, Eli would touch the talisman and Victor would, begrudgingly, comply.  Bram already knew a witch’s talisman could only be used by the witch who bound the item to their power.  Otherwise Bram would fear Hannah’s finding it and using it to control Victor.  No one knew how Eli had managed to bind the vampire.  It was said it couldn’t be done, not even with a weak vampire, let alone the most powerful known to the league.  Eli had secrets that made him dangerous, but he’d always worked on the side of the League, an ally, so much so the League had admitted him in officially, which was unheard of.  Supernaturals weren’t always evil, just as humans weren’t always good, but they were seldom admitted into the elite hunter’s circle.

Bram’s heart slammed hard inside his chest when Elizabeth stood at the open doorway, licking her thin lips with a black tongue.  The candles within the mausoleum danced as the wind found its way in and the effect cast Elizabeth’s face from light to shadow, light to shadow adding to its horrific presentation.

“Lovely as ever, Elizabeth,” Eli called her attention to him, causing Bram to let out the breath he’d been holding.  “You’ll not get much from either of us.  We’re too old for you. And of course, the wrong gender.”

In a flash Elizabeth was on him, her legs locked around Eli’s middle, her arms around his neck, face so close that Bram thought she would kiss him.  The blank tongue slipped out slowly, lapping at Eli’s skin, leaving a wet trail of saliva, thick and yellow, down his face.  To Eli’s credit he appeared completely unaffected.

Bram’s gaze snapped up to Eli’s shackles.  They were silver.  Bram had hoped Eli would be able to fight off Elizabeth, why else call her attention?  The silver shackles made it impossible for Eli to use his witch’s power.

“Sometimes, a girl must compromise.” Elizabeth’s voice was seductive, raspy and vile.  “Sometimes, a girl is just…hungry.”  When she smiled her thin lips, stretched so tight that her entire gums, both top and bottom, were exposed.

Bram couldn’t take his eyes off of them.  The way Elizabeth tightened her legs around him, pulling him closer, mimicking a lover’s embrace, a lover’s movements, while she spoke of eating Eli’s flesh caused bile to build up and threaten to spew out.

Eli’s head snapped forward, his mouth grasping Elizabeth’s neck.  She screamed as Eli pulled away, taking some of her flesh with him.  She dropped off of him and landed hard on the stone floor, holding her wound as blood rushed through her fingers.  Bram could only imagine his own expression of shock and horror as he watched Eli spit out the hunk of flesh and continue spitting until there was no more of Elizabeth’s blood in his mouth.  Bram half expected to see fangs, knowing how linked Eli was to Victor, but it was only Eli’s own teeth.  The idea, however, would have come from Victor.

Hannah was inside picking up her bleeding daughter, the other daughter nowhere in sight.  Her mask was down as well, but the spell that held Hannah’s youth and beauty together was very different from that of Elizabeth’s.  Bram couldn’t help but think of Mary Shelley each time he saw Hannah with her mask off, in full power.  It reminded him that witches were not born immortal, they had to cheat death.  Most witches, those more like Eli, lived out a natural life.  Their lifespan tended to be longer than your average human, but certainly not by much.  Hannah had lived a very long and unnatural life.  With her long, black hair, her ivory skin, she appeared no more than twenty or so, but she’d been alive as long as Victor, perhaps even longer.  She changed her name often enough that the League, with all of its resources, couldn’t go back far enough to know her true origins.  She’d been called Hannah since Victor had known her, that much they could confirm.

Hannah examined her daughter’s wound, spit on it and watched it heal.  She pushed Elizabeth away and Bram felt a strange sense of gratefulness for it.  Elizabeth ran out, humiliated and covered in her own blood.

“Come now, Hannah,” Eli taunted her, his smile slipping into place to match the tone of his voice.  “Did you really think these shackles would keep you safe?  Come closer, find out what else I have gained from being bound to a vampire.”

She hesitated just long enough for Bram to know she feared what she did not know of Eli and Victor’s bond.  Bram would have sworn Eli was bluffing, but until a few moments ago he’d have sworn Eli would never bite such a hideous creature.

“I don’t think so.” Hannah’s eyes cut from Eli to Bram and back as she smirked.  She moved seductively toward Bram though her gaze remained with Eli.  She stopped directly in front of him before giving Bram her full attention.  “How about an eye for an eye? Or…,” she paused for effect, her smirk widening into a full smile, “…blood for blood?”

Bram felt the talons before he saw them.  She raked across his chest digging as though she would take his heart.  She pulled back with some effort and shoved the bloody fingers in his face, his own blood dripping from the hideous nails.  She put a finger in her mouth, sucked it clean, then another, and another.  His head swam, his heart pounded the room spun into a black oblivion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

The Vampire and the Witch

1816

Mary Shelley

 

 

 

The evening would be a night of horrific revelations.  I followed the noise down the darkened hall just outside my room.  The gun gave me courage, but it would be all the gun was good for.

I found myself in Byron’s library where a fire burned bright and hot in the large hearth.  His back was to me when I walked in, his concentration given over entirely to the dancing flames.

“You’ve a strong will, Mary,” Victor said as he turned to face me.  “May I call you Mary?”

“By all means, let’s not let propriety stand in the way of a good mystery.”

He gestured to a tall-backed chair covered in red velvet.  It was close to him, but sitting there would have me at a disadvantage for a quick escape if that was called for.  I declined.  He smiled.

“Very well then.  I can’t charm you.  I can’t compel you…” He stopped, cocking his head slightly, looking at me as though I were a puzzle then straightened.  “I can’t seduce you I suppose?”

“No.  And you can’t frighten me.” I made certain to let the light of the fire reflect on the metal of Percy’s gun.  Either he didn’t see it or wasn’t concerned about the weapon.  I wanted to believe he didn’t see it, but only because it helped my courage remain intact.

“I’m afraid you’ve really left me with few options,” he said as he took the chair he’d offered to me.  “I admit I’m not certain how you’ll react to the terrors I’m forced to put upon you.  You’re a singular person I think.  Either you’ll run screaming from the room, perhaps even lose your mind to some extent, or you’ll try to find a way to kill me, I suppose.  Shall we see which it is?”

“I don’t frighten easily.  And I’ve never killed anyone before.  Either is possible, though, I think.”

He was upon me in an instant.  I drew a breath so deep and sharp it pained me.  His face was so close to mine I could feel his breath.  His once-blue eyes were a ruby-red and held a strange, inhuman light.  I stepped back, knowing, with that kind of power, he might snap my neck before I had the gun raised.  But, I wasn’t going to go without a fight.  I brought my arm up to point the gun at him, but his arm snaked around me, pinning my arm to my side and holding me in place as though I were imprisoned by a band of steel.

“I think you’d have killed me,” he smiled, drawing my eyes to his mouth full of white teeth, two of which were extremely long and sharp.  “If I could be killed.”

“What manner of creature are you?” Curiosity warred with terror, my mind telling me to engage him in conversation, make him interested in talking, not biting.

“I am called many things.  Undead is the most common.  Some call me vampire.  I am damned, not demonic.  I was a man once, just like your Percy.  But now I am something else.  A ‘creature’ as you say.  Not alive, but not dead.  Kept animated by drinking the blood of the living.  Kept strong, with power to control others.  Their minds.”

He let me go and I was grateful for the low settee behind me.  Sitting low I looked up into his face, sharp teeth and glowing eyes in the face of a beautiful demon.  Regardless of his assurances, he wasn’t demonic.  I had nothing else to compare him too.  Undead sounded much like a reanimated corpse and fills the mind with thoughts of rotting flesh, but he was lovely to look upon.  So I chose ‘vampire’, though I was unfamiliar with the term as I was unfamiliar with what this creature was.

Thoughts flew through my mind as I struggled to hold on to my sanity.  Byron was alive, we were yet unharmed and though I was alone with him, he had not attempted to kill me.  Either it was a game, or this thing needed us.  Specifically us, for I had no doubt he could compel the minds of most any of the villagers.

“What do you need of us? Why reveal what you are when you obviously can pass as human?”

I was relieved when he stepped away, seeking comfort in the tall-backed chair again.  His eyes returned to their previous  blue and though he was too far, too much in shadow just beyond the fire, I suspected he’d let his sharp fangs recede as well.  The display had had the desired effect.  He had frightened me sufficiently to ensure my compliance, at least for now, and he had my undivided attention.

“I have revealed myself to you, my true self, so the story I’m about to impart will be easier for you to accept.  You see, there are things far more evil than I out there in your human world.  And those things, well, one in particular, a witch named Hannah, is determined to challenge me.  I can’t have that.  And I can’t have her exacting her revenge, taking what I would not give her, and endangering my kind over some trivial…lover’s spat.”

He paused and I soaked in the information.  It was difficult to move on from learning there are worse things than him, but he seemed eager to tell his story, so I wished to seem eager to know it.  Whatever it took to buy time for escape.

“A lover’s spat?”

He laughed and though I was certain he was an expert liar, it sounded sincere.  “Leave it to a woman to ask after a lover’s spat instead of revenge or evil creatures. Or of the fact that there are creatures such as I in the world.  Byron told me I would find you singular.”  His smile was wide and inviting, but I knew it hid sharp teeth and a willingness to drink human blood.  I would not let my guard down.  I shrugged in answer.

