Letter from Mina Harker to her son, Quincey Harker, Esq.
(To be opened upon the sudden or unnatural death of Wilhelmina Harker)
9th March 1912
My dear son, all your life you have suspected that there have been secrets between us. I fear that the time has come to reveal the truth to you. To deny it any longer would put both your life and your immortal soul in jeopardy.
Your dear father and I chose to keep the secrets of our past from you in order to shield you from the darkness that shrouds this world. We had hoped to allow you a childhood free from the fears that have haunted us all our adult lives. As you grew into the promising young man you are today, we chose not to tell you what we knew lest you think us mad. Forgive us. If you are reading this letter now, then the evil we so desperately and perhaps wrongly sought to shield you from has returned. And now you, like your parents before you, are in grave danger.
In the year 1888, when your father and I were still young, we learned that evil lurks in the shadows of our world, waiting to prey upon the unbelieving and the unprepared.
As a young solicitor, your father was sent into the wilds of Transylvania. His task was to help Prince Dracula conclude the purchase of a property in Whitby, an ancient monastery known as Carfax Abbey.
During his stay in Transylvania, your father discovered that his host and client, Prince Dracula, was in truth a creature thought to exist only in folktale and legend, one of those which feed upon the blood of the living in order to attain immortal life. Dracula was what the locals called Nosferatu, the Un-Dead.
You may more readily recognize the creature by its more common name:vampire.
Prince Dracula, fearing that your father would expose the truth of what he was, imprisoned him in his castle. Dracula himself then booked passage to England on the sailing vessel the Demeter, spending the many days of his voyage hidden in one of dozens of crates in the hull. He concealed himself in this strange fashion because although a vampire may have the strength of ten men and the ability to take many forms, he will burn to ash if struck by the light of the sun.
At this time, I was staying in Whitby at the home of my closest and dearest friend, Lucy Westenra. A storm had blown in off the sea, and the treacherous Whitby cliffs were shrouded in a dense mist. Lucy, unable to sleep, saw from her window the storm-driven ship heading for the rocks. Lucy raced into the night in an attempt to raise the alarm before the ship was wrecked, but she was too late. I awoke in a panic, saw that Lucy was not beside me in bed, and raced out into the storm to search for her. I found her at the cliff's edge, unconscious and with two small holes in her neck.
Lucy became deathly ill. Her fiancé, Arthur Holmwood, the son of Lord Godalming, and his dear friend, a visiting Texan whom you know as your namesake, Quincey P. Morris, raced to her side. Arthur called every doctor in Whitby and beyond, but none could explain Lucy's illness. It was our friend who owned the Whitby Asylum, Dr. Jack Seward, who called in his mentor from Holland, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing.
Dr. Van Helsing, a learned man of medicine, was also acquainted with the occult. He recognized that Lucy was suffering from the bite of a vampire.
It was then that I finally received word from your father. He had escaped from Dracula's castle and taken refuge in a monastery where he, too, was deathly ill. I was forced to leave Lucy's bedside and travel to meet him. It was there in Buda-Pesth that we were married.
Your father told me of the horrors he had seen, and it was from this that we learned the identity of the vampire that had attacked Lucy and now threatened all our lives: Prince Dracula.
Upon returning from Buda-Pesth, we were told that Lucy had died. But worse was to follow. Days after her death, she had risen from her grave. She was now a vampire and was feeding on the blood of small children. Dr. Van Helsing, Quincey Morris, Dr. Seward, and Arthur Holmwood were faced with a terrible decision. They had no choice but drive a wooden stake through Lucy's heart in order to free her poor soul.
Shortly thereafter, Prince Dracula returned in the night to attack me. After this attack, we all swore an oath to hunt down and destroy the vampire, and rid the world of his evil. And so it was that we became the band of heroes and chased Dracula back to his castle in Transylvania. There, Quincey Morris died in battle although, like the hero he was, he managed to plunge a knife into Dracula's heart. We watched as Prince Dracula burst into flames, crumbling into dust in the light of the setting sun.
Then, we were free, or so I thought. But about a year after you were born, I began to suffer horrible nightmares. Dracula was haunting me in my dreams. It was then that your father reminded me of the dark prince's warning and how he had claimed, "I shall have my revenge. I shall spread it over centuries. Time is on my side."
