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A Vampire Christmas Carol
By SARAH GRAY
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Colleen Faulkner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMarley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Seven years ago that very night, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge was called to his deathbed, hours, perhaps moments, before the inevitable. And Scrooge had possessed full intention of attending said grim event. His greatcoat upon his back, his stovepipe hat upon his head, he was nearly out the door when a towering, dark-haired man, cloaked full in black, appeared at the counting house. Coal black eyes and a face as handsome as ever seen, he was not a man to be ignored, even by someone of the import of Ebenezer Scrooge.
A business proposition this gentleman, who gave his name as Mr. Wahltraud, said he had to offer, one quite profitable, one Scrooge dared not refuse. But the mysterious gentleman would not agree to return, not even in half an hour's time, giving Scrooge the opportunity to say a proper farewell to his dying partner. It was a take-or-leave proposal; the stranger had no time to dally. And so, in honor of Marley's last breath, Scrooge did what Marley would have done. He removed his coat and hat and escorted the man to his private office where, in no more than an hour's time, a fine contract was signed and sealed. In that hour of business, Marley did pass, or so was relayed to Scrooge by one of his clerks.
Proper burial arrangements were made and carried out by those who attended to such details, but Scrooge went himself to the cemetery a few nights later to be certain Marley was secure in the grave. After all, one could never leave such matters up to those with nothing to gain from completing the task. Scrooge had not achieved the place he had by leaving important matters to the less vigilant.
The night he went was dark, and a cold wind blew, driving the clouds, furiously and fast, before it. Scrooge noted that there was a black, gloomy mass that seemed to follow him, not hurrying in a wild chase, but lingering sullenly behind, and gliding darkly and stealthily on. Had he known then who it was ... what ... perhaps he would have turned back. He did not turn back, for he was dedicated in his pursuit, but he often looked behind him at this, and, more than once, stopped to let it pass over. But somehow, when he went forward again, it was still behind him, coming mournfully and slowly up, like a shadowy funeral train.
On his journey to Marley's final resting place, Scrooge had to pass a poor, mean burial-ground—a dismal place. It was raised a few feet above the level of the street, and parted from it by a low parapet-wall and an iron railing was a rank, unwholesome, rotten spot, where the very grass and weeds seemed, in their frowzy growth, to tell that they had sprung from paupers' bodies. The weeds struck their roots in the graves of men, sodden, while alive, in steaming courts and drunken hungry dens. And here, in truth, they lay, parted from the living by a little earth and a board or two—lay thick and close—corrupting in body as they had in mind—a dense and squalid crowd. Here they lay, cheek by jowl with life, no deeper down than the feet of the throng that passed there every day, and piled high as their throats. Here they lay, a grisly family, all these dear departed brothers and sisters of the ruddy clergyman who did his task so speedily when they were hidden in the ground! Marley's grave was beyond there—he had only to find it.
While Scrooge was thus engaged, there came toward him, with noise of shouts and singing, some fellows full of drink, followed by others, who were remonstrating with them and urging them to go home in quiet. They were in high good humor, and one of them, a little, wizened, hump-backed man, began to dance. He was a grotesque, fantastic figure, and the few bystanders laughed.
Scrooge was unmoved by the unseemly mirth, and did not so much as look upon the jester's face. When they had passed on, he turned in through the iron gates and did not have to walk far to find the earthen mound he was so intent upon inspecting.
When he found it, at last, he could not look upon the spot among such a heap of graves, but he conjured up a strong and vivid memory of the man himself, and how he looked when last he saw him draw breath. For a reason unknown to Scrooge, instead of picturing Jacob Marley, he recalled the figure of some goblin-creature he had once seen chalked upon a door, as a child. Startled by the memory, he turned to look over his shoulder, the toes of his boots in the freshly turned dead earth. The black mass he had seen before was there again, hovering just behind him.