“Yes, Hannah is a powerful witch, but like all witches, she is mortal.  Her life’s quest is to discover ways to extend her life or become immortal herself.  So, she sought me out in a quest to seduce me and have her make me as I am.”

“You can do that? Make someone like you?” I couldn’t help myself.  The information was shocking.  In my mind I could see the annihilation of my own race at the hands of an army of vampires.  “Is this possible because she is also damned?”

“Well done! Good question, Mary!” He leaned forward in the chair and the light of the dancing flames softened his features.  “I have the power to turn others into what I am and they need not be damned already.  In the beginning of my reign they sacrificed virgins to me.  Innocents.  Some I would turn into what I am so that I would have companions.  Some…” he said as he spread his hands, but spread his hands apart and shrugged in indifference.

“So you killed innocent women and children? Yet you’re not a demon?”  My heart stuttered in fear at the thought.

“I told you I am evil, but not a demon.  Even humans do evil, some far greater than what I do, yet you still call them men.  The hypocrisy of man never ceases to amuse and annoy.  But, yes, I killed some of them.  Never children.” He leaned forward further as though to emphasize his point about the children.  Something in the way he denied killing children made me wonder, in that moment, what he had been like as a man.  Did he have children?

“But you’d kill women?” An important question for me to ask.

He smiled again as though amused.  “Women are scary creatures themselves.” He smiled and leaned aback.  “Cunning creatures.  Yet, men are slaves to them.  Kill for them.  They find themselves unable to master their own baser instincts when it comes to women.  Yes, I turned some, spared some, killed some.  But, if it helps you remain calm, they never suffered at my hands.  And I do not have plans to harm you.”

“What are your plans?”

“Allow me to finish my tale?” he asked.  I nodded.  “Hannah is beautiful, powerful and well versed in all things sexual.  I couldn’t compel her, which is always vastly interesting to me.  There are very few with whom my power of compulsion does not work.  She tried very hard to make me fall in love with her and since I was bored and knew it was a game, I played along.  When you live as long as I have, you enjoy any unique entertainment that comes your way.

“Unfortunately, she got caught in her own game.  I convinced her I loved her and she, in turn, fell in love with me.  I think she would have done anything for me at one point.  For nearly a year I kept up the ruse, waiting to see if she would continue to ask for immortality.  For a time she stopped.  I drew her in deeper, showering her with affection and gifts, making her believe she was the most beautiful and worthy woman I’d ever known.

“She was quick to temper and I took a perverse joy in provoking her.  So, when she told me she was with child I was happy to impart to her that my kind cannot reproduce.  One of her many other lovers was surely the father and I wouldn’t touch her while she was with child.  She flew into a rage and killed every child in all the villages near my castle.”  He sat forward again, but his smile had disappeared, replaced with a reflective melancholy.  “I had underestimated her.  She’d been studying me just as I had been studying her.  We fought and I would have killed her had she not been with child.  I spared her to spare the babe.  But, I brought her low as only a lover can.  I revealed that I never loved her.  That it had only been a game, one she had started, but I had mastered.  I told her none of my kind would grant her immortality.  I decreed it and closed the door on that option for her.

“So she promised that I would regret not giving her what she wanted.  She swore she would find her immortality elsewhere and then she would spend eternity making me, and my kind, pay.  We parted ways, but from time to time I would hear of her trying some new spell, trying to cast a spell on one of my brethren to force him or her to make her immortal.  Sometimes I would stop her, sometimes it did not concern me.  But, she is powerful and vengeful and after so many children died because I’d underestimated her madness, I swore I’d not let something like that happen again.  I kept a watchful eye on her, and then later on her daughter.

“That brings us to why you’re here.”

His gaze locked with mine and the longer he waited to continue speaking, the harder my heart beat in my chest.

“Is she here?” I asked, making the logical leap from his story.  “Hannah, I mean?”

“She is, yes.”

“Where is she?” I asked.  Oddly, I was more frightened at the thought of this witch being nearby than of the vampire a stone’s-throw away.  Victor’s compulsion didn’t work on me, but by his own account he was old and experienced in life.  Manipulation was not magic, but it was close.

“She is staying nearby with a man of science who has promised her that he knows the secret of power over death.  Byron’s place was the best suited for my needs to keep an eye on her.  For many days I watched them building some mechanical monstrosity inside the crumbling castle.  I listened, undetected, to their plans.  I’d thought of leaving when I heard the doctor’s plan to reanimate a corpse.  It was insane, of course.  But, as I have seen all manner of insane things come to life, I remained long enough to see if the idea would work.

“It wasn’t until I saw them, with their manservant digging up new graves, that I realized how desperate Hannah had become.  They’d been stealing…parts, from dead bodies.  I was curious as to why and so, for my own amusement, I revealed myself so that I could question them directly.

“The doctor had a reason for taking the parts he chose.  The flesh had to be untouched by wound or disease, appropriate in size to the body they’d chosen.  He was brutally brilliant and as insane as Hannah.  She’d promised to use her witchcraft to help him in his quest and he, in turn, would use his experiments to help her become immortal.”

“I can’t imagine the witch was happy to see you.”  I’d leaned forward myself, a macabre interest in a horrific story.

“Her insanity seems to ebb and flow.  She was happy to see me at first.  She told me all about her eldest daughter, away in Paris to experience life and gain an education.  She let the doctor tell me about their plans, the experiments and how much of it worked in theory.

“I left that first night, finally convinced that the doctor would be able to use science to reanimate a corpse, and to that end, give ever-lasting life to Hannah should the experiment be fruitful.  As I contemplated a world with Hannah forever spreading her vile madness and death, as I thought of all of those dead children, so many dead children killed, ripped apart…,” he paused, staring into the flames.

“You couldn’t let her live,” I finished for him.  He said nothing for many minutes.  As strange as it may seem, he was a hero.  He was evil, but he also wanted to stop evil.  He had some kind of code, a code that would not allow children to be harmed, a code that would not allow a vile witch to spread her madness into the world of men.  I was alarmed, not because I sat in a room with an undead vampire who’d killed countless people, who drank their blood, no, I was alarmed because even without his ability to compel me, I liked him, and that made me question my own sanity.

“I could not,” he finally answered.  “The next night I planned to kill them both, but as I approached the castle I found I could not pass.  She had created some kind of protection spell around the place that even included the nearby graveyard.  She had obviously thought things over after I’d left just as I had, and she must have concluded I might come back less, well, enthusiastic about her immortality.  As I said, she had studied me.

“She came out and told me she would remove the spell once she was made immortal.  She wanted to bargain with me.  She would drop her need for revenge against me and my kind, and in return I would have to swear not to attempt to retaliate against her.  And then she asked for what I am sure she really wanted.  She said their first experiment had been somewhat successful.  They had reanimated a corpse, but there had been some complications.  The doctor wanted a companion for the creature.  But, they wanted someone alive.  A woman.  Someone who would cooperate with the experiment.  Of course the entire thing was insane and no woman in her right mind would agree to such a thing.  But, a woman compelled would cooperate.

“If I could supply a willing companion for their creature, she would leave to America when the experiments were complete.  What was one woman to me? I’d killed women just to feed.  And so I agreed.”

“You what?” I stood, forgetting I was speaking to a creature damned to drink human blood and incensed that Victor would agree to such a horrible thing.  “You don’t need us to find some local girl to damn.”

He smiled again, but I was unaffected.  “My brave Mary.” He stood, walked to the fireplace and leaned against it with one hand, facing the flames, but still speaking to me.  “My dilemma is that all the women in this area are easy to compel and what I needed was a woman so strong that even I could not bend her will.  I need a woman brave enough to stand against a vile, evil creature such as myself and berate me for my deeds.  I need someone willing and able to pass into that castle of death and kill the doctor, his creature and Hannah.”

“What? So you asked Byron who might fit that requirement and he gave you me?”

“No, not at all.  He told me of a woman who would do anything he asked. A woman who was strong by nature and an actress by profession.  My original idea was to use her natural strength, her acting skill and then compel courage into her.  But, Byron didn’t think we could get her without you.”  He turned to face me, scrutinizing my every move, every word.  “I’d thought to use your sister, but then you showed up and you’re even more than what I could have hoped for.”

“So, instead of sending my sister to a certain death, you’d like me to volunteer for it? Knowing what I know now? Why would I do it? It’s insane!”

“You’ll do it because someone has to stop her.  You’ll do it because, if you don’t, I will be forced to kill everyone in this house.”

“You bastard!”  Thoughts of Victor as a hero vanished and thoughts of the gun still in my hand replaced them.  He’d said he couldn’t be killed, but I might be willing to test it if it weren’t for the fact that the sound would surely bring everyone into the room and if he didn’t die, they might.

“I told you what I am.  I’ve told you what she is.  Killing a few humans now to save hundreds later, hundreds from a woman willing to kill children as a way to get revenge, I’ll do it.  I would hate to as you are a unique woman and there are precious few unique women.  But, either  I’m evil for killing you and the few in this home, or I’m evil for allowing Hannah to live for all eternity, killing and torturing and spreading her madness throughout time.  Or, you can help me, and we stop her and none of your friends and loved ones are harmed.”