From that day onward, your father and I have had no peace. We have spent our years looking over our shoulders. And now I fear we are no longer strong enough to protect you from his evil and I have made a terrible misjudgment in character.
Know this, my son, if you are to survive the evil that is now hunting you; embrace the truth I speak in these pages. Look deep within your young self and, as your father and I were once forced to do, find the brave hero within. Dracula is a wise and cunning foe. You cannot run, and there is nowhere to hide. You must stand and fight.
Good luck, my dear son, and do not be afraid. If Van Helsing is correct, then vampires are truly demons, and God will be at your side as you do battle.
With all my undying love,
Your mother, Mina
OCEANS OF LOVE, LUCY.
The inscription was the only thing Dr. Jack Seward could focus on as he felt the darkness overtake him. In the darkness was peace, with no harsh light to illuminate the tattered remains of his life. For years, he had devoted himself to fighting back the darkness. Now he simply embraced it.
Only at night could Seward find peace with the memory of Lucy. In his dreams, he still felt her warm embrace. For a fleeting moment, he could go back to London, to a happier era, when he found meaning through his place in the world and his research. This was the life he had wished to share with Lucy.
The early morning din of milk wagons, fishmongers' carts, and other merchant vehicles rattling hurriedly across the cobblestone streets of Paris intruded on Seward's dream and thrust him back into the harsh present. Seward forced his eyes open. They stung worse than fresh iodine on an open wound. As the cracked ceiling of the stale Parisian flophouse room he had been renting came into focus, he reflected on how much his life had changed. It saddened him to see all the muscle tone he had lost. His bicep sagged, resembling one of those hand-sewn muslin tea bags after it had just been removed from a teapot. The veins on his arm were like rivers on a tattered map. He was a shadow of his former self.
Seward prayed that death would come quickly. He had willed his body to science, to be used in a classroom at his alma mater. He took comfort from the fact that in death he would help to inspire future doctors and scientists.
After a time, he remembered the watch, still nestled in his left hand. He turned it over. Half past six! For an instant, panic overtook him. Damn it to hell. He had overslept. Seward staggered to his feet. An empty glass syringe rolled off the table and shattered on the grimy wooden floor. A small, smoked brown bottle of morphine was about to follow the fate of the syringe, but he quickly caught the precious liquid, untying the leather belt from his left bicep with a practiced movement. Normal circulation returned as he rolled down his sleeve and returned the silver monogrammed cuff link to his frayed dress shirt. He buttoned up his vest and slipped on his jacket. Wallingham & Sons were the finest tailors in London. If his suit had been made by anyone else, it would have disintegrated ten years ago. Vanity dies hard, Seward thought to himself with a humorless chuckle.
He had to hurry if he still wanted to make the train. Where was that address? He had put it in a safe place. Now, when he needed it, he could not recall where exactly that was. He overturned the straw-filled mattress, inspected the underside of the wobbly table, and peered under the vegetable crates that served as dining chairs. He sifted through piles of aged newspaper clippings. Their headlines spoke of Seward's current preoccupation: gruesome stories of Jack the Ripper. Autopsy photos of the five known victims. Mutilated women posed, legs open, as if waiting to accept their deranged killer. The Ripper was deemed a butcher of women—but a butcher is more merciful to the animals he slaughters. Seward had reread the autopsy notes countless times. Loose pages of his theories and ideas written on scrap paper, torn cardboard, and unfolded matchboxes fluttered around him like windblown leaves.
The sweat flowing from Seward's brow began to sting his bloodshot eyes. Damn, where had he put it? The Benefactor had taken enormous risks to get him this information. Seward could not bear the thought of disappointing the only person who still believed in him. Everyone else—the Harkers, the Holmwoods—all thought he had taken leave of his senses. If they could see this room, Seward knew, they would feel justified in that belief. He scanned the crumbling plaster walls, which bore the evidence of his morphine-induced rants, his wild insights handwritten in ink, coal, wine, even his own blood. No madman would be so obvious. He was certain that these writings would one day prove his sanity.
Amidst it all, there was a page torn from a book, stabbed into the wall with a bone-handled bowie knife whose blade was stained with old blood. The page featured a portrait of an elegant, raven-haired beauty. Beneath the picture, an inscription: Countess Elizabeth Bathory circa 1582.