Bah. Humbug. Scrooge turned upon Marley's fresh grave and set out for his partner's home, now his own. As he drew nearer and nearer, a sense of prickly apprehension set upon him. This feeling became so strong at last, that when he reached his door, he could hardly make up his mind to turn the key and open it.
"My condolences, Mr. Scrooge."
Scrooge whipped around, startled by the voice.
It was the stranger who had appeared at Scrooge's counting house only nights before who tipped his tall black hat, stepped out of the cloaked darkness, almost out of nothingness, for it seemed he was not there one moment, then there the next.
It was, surprisingly enough, it was Mr. Wahltraud. But where had he come from? Scrooge had not seen him when he approached the door; he seemed to appear out of nothingness. Suspicious, Scrooge took him more closely, eying him port and stern.
A handsome gentleman, he appeared, with a young face, but with an older figure in its robustness and its breadth of shoulder, say a man of eight-and-thirty, or at the utmost forty. He was so extremely pale, this Mr. Wahltraud, that the contrast between his black wool cloak and the glimpses of white throat below the neckerchief would have been almost ludicrous but for his broad temples, black eyes, clustering black hair, and ivory teeth.
"Step aside; my day has been long," Scrooge grumbled with a wave of his yellow cane, which had at the top a bone hand with the semblance of a ring on its little finger and a black ball in its grasp.
"I apologize for the intrusion, but I understand that you intend to take up residence in Mr. Marley's home." He had an accent Scrooge could not quite place, not English, though most definitely schooled in London. Germanic, perhaps? Definitely not French or Italian or Danish, nor was he reeling of the manner of speech proclaimed by the icy regions such as Norway, which left only Prussian, Austrian, or one of the lesser barbaric states. He gazed up at the red-brick house, with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black street-door up two white steps, a brazen door-plate, and a brazen door-handle full stop. "Considering the size of the abode, I thought you might be interested in renting the first floor and cellars."
"Renting?" Scrooge echoed. Instantly, his weariness vanished as the hope of financial gain lent strength to his countenance. And why should he not make a profit on Marley's house? It was far too big, with too many rooms for Scrooge or any single man to occupy. Would not Marley eagerly have done the same with Scrooge's home, given the opportunity?
"As a purveyor of wine and spirits, the cool darkness below street level would serve me well," said Wahltraud.
"Do you have a family?"
"A wife, sir. No children."
"Good," Scrooge muttered. "I hate children." He named a price well above what the stranger should have agreed to pay. Wahltraud took it without haggling and was on his way in less time than it took Scrooge to mount the high brick steps.
Old Marley would have complimented Scrooge on the bargain he had struck. But Marley could not because old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile, and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
As was Wahltraud, I must inject, for I cannot withhold the information a moment longer. Scrooge, however, was unaware of this fact, though I wonder if he would have cared, considering the sum of money the tenant offered. Payment for a full year was offered in advance, due on the very next day.
But soon enough, my dear reader, I will come to Wahltraud, his queen, and his minions. As for Marley, Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnized it with an undoubted bargain.
The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point at which I began pages ago. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son's weak mind.
Chapter TwoBefore I continue with the tale, I must fair warn you of the tenants Scrooge did so cleverly lay bargain with the day of Marley's funeral. That black scourge that did follow him to the cemetery and then home was none other than his new tenant, the supposed wine purveyor. He was King Wahltraud, and his wife, Queen Griselda, was waiting for him at their current abode beneath a tavern off The Strand when Wahltraud returned from making the deal with Scrooge that night.
"My dearest, my darling," Griselda greeted him exuberantly from the bottom of the dark staircase. A beauty she was, pale and white as the waxen berries of mistletoe, as beautiful as King Wahltraud was handsome. "And so the deed is done?" she asked with excitement.
"Done and buried," Wahltraud responded, plucking his gloves from his fingertips, relishing the snap of the leather and its scent of a slaughtered beast. He laughed at his jest. "And we are to take up residence in his cellars within the week."