Tears gathered and I hated it.  I hated him.  I hated every evil thing.  If I survived this I would destroy every creature like him, like Hannah, that I came across.  If I survived.

“I suppose you have a plan.” A heated tear escaped and his eyes followed it as it made a path down my cheek.

“I do and we’ll need to act fast.  I am to deliver you tomorrow night.  We have much to discuss before then.” He walked over to me, placing a hand gently on my shoulder as the other came up to wipe the tear away.

I pulled away, unwilling to let my murderer console me.  He nodded as though he’d read my thoughts and stepped back.

“Byron will come to you after your morning meal and give you all the details you need as well as some items you will take with you.  We will meet here again once everyone goes to bed and I will walk you to the castle. For now, go back to your Percy and prepare yourself however you wish.”

I understood.  I walked away, but recalled he’d not told me one important detail.

“The doctor helping the witch, perhaps we know him? What is his name?”

“He is not from here.  Hannah brought him here to escape the scrutiny of the doctor’s peers in his own country.”

“His name?”

“Frankenstein.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Waking to Horror

1888

Bram

 

 

 

The darkness moved in and out like the tide bringing with it the sound of crashing waves.  Bram heard the sound, then a vision of blood and sand stirred his heart, sending adrenaline through his body.  He tried to open his eyes, but they were leaded with fear and memory.  Instinctively he knew he wasn’t really there.   He was not five years old, on holiday with his family until vampires attacked them, leaving him an orphan.  He was not lying on the sand crying for his now-sightless mother, her eyes open wide, unblinking as they stared into his face.  Blood flowed, slowly making a path like a teardrop from her hairline to her forehead, then angling at the mercy of gravity toward her ear.

“This is a dream.  It’s not real,” Bram mumbled and the sound of his voice jarred him closer to consciousness.

He watched his mother’s dead eyes and nearly screamed when his mother’s lips moved, words spilling out in Hannah’s voice, “Oh yes, Bram.  This is real.”

In the dream a hand at his shoulder turned him as he screamed, and he saw the kind face of the woman who saved him from his mother’s fate.  Mary looked upon him with such sadness and caring he wanted to reach out to her.  She shook her head and put her finger to her lips indicating that he needed to be quite.

“Hold on Bram,” she said, but it was Van Helsing’s voice, “Victor is coming.”

“Mary?”

 

 

* * *

 

Pain brought his eyes open, his body jerking from the knife that made a shallow cut along his abdomen.  Hannah stood before him, knife in hand, smiling, then assessing her work.

While he was unconscious the witch had cut open his shirt, leaving his skin bare.  He looked to the knife, which she still held, but loosely.

“Bram?” Eli moved as he spoke.

He looked over to Eli who still hung beside him.  Eli’s hair hung in his face stuck to it by drying blood.  Eli’s hair was dark brown, but the blood had turned sections of it black.  He’d missed whatever Hannah had done to his warlock friend, but Eli’s shirt was cut in similar fashion to his own and even in the dancing candlelight, shadows thrown throughout the inner sanctum of the mausoleum, Bram could see she’d cut him deep.  He hoped, for the sake of Eli, that his tie to Victor would heal him quickly.  Otherwise Eli wouldn’t last much longer.  His skin, which was already pale from spending most time outside during the evening hours, was much more so.  Eli’s brown eyes appeared black in the shadows.  But, Bram could see a warning in them as Eli looked at him.

“Mary can’t get you out of this.  And Victor certainly won’t.” Hannah moved and Bram watched her move closer.  “Sometimes I forget how closely knit you are to the both of them.”  She leaned, bending slightly and licked along his bleeding cut in a slow, sensuous motion.  She stood, blood smeared across her lips.  Her eyes moved up and down his body before looking into his eyes again.  “I’ve never seen a human with such a beautiful body.  You’re taller than most human men I know.”  Her hand stroked up his chest, his neck and down his right shoulder.  “Very nice,” she concluded.  “Van Helsing is more muscular I think, but not as tall, not as broad of shoulder I think. But, he’s not human, not really, so I expect him to be lovely to look at.  To touch.”  Her gaze cut to Eli and Bram wondered what had gone on while he was out.  Eli remained expressionless, which seemed to amuse her.

“They tell me, Bram, that you were the crown jewel of Mary Shelley’s hunters at one time.  But, I see you no longer wear the ring of the League.  Was there a falling out?”  Her voice was sweet and to an untrained ear, sincere.

“Stop playing games, Hannah, you know very well why Bram is no longer in the League.  What are you up to?” Eli asked.

“Up to?” she asked, but her attention remained on Bram.  “I’m just killing…,” she paused for effect, “time, until Victor shows up of course.  He may hate you, Van Helsing, but he’d risk his life for Bram.  Wouldn’t he?” she posed the question to Bram, but Eli answered.

“You continue to ask questions you already have the answers for. Is there nothing about you that’s original?  Your quest is old, your madness is old, your looks are, well…”

Bram knew it was coming before she moved.  He’s learned long ago to feel for the tension that came before a blow.  It wasn’t magic, it was learned through years of experience.  The blade cut deeper this time in almost the same spot as before.  Blood poured out, soaking his trousers and leaving a dark stain on the stone floor.

He gasped, controlling the scream that could only serve to excite the insane witch more.  He knew from years of being in the League of Supernatural Hunters that screaming only made things worse when you dealt with creatures such as Hannah.  Mary had taught him that.

“Hannah! Stop!” Eli screamed at her, calling her attention to him.  “He’s human, you’ll kill him. Do you think Victor will come if Bram is dead  and I’m all you have?”

She slowed her breathing, lowering her hand, the knife falling to the floor as though she wasn’t sure she could trust herself with it any longer.

“You need to stop provoking me, Van Helsing.  You know my temper.  It’s not safe for anyone.”  She looked at the wound, frowned and shook her head.  “He’ll live long enough.  Victor can’t be too far away now.”

She stepped closer to Bram.  Despite years of training he flinched when she touched him.  Examining the wound her expression changed.  Worry caused her smile to disappear.

“Let’s hope Victor hurries,” she said.

“I’m going to let Victor kill you in whatever way he wishes.” Eli whispered.

Hannah frowned, turning toward the warlock she bent down and picked up the knife.  Bram knew she didn’t really need Van Helsing.  He was alive because he’d not told her how he was able to control Victor.  She wanted that information, but perhaps not badly enough.

“They asked me to leave,” Bram said, struggling to keep his breath even as the pain began to wear on him.  She stopped and looked back him.  “The League,” he explained.  He had her attention.  “I refused to kill Victor.  They gave me an ultimatum.”

“How interesting!” She smiled.  “You chose a vampire.  The king of all vampires.  You chose him over your beloved Mary’s group of killers?  You know, Victor almost cost Mary her life once.  He’d have sacrificed her for his own gain.  Yet, you still chose him?”

“I know about Victor and Mary,” Bram said, his head starting to swim, sweat beading on his brow.

The look on her face told him she hadn’t known this information.  He had her attention, the knife loose in her hand once again.

“Did she tell you herself?” she asked.

“In a way, yes,” Bram answered, his words beginning to slur.  “When she died, she left me her personal effects.  Her diary among them.”

“The League let you have her diary?” Her curiosity was genuine and Bram knew why.  The League was very secretive.  Even to the point of questionable actions in order to keep their secrets.  They lied, made up identities, blackmailed when necessary and some even assassinated those who threatened to divulge any secrets the League wanted kept hidden.

When Bram only looked at her, her smile widened.

“They don’t know.” She clapped her hands together and laughed.  “Oh I must have it!  I had thought to kill you in front of Victor, but I’d let you live if you’ll give up the diary.”

“The diary has been split into three sections, but not equally.  The pages are mixed up to ensure certain information cannot be divulged without the other parts.  I only know where one of those sections is.” Bram’s words slurred, his eyes opening wide, then closing hard again and again as though he were unable to clear them.

“I want that diary,” Hannah’s voice grew low, nearly a growl.  “I’ve killed hunters before.  I know things about the League.  How many of you write stories of your escapades and sell them to fund the League?  Which of you actually write under your own name, which of you have imposters posing as you?  I bet some of that information is in that diary?  Maybe not actual names, but how it all works?”

“I told you,” Bram began, but lost his train of thought.  Blood continued to leak from his wound.  He tried to bring his mind back to the conversation.  “I only have part of it.”

“Liar!” Hannah pushed her fingers into his wound and Bram spiraled into oblivion.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

Visions from Victor

1816

Mary Shelley

 

 

Day 3

 

 

I thought about running.  Victor was nowhere to be seen.  Byron said he’d left for the day and would be back this evening and pressing him for Victor’s whereabouts caught Byron’s ire and he became sullen and easy to anger.  Claire became irritated with me and even Percy began asking me what was wrong with me.  Victor controlled them.  Even Percy, who didn’t seem as easy to manipulate, had fallen victim to the strange and evil magic permeating Byron’s home.

I found myself in the library after tea.  It wasn’t likely that Byron would have a book about vampires or the undead, but I thought I might find some clue left behind from the previous night.  I blamed my behavior on a headache which seemed to give relief to the others in my party.  They were headed out for a walk before the rains came.  When I heard the door close I made my way to the library and began to search.  After a quick perusal of Byron’s books I turned my attention to finding out more about Victor.

He had to have his own quarters, but he’d been here in the library sitting in front of the fire.  Being undead I wondered if his body was cold.  Did his heart beat?  If he could bleed, then perhaps he could die?  If he fed from humans as he claimed, then perhaps bleeding him out would kill him?

I had so many questions and no answers.  I’d looked throughout the library finding nothing, so I set out to search the house.  I needed to find out more about Victor before I let him send me to my death.  He had to have a weakness.  Something I could exploit to save my own life.

It didn’t take long to search the house.  It was odd that not even the cook remained behind, but by the time I reached the lower quarters I knew I was alone.  No one to catch me where I ought not be.  No one to hear me scream.

The wine cellar was the last room.  It was cool, the air smelling of dirt.  I lit the candle that was left just outside the room and walked down the few stairs into the open area.  I saw it before I took my final step to the dirt floor.  A coffin sat upon a large wooden table.  The table had to have been built inside the cellar, it was far too large to get down the narrow staircase.  How long had Victor been here at Byron’s, I wondered?

My heart hammered until I was certain the sound echoed in the small room.  I’d only meant to gather information, so I hadn’t thought to bring the gun.  A mistake I’d not make again if given another chance.  What did this tell me, really?  Did sleeping in a coffin confirm he was undead?  If I opened the lid would he be in it?  Doubtful, I thought, as it was day, a time for business and action.  He was, in all likelihood, gone.  Something inside the coffin could give me a clue.

Courage borne of the assumption Victor was not here spurred me on and it took surprisingly little effort to push the lid aside.  I gasped and he opened his eyes, red and glowing, his face white like death.

He pushed the lid off with such strength it crashed against the wall, breaking several wine bottles.  He was out of the coffin and holding me by the throat, my feet dangling, my breath trapped within me.

“Victor!” I managed and wasn’t certain he’d heard it.

His eyes focused, faded from the horrific blood red to the blue I thought so lovely when I first laid eyes on him.

“There’s a fine line between courage and stupidity, Mary,” he said as he released me.

I nearly fell to the ground, but he caught me, held me upright as I gathered myself.

“Why are you in that coffin?” I asked, trying to still my heart.

“Why are you here?  Surely not for wine.” Looking at me, he narrowed his gaze.  “You sought me out?”

“Was I to give over my life without even trying to stop you?”

“I can’t blame you for trying, but how did you plan on killing me?” he asked, his eyes scanning the room, perhaps looking for a weapon.

“I didn’t plan on killing you,” I said, dusting off my skirts even though I didn’t think there was dirt there.  “I wanted to find out more about you.  See if you had weaknesses I might be able to use to my advantage.”  There was no sense in lying.  He was clever and I was a poor liar.

His shoulders relaxed as he signed and smiled.

“I think you may actually survive this night.  You’re a brave girl.  If you’re equally as smart we may both get what we need.  Of course, your reluctance to carry out your mission and your interest in putting a stop to me is quite a challenge for me.”

“For all I know, you’re worse than they are.  I have only your word that you’ll release my family and friends if I do this.  You, whose eyes are blood red, who slumbers in a coffin and manipulates the minds of others.  I’d have left this place, with all those I care for, if you did not control their minds.  I have no choice.  I’m a lamb to the slaughter.  And I have no doubt I’ll know horrors this night that will make me question why I didn’t use Percy’s gun on myself.”  I couldn’t stop talking.  It was gibberish.  I’d never kill myself, but I was shaking uncontrollably, tears falling freely.

Victor’s featured softened.  He placed a hand on my shoulder as though we were old friends.  He spoke softly as though he cared for me.

“I do not deny that you will see horrors this night.  You may wish you’d taken your life instead of this deal to save your loved ones.  You may wish to take it even if you return.  Some things, once seen, can never be unseen.  You will know there are terrible creatures in your world and the shadows will haunt you all the days of your life.”  He sighed and his thumb began to caress the pulse at my neck.  “You have courage, young Mary.  You have reason, intelligence.  You lack only two things:  The knowledge of how to thwart your enemies and a reason so strong you’d die for it.  Beyond saving your loved ones.  Beyond saving yourself.  Fortunately for you, I can gift you with both.”

His movements were fast as lightening.  I was in his embrace, his teeth buried in my neck, his arms like steel around me.  I wanted to scream, but the terror was stuck in my throat. I could feel him drinking me in, but for how long I could not say.  When he released me I sank to the ground.  Blood trickled warm down my neck.

He lifted me again, but this time I tried to fight him.  I was weak, but I tried.  He held me in his arms like a babe this time.  I watched him insert a finger in his mouth.  It came back bloody and at first I thought it was my blood.  He shushed me as I struggled and he touched my wound.  The pain ceased.

He looked down at me, his expression more like a loving parent than a lover.  He stroked my cheek.

“I feel the strength in you, Mary.  The humanity.  If I could cross the witch’s threshold I would spare you this.  Time has run out and you are my only hope.  And as thanks for your bravery and your help I will curse you with knowledge you’ll never recover from.  I’m a bastard and you are bound to hate me after this.  I will give you strength from my blood.  And when you drink it, I will show you things.  Terrible things.  In that moment we will be bound together for all time.  I will always know where you are.  And you will hate me with passion you never imagined.”

Using one hand he pushed the coffin from the table and lay me down.  He stood, unbuttoning his shirt.  His long fingernail punctured his skin at the side of his throat.  The blood pulsed out, coloring his shirt a crimson red.  He lifted my head up as he bent down.  Pushing my mouth hard against his skin, where I had no choice but to open for him in order to breathe, his blood poured down my throat.  I choked at first, he eased up and when the first vision hit me, I drank.

 

***

 

I saw carnage.  Blood, pooling in the dirt, in hay, on wooden floors.  The eyes of dozens of children stared, unblinking at me and I knew he was showing me what Hannah had done.  Letting me know what she was capable of then, and in the future.  I will not relay all that I was shown.  I cannot bear to live through it again for even a moment.  To say I was affected, that I grew to understand why Victor would sacrifice one human woman to keep this from happening again, would be a gross understatement.

Victor was right.  I hated him with passion I’d thought only meant for love.  I hated that he opened my eyes to such evil.  I hated that he’d given me something so vile to fight against that I’d sacrifice, not just myself, but those I loved most, to ensure it never happened again.

That hate burned in my veins, traveling through my heart, my being, my very soul.  Not for Victor himself as he thought, but for the fact this kind of evil existed in my world.  I’d thought Victor an evil creature, and to some extent I knew that was true, but compared to what I saw of Hannah’s murders Victor seemed sane and, once again, heroic.

The vision was too much and I pushed with all my will to turn from it.  Immediately I was in another vision.  A young boy, dark hair and intense blue eyes hid beneath a bed in a room filled with ancient things.  His breathing was fast and shallow, his eyes large as though he needed to take in the entire room from where he lay beneath the bed.  I could feel his fear as though it were my own.  The door to the room opened, but all I saw was booted feet, soaked in mud, smelling of manure and grass and piss, coming forward.  They stopped and we held our breath.  He walked around the bed and for a moment we could not see him.  We dared not move.

“It’s easier if you don’t fight, boy.” The voice was low and angry.

A gasp, then a scream filled the room as strong, harsh hands grabbed the boy’s ankles and pulled him from his hiding place.

I could see above the bed now, as though I were floating in the air, an angel witnessing hell below.  The man had a large frame, large arms, large fists and struck at the boy over and over before forcing him to turn face-down onto the bed, where a large knee pinned the boy and the man tugged at his trousers.  The boy broke free for just a moment, turning around to kick at the man, but with little affect.

The boy’s bright blue eyes suddenly connected with my own, shock and shame flashing in an instant before he whispered to me, “You won’t want to see this.”

***

 

I awoke, feeling the cold dirt on my back.  I fought to get to my feet, but the room spun and I only managed to sit up.  Victor sat on the table, his feet resting on the floor.  His intense gaze made me shudder, not because I knew what he was and what he’d just done to me, but because I recognized that face from the vision.

Epiphanies are born from things we don’t know we don’t know.  I had several as I sat there looking at the vampire before me.  I knew there were evil, supernatural beings walking this earth unencumbered by conscience or anyone to stop them.  I knew I would do all I could to help Victor stop the witch.  I knew if I were successful, I would find a way to hunt down these evil things and stop them at any cost.  The final epiphany would prove Victor wrong.  He was right that I would never be able to un-see those things.  Never be able to un-know them.  And part of what I could not un-see was the horror inside those bright blue eyes, Victor’s eyes.  I did not hate Victor.  I did not love him.  I did not even really pity him at this point.  But, I understood and forgave him.  I wondered if anyone had ever offered even that much to the vampire?

“I trust I have your cooperation?” he asked.

Finally I was able to stand and he stood to offer me the seat on the table.  I shook my head at his offer.  I really needed to lie down, gather my strength, my courage.

“I will do what I can to stop her.  To stop them.” I took a step, found myself steady and breathed deeply to calm my nerves.