Griselda squealed with delight and threw her arms around her husband, embracing him close. "And so Ebenezer Scrooge is ours?" she begged, looking up at her walking-dead husband in eager anticipation. This project, tedious in time and effort, had taken nearly a full human lifetime. But it would all be worthwhile for Wahltraud and Griselda if Scrooge went the way of Marley. In fact, it would be better, for they had great plans for this human.
Wahltraud brought his lips to Griselda's and they kissed. Then nipped like pups at play. She was the first to draw blood, he the first to howl with pleasure. "Tell me all," she cried. "Have we the cellars, my precious? Have you gained them for me?"
You see, Wahltraud and Griselda were not wine purveyors, Prussian brewers, or even ordinary English citizens. Unbeknownst to Scrooge and most of London, they were not even human. Wahltraud was the undisputed King of Vampires, Griselda his crowned queen, and Scrooge her pet project which had kept her busy the last half-century. But how could Scrooge have known? How could anyone have known? You might say if Scrooge had scrutinized his situation with more care, he might have realized that the events played out in his life up to this day were not of his own making. But, again, I get ahead of myself.
Back to Marley ... Dead as a door-nail.
Chapter ThreeScrooge never painted out Old Marley's name the week he died or any of the months or years that followed. There it stood, seven years afterward, above the London warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley even after one partner's death. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days, and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm him, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was more bitter than he; no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Ebenezer Scrooge was a cold-hearted man and everyone knew it. Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock. No man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him, and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts, and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!" Did they know the truth of who ... what controlled Scrooge? Do dogs have some knowledge on this subject that humans do not?
We will never know, for dogs, of course, do not speak. The point is, Scrooge did not care that no one spoke to him unless forced to do so. It was the very thing he liked. He liked to edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.
Or so he believed.
So he had been trained to believe, convinced by the events that had unfolded throughout his lifetime. It was all part of the plan, from his childhood ... no, from his birth and before. Ebenezer Scrooge had been King Wahltraud and Queen Griselda's pet project from the very conception of his existence.
Could one take a human, born pure and good, and make him evil? Or would the innate, sickening goodness of mankind always prevail? Could a man be bribed by money or lust to disregard his innate humanness? To take advantage of the less fortunate, the hungry? It was a conversation tossed about for centuries among vampires on every continent, and one of Wahltraud and Griselda's favorites ... Thus evolved the challenge of Ebenezer Scrooge. And so we return to the story at hand again, although I forewarn you now, I am known to skip forward and back in a good tale, relying on the notion that anyone with a little good sense and the interest will follow.
Chapter FourSo, once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—and seven years after Marley's death—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather. It was foggy and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighboring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.
Excerpted from A Vampire Christmas Carol by SARAH GRAY Copyright © 2011 by Colleen Faulkner. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Buried seven years ago, Jacob Marley visits his former partner Ebenezer Scrooge to warn him that all the misery and isolation the latter has felt has been caused by vampires who want to insure he fails to fulfill his destiny. Marley explains he will have three ghosts visit him to affirm what he has told Scrooge that the undead bloodsuckers have caused his rift with those he loved like his family, his former fiancée Belle and his employee Bob Cratchit. The spiritual journey Scrooge undertakes leads him to better comprehend what has happened to him as he finally understands what caused the estrangement with Belle and learns of the personal hardships Cratchit and his family face, and finally his only living blood relative Fred his nephew who still cares about his acrimonious misery uncle. This is Scrooge's last chance to save his soul as his loved ones are in mortal combat against the vampires. This is an engaging retelling of the classic holiday tale as Sarah Gray provides a fascinating cause for Scrooge's acrimony. The story line follows the ghostly guides but gravely focus on the war for Scrooge's soul between the vampires isolating him and his loved ones trying to save him. Although lacking the satirical humor of similar reenactments like Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Wayne Josephson's Emma and the Vampires, fans who enjoy paranormal renditions of Victorian and Regency classics will want to read this exciting but bleakly grayish vampiric Christmas Carol. Harriet Klausner