He nodded and I turned to make my way back upstairs.  A thought occurred to me and I turned back.

“Is he still alive? The man who harmed you?  Did you kill him?”  A part of my needed to know there was still justice in the world.  The small, young boy who’d been brutalized by the large man so many years ago was now a strong and terrifying creature.

He paused, his brows gathering, his nose flared and I wished I could take the question back.  It was out and I needed to know, so I waited for an answer.

“He lives.”

The shock of it, or the shock of the injustice of it took me aback.

“Why?”

“He made me what I am.  He, too, is vampire.  Far stronger than I,” he said, holding my gaze in challenge.  “And I have no idea where he is.”  He smiled just a bit and I felt some relief to know he’d at least thought of gaining justice.

“If I survive this thing tonight…” I swallowed hard, gathering my courage, “we find him.  And we kill him.”

I watched Victor’s jaw clench and unclench two, then three times.  His breathing quickened, then he forced it to slow all while I watched.  His gaze moved over my face, then back to my eyes and he nodded without a word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Frankenstein’s Castle

1816

Mary Shelley

Later that night

 

We walked in silence through the dark woods.  The damp foliage smelled of rotting leaves and new rain.  Everyone else was home, fast asleep and oblivious to the ways all of our lives would change after this.

Victor walked faster than I, as his legs were longer and he didn’t tire as I did.  Finally he picked me up, ignoring my protests, and carried me another half an hour’s walk before setting me down again.

Fire would be my friend this night.  Fire and an amulet Victor had stolen from a warlock that would render Hannah helpless should I find a way to get the necklace on her.  Victor had given me sticks that a chemist had treated that he said would ignite in an instant if I held it to a flame and I could use that to start a fire in the castle.  I had several of those hidden in a secret pocket of my gown.

Once the amulet was on Hannah, the protection spell would come down and Victor would come to help me.  I argued that burning down the whole damn place would certainly send Hannah away, but Victor wanted her dead.  I did too.  I just hoped my life would not be the price.

The trees grew less thick as we moved toward a building with many lights lit in the many windows.  We finally came to an open area and I could see the castle was less than a five minute walk away.  A carriage waited there, the coachman hunkered over on the seat against the coming cold and rain.  The air was charged and my heart beat as though the charge had connected with it somehow.  A few drops of rain landed on my face, but it had not begun to pour as I expected it would soon.

The coachman jumped down when he saw us and opened the door of the carriage.  The woman was tall with dark hair and dark eyes.  She was stunningly beautiful and I knew immediately who it was.

She stopped not far from us and smiled broadly.

“She looks perfect for him!” Her voice conveyed a sincerity that only made me distrust her more.

“You’ll keep to your word, Hannah?” Victor asked warily.

“Of course, my love.” She smiled even bigger and her eyes cut to me.  “Come.”

I took a step, but Victor’s hand fell upon my shoulder.

“If you cross me, Hannah,” he warned, “You will need to live in your circle of protection for the rest of your life.  Regardless of how long that might be.”

She laughed and held her hand out to me.  Victor released me and soon I was helped up into the carriage, to sit across from the most terrifying being I’d ever known of.

Hannah would expect me to be under some compulsion spell.  I wouldn’t have the luxury of hesitation and knew that could cost me dearly if I forgot that.  I sat, demure and quiet as we were jostled up a bumpy road, then over a bridge and onto cobblestone.

Hannah spent the first part of the ride watching Victor until he was no longer in sight, then scrutinizing me.  We’d arrived without any conversation exchange.

“You’re about to be a bride.” Hannah smiled.  “I can’t wait for you to meet your betrothed.”  She giggled and insanity rode the sound.

The door opened and the coachman helped first Hannah, then me.  I stepped out into the rain, the smell of manure, something dead and fresh rain water filled my nostrils as the sight of the old ruins of a castle filled my eyes.  There were more windows than I would expect and only half of those had candles in them.  Mostly it was the center part of the castle that had been well lit and the rest fanned out into darkness.

As obedient as a slave, I followed Hannah without a word.  The red double doors opened from within and another servant appeared, bowing as Hannah rushed by.

As we approached a wide stone staircase, a man descended into view.  He was extremely tall, making Hannah look petite, but he was thin, his skin an unhealthy translucent pale.  His once-black hair was mostly white, slicked back with oil from his own sweat.  As he met us on the last step the scent of cedar reached me just before the stench of body odor.  Whatever he was using to mask his horrid smell had lost the battle to the more pungent one.  His face was angular, but not unpleasant to look at.  His eyes were dark blue, he had a strong, square jawline and full lips.  Everything about him was repulsive, yet his presence, the way he held himself, drew you in.  He gave me a cursory glance and then all attention went to Hannah.

“I take it there were no complications in acquiring the girl?” Dr. Frankenstein asked.

“None, just as I predicted.  And I long to give her to it.  To see her face when she gets a good look at her new husband will be entertaining.”  She placed a hand on the doctor’s cheek.  His eyes closed and he sighed deeply before nodding.

“Come, girl,” Hannah said and turned from the doctor where I followed her to the darker recesses of the castle.

We came to a hallway and she picked up one of the candles on the mantle of a buffet table.  What I’d seen of the place was odd at best.  The furniture was eclectic, from different times and places, but even more odd was where some if was placed.  There were so many chairs and tables along the hallways, out of place as well as out of time.

We moved along the hallway to a door at the very end.  Hannah produced a key, turned the lock, spared me a glance so I could see her enthusiasm and we entered.

“Now, you need to remove your clothing,” Hannah instructed.

The need to rebel was strong and I slid my hand into my pocket, feeling for the talisman Victor gave me.  I had nowhere else to hide it and briefly considered putting it into my mouth, though the piece was of a size that I’d not be able to speak again once it was in place.  I could only hope the clothes would remain in the room as I slipped off the heavy dress.

“That’s enough for now, but clothes won’t be necessary later this evening when we’re ready for you,” she said once I’d let the dress fall to the floor and stepped out of it.  I shivered and was grateful for the cold to hide my fear in.

Other than the candle in Hannah’s hand, there was only one other lit in the room and it was far back beyond a large canopy bed.  The room had once been lovely, but now the various silks and velvets, the tapestries and furnishings, were dismal and smelled of mold.  If you looked beyond the tattered threads and molded edges, the scrapes and tears and neglect, you could see what had once been beautiful blues and gold, rich colors and fabrics, heavy leather and beautiful artwork.

In the back, near the candle, I could see the flickering light cast shadows against the wall.  A leather chair, filled with a huge being gave life to the shadows as it moved.  It did not get up, but rather turned and sat forward.  I saw the hands and feet first, large and masculine.  Other than his size I had not felt alarmed to be in the room with him.  But, then, he stood and moved directly into the light.

My heart hammered hard and my mind screamed so my mouth would not.  I was supposed to be compelled, docile, and malleable.  I could not run.  I could not scream.  I could not react in a way that would give Hannah reason to doubt me or search my person.

To my credit I stood and did so quietly as the creature approached us.  Metal scraped the floor and as he grew closer he drew up short.  The heavy band around his throat halted his movement.  Thoughts of the cold, my state of undress and breathing all fled.

His height would call attention to him, but unlike the tall Dr. Frankenstein, this creature was broad of shoulder, muscular and solid.  His body took attention from his face, but even if I wanted to see it, it was hidden behind long, black hair, stringy and dirty.

“Look what I have brought you,” Hannah pushed me forward.

How I longed to resist.  I thought my death would come at the hands of the witch, but looking at the creature I realized I might never have the chance to betray Hannah.

He slowly lifted his head.  His eyes were amber, long dark lashes framing them.  They held curiosity, sadness and intelligence.  They were as lovely as Victor’s, shockingly so.  As he looked at me I relaxed and took in the rest of him.  There were scars everywhere, but only one significant one on his face.  It was an incision line that peeked out from behind his neck, running up the right side along his jawline, in front of his ear, following along his hairline at his forehead, then disappearing behind his left ear into his hair.  It was as though his face had been peeled back like the cover of a book, then reattached.  The face itself was bruised and swollen.  The jawline was square, strong, untouched by scars but brushed with bristles from whiskers that appeared in the firelight, brown like his eyebrows and lighter than the hair that obscured his face when he lowered his gaze to the floor.

“You’ll have to forgive him,” Hannah said as she sat her candle down on a bureau.  “The last girl we brought to him wouldn’t stop screaming and the beast broke her neck.  But, I knew Victor would help you overcome the sight of the thing.  Now, we just need to know that what we did with dead men can be done to a live woman and you’ll be free to…” she trailed off, but I said nothing.  “Well, you’ll be given to the creature there as the good doctor has made it his pet of sorts.  He wants it to have a mate.”

The large creature stood still, head bowed, but his hair had parted just enough and the light danced across his face where I could see his eyes turned up, following Hannah’s movements without moving his head.  Then they turned to me just before Hannah leaned in between us and obscured my view.

“I’m going to leave you here for now.  I suggest you keep a distance from him.  Victor went through a lot of trouble to get you and I know you’d not want to disappoint him.”  She smiled as she stepped back, casting a distrustful glance at the creature and gathering my dress in her arms.  “Don’t kill this one.  She’s special.”  She examined the dress for moment.  If she thought to wear it she’d need to have it greatly altered.  She glanced at me and shrugged.  “You’ll need this for later, but if the creature gets ahold of you, or if you lose your nerve and soil yourself, I don’t want to be looking for something that fits you later on.”  With that she turned away.

Her footsteps were light as she retreated.  I heard the door close and was grateful she’d left the candle.  I waited until I heard her move further down the hall to look back at the large, hulking thing with the cunning eyes.

“Are you going to try and kill me?” I asked, unsure if the thing could speak.

He hesitated for a moment.  “No.”

Just to be safe, I kept my distance.  “Did you really kill a girl?”

“Yes.”

He looked up into my eyes, those fathomless orbs of amber shined, moisture reflecting the flickering light.  He shook his head, parting his hair and revealing more of his face.  I wondered if his swollen and bruised lips were frozen, downturned as they were now, or if he could master them.

“Why did you kill her?”

“Mercy.”

I wasn’t prepared for that.  “Mercy?”

He nodded once, decisively.

“What are you?”

He stepped back into the shadows.  “I was once a man.”

His voice was low and full of gravel.

“What are you now?” I would have called him ‘undead’, but he wasn’t like Victor.  Calling him a ‘man’ wasn’t right either though he was made up of what once was a man, or men.

“A monster.”

He sat down in the shadows, but leaned forward.

“What of your soul?” Often it’s what a man thinks of his soul that tells you the kind of man he truly is.  Whether this creature, made up of the bodies of others, had its own soul I couldn’t say.

“Damned.”

“Why? It’s not your fault you were made any more than it is any man’s fault they were born. Are you damned because you killed the girl?” I asked.

I could only see a silhouette, but he’d paused, holding still, perhaps contemplating.

“No. I did not ask to be made.” His voice was breathy and quiet.  “But, I should not be. I am not of God.”

“But, you’re a creature who considers God?  If you are not of God, then you are damned?”  He was as intelligent as his eyes lead me to believe.  He knew of God and of the natural way of life.  He’d judged himself as damned because he’d not been born as God intended.  A conscience?

He nodded.

“The girl? The one you killed. Explain.”  I took a step toward the fireplace and he leaned back against his chair.

“They did things to her,” he said.  “Like to me.  She screamed and begged for death.  So, I killed her.”

“If I were able to kill you, would you want to die?” Herein lay the trap I’d set for my cellmate.  His answer would determine the fate I felt he deserved, even if I could not give him that fate myself.

“Can’t be killed.” His voice became quiet again, but sorrow rode the edges like a distant mirage.

“If you could be killed?”

“I would want a final death.” His voice grew strong and certain.  “But, they’ve tried.  The witch bound me.  I cannot be killed.”  He laughed, if you could call it that.  It was more a cough, but the pitch was higher and controlled.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Her magic doesn’t work on me now.  She fears me.”  If the man in the shadows could voice any happy emotions I imagine this was it.  Hannah feared him.

“Hannah’s magic doesn’t work on you at all?” This was of great interest.

He shook his head and though I could make it out in the shadows he must have considered the darkness and he spoke.  “No. Frankenstein says she cast a spell to help my flesh accept the experiments.  But, once the lightning struck and I was alive, her magic wouldn’t work.”

“Dr. Frankenstein told you this?” I wondered.  “Does he realize you understand?  That you’re intelligent?”

He nodded, but followed the movement with an answer.  “Yes.”

“I had the feeling Hannah thought you were no more than an animal.”

“We don’t tell her.  Just in case.”

“In case of what?” My heart beat for reasons other than fear now.

“Don’t trust her.”

Dr. Frankenstein was smarter than I had given him credit for.  I’d watched him with Hannah and still believed he was in love with her, but something made him not trust her and so he had a secret weapon.  And now, so did I.

Chapter 8

Vampires and other Monsters

Midnight

Mary Shelley

 

 

In the light of day, with time to spare, you weigh out your decisions by playing a variety of scenarios in your head.  You consider the outcome, consequences, price and benefits to each scenario, hoping to identify the one that will suit you best.  Or at least cost you the least, or cost you something you are willing to pay.  I had no such luxury.  What I did have is what always served me best; my instinct.  The creature hated Hannah, but sharing a common enemy didn’t always ensure you’d be allies once that enemy is defeated.  But, I’d walked in with a talisman and a slim chance at survival, now I was being lead to a laboratory high up in what appeared at first glance to be an abandoned part of the castle, and I had an ally Hannah’s magic wouldn’t work on.  Someone who hated her with every fiber of his being.

Hannah entered the room to find me sitting on the bed far from the creature.  She smiled and called me to follow.

“You stay,” she commanded at the shadows.  “If you’re good, I’ll bring you back a treat.”  She laughed heartily, her voice echoing against the stone walls, vibrating with madness.

She walked quickly, determined.  We followed paths and staircases like rats in a maze and I feared the creature would never find me.  But, he had assured me he knew the way, just as he had assured me the locked door would not keep him confined.  And I, for my part, found courage to trust him and a way to release him from his shackles with a simple hairpin and a prayer.

He’d not attacked Hannah when she entered the room only because Frankenstein said the witch was immortal and without Victor there to ensure she was truly killed, I would have become the target of her vengeance since the creature was immune to her magic.

I hoped the dress would be where ever the experiments would be held.  I was to be turned into something immortal, hopefully while keeping my sanity, unlike the last patient.  If it worked, they would dress me and hand me over to the creature they were sure would kill me.  Or perhaps they thought to monitor for me to ensure the experiment was safe for Hannah.  Either way, I would need clothes after the procedure, so the dress could be nearby, the talisman still hidden within its folds.

If the creature didn’t arrive in time, I prayed he would show me the same mercy as the last victim.  Whatever the witch and the mad doctor had in mind, I was certain if they succeeded in their experiment I would never be able to return to my Percy.  To my life.

A torch hung outside a large, wooden door.  The coachman stood there now dressed in clothes I associated with doctors.  He nodded and opened the door, then followed us in.

The room was surprisingly large with a single table in the center of it, surrounded by copper coils, machines I did not recognize and a metal table with instruments that turned my blood cold and my resolve weak.

A large hole in the roof over the exam table brought my attention to the fact that the thing was sitting on a lift attached to pulleys on all four sides.  Everywhere I turned was another machine, another instrument and chemicals.  Tears threatened and it took all my will power to keep them in check.  I felt a slight manner of relief when I saw my dress hung on a post near the exam table.  I tried to concentrate on that as Hannah lead me to the lift.

“Willington!” she cried out and the coachman appeared with haste.  “Remove the rest of her clothing and strap her to the table.  I need to prepare.”

Watching Hannah approach one of the tables filled with chemicals, fluids and powder, I realized what she was doing: alchemy.  Some blend of science and magic was to make Hannah immortal.  Hannah likely trusted her own magic, but science, well, who trusted that?

Willington took my hand, calling my attention back to my current problem.  I pulled away without thought and immediately regretted it.  He eyed me with suspicion, his thick, dark brows touching as he frowned.  I stepped up onto the lift and he followed without remark.  I walked across to where my dress hung, but the man pulled me back before I could reach it.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.  I felt eyes on me as soon as he spoke.

“My clothes are here.  You were leading me in this direction, so I assumed you want all of my clothes in one place.”  Logical, simple deduction, but Willington looked over his shoulder for a moment and I held my breath.  I aimed my eyes toward the floor and bent my head slightly, waiting to be told what to do.

Willington must have gotten some signal since he turned around and said with great authority, with a voice only the weak use when they have someone to champion them, “Alright, then.  You may put the rest of your clothes there.”

Stepping down from the lift and taking two steps toward the place where my dress hung put me out of the direct light making it harder to see me, but easier for me to see those in the light.  Hannah was busy at the table and the doctor, whom I’d not seen yet, was directly across from me working on a machine that was hooked up to the exam table.

His back was to me at first, but when he turned to check a coil, or secure something to wires wrapped around the ropes, I could make out that he wore goggles over his eyes.  It seemed odd to me at first, but then he pulled a lever and electricity moved like lightning up the coils and beyond into the night sky.  The sound caused me to let out a stifled scream, but no one seemed to hear me.  The doctor moved the lever and it all stopped.  Willington didn’t seem sure of the sound or the light either, and his attention was on the doctor as he seemed to wait without breathing for the lever to go down again.

I seized my opportunity.  The dress hung in a manner that allowed me to find the pocket easily.  My heart soared with hope as my fingers touched it and I pulled it out.  Hannah hadn’t found it.  I doubted she even looked.  I was a mere mortal woman, no threat to her.

I didn’t have time to put the dress on, but I had no intention of disrobing further.  I did, however, plan on fighting to the death if they tried to force me on that table.

The doctor threw down the lever just as I moved around the outskirts of the room toward Hannah.  The talisman had to be on her person for it to stop her magic long enough to let Victor in.  I was close enough to fear she’d hear my heart even through the loud noise of the doctor’s machine.  Only a few paces more and I would have her within reach.

The large wooden door burst open with such violence it shattered at its hinges.  The creature stood there looking around the room.  As his eyes found Hannah I threw the talisman around her neck where it hung like a pendant, swinging with the force of her movement.  She turned to look at me, then looked down at the talisman, but the creature was upon her, picking her up and throwing her toward Frankenstein who reached out as though to catch her.  They both landed in a heap, the machine’s noise continuing to rage, electric current running up into the night.

Frankenstein was swift and self-preservation had him pushing Hannah off of him while she struggled to dislodge herself from her own skirts.  The doctor grabbed a metal rod, with a gloved hand, at the base where there was a handle.  Electric current arced from it to the nearby coil.  Willington was there suddenly with another, similar rod, handing it to the doctor.  The arc moved back and forth between the two rods and the creature stepped back.

Hannah leveraged herself up and pulled the talisman hard.  It broke and she threw it at me.  Her face shifted, lips pulling back in a grotesque smile that showed teeth, gums and a black tongue as it licked  over taught lips.  Her eyes turned red and glowed as though fire lived in them.  She began walking toward me, not rushed, as though she wanted to make sure I knew what was coming.

I looked toward the creature, but he seemed terrified of the rods Frankenstein wielded and he was backing away as Frankenstein moved forward.

“Help!” I screamed as loud as I could, not sure anyone could hear me over the noise.  But, he did.  He glanced over his shoulder, taking in Hannah approaching me.

He glanced again at Frankenstein, but turned toward me.  A few steps in my direction and he cried out in pain as electricity was forced through is body.  He may not be able to be killed, but the look on his face told me he could certainly feel pain.  He screamed out again, but kept moving toward me.  Hannah caught sight of him and looked toward her lover for help.

The noise began to echo in my head, the adrenaline pumping so fast the room spun.  I moved toward the creature, the only ally I had, but how would I free him to save me?

I reached out for him as he stepped away from the rods.  I thought I heard him call my name, but his lips didn’t move.  From my peripheral I saw Hannah look back toward the door.  As I saw Victor enter, followed closely by Percy, the creature grabbed my hand and the doctor touched the rod to him again.

The electric current would not kill the creature, but the pain that ran through my body told me that it could, and would, kill me.  I screamed as I was hurled through the air landing on the hard, cold stone floor, my breath stolen from the impact.

As I struggled to force my lungs to function, my eyes sought the only thing in the world that mattered; Percy.  He was trying to move through the chaos to reach me.  Willington went at him with a scalpel and they began to fight.  I pulled in air as Percy pushed the sharp knife deep into Willington’s throat while that man still held the scalpel in his hand.

The pain subsided and I was breathing again.  Percy reached me, pulling me up and wrapping his arms around me.   I buried my face in his chest and sobbed like a child.  The noise abruptly stopped and I peered over Percy’s shoulder.  Dr. Frankenstein lay on the stone floor, neck broken, eyes fixed.  Willington shared that fate in a puddle of blood close-by.  But, when I saw Victor fighting the creature I was propelled up and began screaming.

“Victor! No!” I tried to move toward them as their fighting continued to destroy the laboratory, but Percy wouldn’t release me.  “No! Victor! He’s our ally! He helped me!”  But, Victor didn’t hear, or didn’t want to hear.  So I turned to Percy, “He’s fighting the wrong monster!  Where’s Hannah?”  I’d scanned the entire room and the witch was nowhere in sight.

Percy’s brows turned down and he looked back to the creature and Victor.  “Stay here, Mary.” He said, then for good measure added, “I mean it!”

Percy moved closer and then ran head first into Victor.  The vampire was so intent on the creature he didn’t see Percy coming and he was knocked off balance.  Victor was up immediately, but Percy had placed himself between Victor and the creature, hands held out as though that could stop them from approaching each other.

“Stop, Victor!” Percy yelled, looking back at the creature as well.  “Hannah is gone!  You’re fighting the wrong man.”

Only the sound of breathing, fast and heavy, filled the room.  Every muscle in my body ached, but I began to move forward when Percy nodded in my direction.

“Victor, this man helped us.  He tried to save me.” Now I had his attention.

“That’s not how it looked to me.” Victor sounded perfectly poised as though he hadn’t just been fighting.  He was disheveled, but his breathing was normal.

“Be that as it may, he was trying to help me.  We had a plan to kill Hannah.  Her power doesn’t work on him. Now, she’s escaped.”

Victor was there and then he wasn’t.  He moved so fast I wasn’t sure if he’d left by the door or the gaping hole in the ceiling.  Percy, Frankenstein’s creature and I stood in the hellish chamber for just a few more moments before I couldn’t stand it any longer and walked out, hoping they would follow.

I wasn’t sure if I walked in the right direction or not, but I had to get as far from that lab as I could.  Percy caught up with me, my dress tucked under his arm.  I stopped and he helped me put it on.  Funny thing about clothes, they can make you feel things about yourself.  I put on the dress and I turned from victim to woman.  Though the fighting was behind me, I felt stronger, more courageous, wrapped in the civility and normality of my clothes.

The creature came up behind and nodded in the direction of a staircase.  We followed him.  He seemed to labor in his movements and by the time we reached the bottom the large man had to stop and rest at one of the chairs along the hall.  When he was ready to move he stood, putting his hand on top of a sturdy table nearby, he held there a moment, then turned and walked further down the hall.  He repeated this again and again until I realized why the furniture was arranged thus.

“Are you in pain?” I asked as he sat down in the hall that I recognized, looking at the room at the end, his room.

He shook his head.  “It’s not the pain, it’s the dizziness.  My brain hasn’t completely accepted this body I think.  It’s as though the puzzle is put together, but the picture isn’t quite clear.”

In that moment my heart broke for this unfortunate soul.  He was immortal.  He thought himself a monster and he looked the part.  He was in pain, suffering and that might follow him for all time.  I could only hope that, one day, science would be able to help him, or he’d find a witch with magic that could.  Or, he’d find a way to die.

“What will you do now?” I couldn’t help but ask.  I had it in my mind to ask him to come with us.  He had tried to save me.  He had a conscience.  He needed help. Whatever followed, be damned. We would find a way to take him in.

“The doctor is dead,” he said as he started to stand and then thought better of it.  “Now, Hannah must be stopped.  She’ll look for another scientist.  I can’t let that happen.”

“You could come with us.  Until you feel better,” I offered, but he was already shaking his head.

“The best medicine, the best treatment, for me is to have purpose.  I need to have purpose.  I need something that proves I am not a monster.  Something that shows my humanity is still within my grasp.  Perhaps I can earn a soul.”  The last words softly spoken caused tears to gather in my eyes and I took his hand, so large and scarred.

“It was others who made your body.  It will be you who makes your soul.  Men born of the womb can become monsters.  Why can’t you, created to be a monster, become a man of honor?”

He squeezed my hand lightly, his swollen lips moving into what I would call a smile.  For a split second I could see him through those bruises and swelling and he was no longer a monster, but a man, handsome regardless of his scars, or perhaps because of them.

Victor walked into the hall and we all turned, waiting to hear of Hannah.

“Bloody Hell, the witch is nowhere to be found.  I lost track of her, but she’s headed east.  I’ll gather my things tonight and set out after her.  It never takes long before her nature brings attention somewhere.”

“I wish to go.  I want her dead, perhaps even more so than you,” the creature said.

“You’ll slow me down.  I can’t wait for you.  But, if we cross paths I will count you an ally and whatever I know of Hannah, I will share.  As long as she ends up dead, I don’t care who does the deed,” Victor said.

“What of us?” Percy demanded.  “How will we ever go back to our lives now that we know of the monsters in the darkness?”

“Just as I told you when I woke you to join me,” Victor said. “Your greatest strength is your love and willingness to do anything to keep each other alive.  I knew if I brought you, she would fight harder. And that you would find it in you to kill if that’s what was needed. And it was. And you did.”

“You’re such a bastard,” I said to him, my blood heated with fury.  “You brought my husband to help ensure your success? He could have been killed!”

“But, he wasn’t.  And now you both know what must be done should you find the monsters have invaded your world.  Besides, you made a promise to me and I think I’ll take you up on it.” Victor alluded to my promise to help kill the man who abused him, turned him into the demon he was now.  “And, now you have Percy to help us.  Now that he knows everything.”

It was a double-edged sword.  I wanted Percy  to know and to help me, but I wanted him safe, I wanted him ignorant of the horrors I’d stumbled upon.  Victor knew it and he removed my guilt by being the one to enlighten Percy, instead of me.

“I’ll put everything right before I leave Byron’s, but I need to leave before dawn, so I will bid you farewell. I will leave you my carriage.  It’s right outside the doors to the castle.” Victor bowed slightly.

“But, what of my promise to you? How will I find you?” I asked.

“I will find you,” he assured me.  “When the time is right, I will find you.”

He turned and walked down the hall, turning the corner, out of sight for now.  Percy put his arm around me and for the first time I realized I was shaking.

“It’s time to go,” Percy said and I nodded.

“Thank you,” I began, but then realized I had no idea what the creature’s name was.  “What do I call you?”

“I can’t be who I once was.  I am made from many.  I have no name,” he said, then cocked his head, the corners of his mouth curving upward as much as they could.  “Why don’t you give me a name?”

Looking at him in the dark, dismal castle, I was struck with the importance of naming him.  It was his start, a new life.  I knew immediately what his name would be and I leaned down to place a soft, sisterly, kiss on his brow.

“Adam.” I smiled and looked into his face.  “The first man God gave life to in this manner, for I assure you, no life happens with the will of God.”

“Adam,” he repeated it, trying it out with that low, baritone voice.  He nodded and stood, holding still for a moment as his dizziness melted away.  He shook Percy’s hand, then took mine and pressed it to his lips.

It was the last time I would see Adam, though I would hear of him from time to time as people reported him to the group of supernatural hunters I created.  His appearance inspired fear for many and he was reported to be in the vicinity of supernatural events, but I knew he’d become a hunter in his own right.  Victor had run into him a few times and of course I saw Victor many times since then.  Adam was alone in the world, but he found purpose, and a soul.

Percy and I found others who had run into supernatural beings or events and they joined our league of supernatural hunters.  We grew strong, found our way, became well-funded through those who asked us for help, and through writing of our exploits and selling it as fiction.  That was Percy’s idea and it worked well for us on many levels.

My adventures have cost me much, but they have given me much.  I leave my diaries to Bram, the son of my heart.  My greatest joy and most valiant warrior.

 

Chapter 9

The Horror of Beginnings

1888 – 2014

Bram

 

 

He came awake in darkness.  The cold, wet stones penetrated his clothing, he shivered.  He grabbed the wound he was certain Hannah tore open, but though raw and still wet with blood, it was healing.  He sat up, trying to force his eyes to become accustomed to the darkness.

“Eli?” Bram called out.   Bram was breathing, so perhaps Eli was too.  The absence of pain hinted at the absence of Hannah.

“Take it easy.  You’ve lost a deal of blood.” Eli’s voice came from his left and he turned in that direction, finally able to see movement, though only that.

“You can thank me for saving you by figuring out how to get the hell out of this mausoleum.” Victor’s voice rang out from the right.  The vampire moved through the darkness, part of it.

Bram stood, though he had no idea what to do next since he couldn’t see a bloody thing.  He felt someone next to him and turned in Victor’s direction.

“What happened?” he asked his friend.

Bram wavered and Victor put his hand on his shoulder to steady him.

“You and Van Helsing didn’t wait as I instructed and Hannah captured you.  She used you as bait and now we’re all here in this God forsaken mausoleum, held prisoner by stone and magic it seems.”  Victor sighed loudly, frustration echoing in the sound.

Victor applied pressure to Bram’s shoulder and guided him to a wall where a stone bench waited for him.  Once seated onto the bench, Victor released him.

“I’ve been trying to solve the puzzle of the magic Hannah used,” Eli said from across the small room.  “It’s been perhaps a day and I’ve found nothing to help us escape.”

“A day?” Bram let the thought of it sink in as his brain started filling in answers.  The only way for him to heal so fast is for Victor to give him blood.  He must have been near death because, normally, he’d feel invigorated after receiving vampire blood, but currently he felt more like he had a hangover and lost a bar fight.

“Yes,” Eli continued.  “Victor fell victim to Hannah’s tricks and in his earnest attempt to save you, he was entombed here with us in the mausoleum.  I presume, just as Hannah planned.”

“I’d not have fallen victim to anything if the two of you had stayed put,” Victor’s voice ground out.

A noise stopped any further conversation.  Where the sound came from was difficult to pinpoint.  It was everywhere.  Stone scraping stone, echoing as though it was far away.  Bram’s sight had adjusted and he could make out where Eli and Victor stood.  Both looked in all direction just as he was doing.

“Do you think someone is trying to get in?  Perhaps save us?” Eli asked.  “The League perhaps?”

Bram leaned back against the stones and immediately stood when he felt it vibrating.  He reached out to touch it with his hand just as the noise stopped and silence filled the room.

“I doubt it.  We’re not exactly on their ally list,” Bram said.

When no one responded he turned, but whether or not they were there he couldn’t say as his hand moved through the stone as though it were made of air and he fell to the ground beyond, blinded by the falling sun.

Regardless of Victor’s blood and the expedited healing process, falling hurt like hell.  Bram curled into a ball, tucking his head under his arm to protect his eyes, though the sun was setting quickly, shadows crawling over him as he lay there.  He peeked up, the pain fading as his eyes adjusted.  With a deep breath, he pushed himself up.

Everything appeared normal for a graveyard.  The daylight relieved the mind of ghosts and ghouls, but something was amiss.  He looked behind him at the Mausoleum, which looked altered in some fashion, but he was certain that’s where he fell from.  He gingerly touched the stones, but they were solid.  He systematically went around all four walls looking for stones that allowed his hand to penetrate within.  Stepping back he saw he’d left bloody handprints scattered where he’d first started looking for a way in, or an explanation of how he got out.  He looked at his hand now dry and dirty.

“Blood? Is that how it works?”  He searched himself for a knife, but of course Hannah had removed all weapons from his person.  If that were the answer then why didn’t he or Eli fall through the floor of the damned place as they certainly had bled from any number of wounds inflicted upon them.

As the sun gave way to a darkened dusk and stars peeked early in the sky, a sound from nearby brought Bram to attention and he hugged his back to the stone wall, trying to stay hidden from whoever was coming around the corner.

Where Bram stood was a few steps down from the main walkway and a metal gate surrounded the mausoleum.  He crouched, hoping to see, but be unseen as voices carried on the cool breeze.  A young couple strolled by, leaning against each other, dressed in unusual costumes.

“You’re the first girl I’ve ever slept with that was an actual virgin.  It’s like you’re kind is nearly extinct.”  The boy, perhaps eighteen, laughed with joy and hugged the blonde girl tighter to him.

“Well, losing my virginity in the St. Louis No. 1 cemetery isn’t really my idea of romantic,” the young girl complained, but her voice seemed as jovial as the boy’s.  “But, at least it was in New Orleans and that was my dream!”

They continued to walk and Bram slowly stood and walked the two steps to the walkway and watched the couple disappear around a corner.

“Hey, you!”

Someone called out and Bram turned, ready to fight.  An older gentleman, dressed in a manner not quite familiar, but obviously for work, walked toward him.

“Groundskeeper?”  Bram guessed aloud.

The man slowed down as though having second thoughts about getting too close.

“The tours haven’t started yet.  Are you an actor? Or looking for one of those costume parties? Are you okay?” the man spoke in a kind voice, not taken aback by Bram’s disheveled look, but taking in the dried blood finally.

“It seems that I’ve been injured.  I fell.  Can you tell me where I am?” Bram put his hands out to show the groundskeeper he meant no harm.

“I think you better come with me and I’ll get you to a hospital,”  he offered.  “Wait here and I’ll get my cart.”

He left for a moment and Bram considered hiding, but to what purpose?  He couldn’t get into the mausoleum and worried the young virgin girl he’d seem walk by a few minutes ago was the key to getting out.  If not blood then what?  A virgin sacrifice?  The young boy made it sound as though virgins were not plentiful in this place, so getting Eli and Victor out could take some time. Or, perhaps it had nothing at all to do with blood or virgins.  He needed time and energy to solve this.  He needed a base of operations.

The sound of a machine caught his attention.  An automobile, small and open, came toward him, the groundskeeper behind the wheel.  He stopped beside Bram and waited.

“Come on.  You look like you’re gonna fall over any time now.  Let’s get you somewhere someone can help you.”  He patted the seat next to him and Bram took the seat, holding on to a metal handle as they began moving forward at an alarming rate.

Bram cast a last glance over his shoulder, wondering what Eli and Victor were doing.  If they were inside that mausoleum.  He’d have to come back late at night and try to get inside through its locked door.

They pulled up next to a small building and the groundskeeper got out.

“You can come inside and rest while I call for help.”

He motioned, Bram followed.  The man sat him down in comfortable chair that reclined with the pull of a handle at its side.  He was given a strange bottle, filled with cold water, which he drank completely and immediately.  But, when the older gentleman pointed a device at a small box in front of him Bram was mesmerized.  What kind of magic could fit moving pictures in a box such as this was both frightening and fascinating.

“I’ll leave on the news, unless you don’t want that?”

Bram couldn’t speak and eventually the man walked away.  He recalled the last time he was so dumbstruck, so lost.  Mary Shelley was reported as dead, but she stood there offering him her hand, real as anyone.  Of course he was too young to know who she was at that time, he’d learn about her in the years that came after.  He started a new life that day, born of horror and blood, thrown into a world of intrigue and secret wars.  It changed him.  She had changed him.  She had taught him to accept what was and deal with it.  It was a valuable lesson, one he called upon now as he watched the moving pictures with their scrolling words telling him he was in a different place.  A different time.  There were still wars and monsters, of that he was certain.  Regardless of what the men or women reported, he could tell the difference between a serial killer and a rogue vampire gone mad.

His heart pounded in his aching head, wounds not quite healed throbbed with that beat.  He worked to wrap his mind around what he must accept.  The year is 2014.  He was in America, New Orleans, Louisiana. There were monsters to stop and friends to save.  He had once been the crown jewel of The League of Supernatural Hunters.  He was a hunter still.

 

 

 

The End

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