Of course, that's where I hid it. He laughed at himself as he pulled the knife out of the wall, seizing the page and turning it over. In his own barely legible handwriting, he found the address of a villa in Marseilles. Seward removed the cross, wooden stake, and garlic wreaths that hung next to Bathory's picture and scooped up a silver knife from the floor. He placed everything into a false bottom in his medical bag and covered it all with standard medical supplies.
The train left the Gare de Lyon exactly on time. Seeing it pull away just as he was paying for his ticket, Seward sprinted across the flood-stained building to reach the chugging behemoth as it left the seventh bay door. He managed to catch the last Pullman car and hoist himself on before it had a chance to pick up speed. His heart surged with pride as he made the daring leap. He had done this sort of thing in his youth with the Texan Quincey P. Morris and his old friend Arthur Holmwood. Youth was wasted on the young. Seward smiled to himself as he recalled the reckless days of his innocence…and ignorance.
The doctor took a seat in the elaborate dining car as the train lumbered southward. It wasn't moving quickly enough. He glanced down at his pocket watch; only five minutes had passed. Seward lamented that he could no longer pass the time by writing in his journal, as he was unable to afford the luxury of such a thing. They were not scheduled to reach Marseilles for ten more hours. There, he would finally have the evidence to prove his theories and show those who had shunned him that he was not mad, that he had been right all along.
These were going to be the longest ten hours of Seward's life.
"Billets, s'il vous plaît!"
Seward stared wide-eyed at the conductor standing over him with a stern look of impatience.
"Forgive me," Seward said. He handed the conductor his ticket, adjusting his scarf to cover the torn breast pocket.
"You are British?" the conductor asked with a heavy French accent.
"A doctor?" The conductor nodded toward the medical bag between Seward's feet.
Seward watched the conductor's gray eyes catalogue the threadbare person in front of him, the ill-fitting suit and well-worn shoes. He was hardly the image of a respectable doctor. "I will see your bag, please."
He handed over the bag, for it was not as if he had much choice in the matter. The conductor methodically pulled out medical bottles, read the labels, and dropped them back in with a clink. Seward knew what the conductor was looking for and hoped he wouldn't dig too deeply.
"Morphine," announced the conductor in a voice so loud that other passengers glanced over. He held up the brown bottle.
"I sometimes have to prescribe it as a sedative."
"I will see your license, please."
Seward searched his pockets. Over a month ago, the International Opium Convention had been signed, prohibiting persons from importing, selling, distributing, and exporting morphine without a medical license. It took him so long to find it that by the time Seward finally produced the license, the conductor was about to pull the cord to stop the train. The conductor examined the paper, frowning, then turned his steely eyes to the travel document. The United Kingdom was the first to use photo identification on their passports. Since that picture had been taken, Seward had lost a tremendous amount of weight. His hair was now much grayer, his beard wild and untrimmed. The man in the train bore little resemblance to the man in the photo.
"Why are you going to Marseilles, doctor?"
"I am treating a patient there."
"What ails this patient?"
"He's suffering from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder."
"Qu'est-ce que c'est?"
"It is a psychological instability causing the patient to inflict predatory, autoerotic, antisocial, and parasitic control on those around them. As well as—"
"Merci." The conductor cut Seward off by handing him back his papers and ticket with a deft flick. He turned and addressed only the men at the next table. "Billets, s'il vous plaît."
Jack Seward sighed. Replacing his papers in his jacket, he checked the pocket watch again, a nervous habit. It seemed as if the interrogation had lasted hours, but only another five minutes had passed. He rolled down the fringed window shade to shield his eyes from the daylight and reclined into the plush, burgundy upholstered seat.
Oceans of Love, Lucy.
He held the beloved watch close to his heart and closed his eyes to dream.
It was a quarter century ago. Seward held the same watch up to the light the better to read the inscription: "Oceans of love, Lucy."
She was there. Alive. "You don't like it," she said, and pouted.
He couldn't break his stare away from her green eyes, soft as a summer meadow. Lucy had an odd idiosyncrasy of watching a speaker's mouth as if trying to taste the next word before it passed by his lips. She had such a lust for life. Her smile could bring warmth to the coldest heart. As she sat on the bench in the garden that spring day, Seward marveled at how the sunlight illuminated the loose strands of red hair that danced in the breeze, haloing her face. The scent of fresh lilacs mixed with the salty sea air of Whitby Harbor. In the years since, whenever he smelled lilacs, he would remember this beautiful, bitter day.
"I can only conclude," Seward said, clearing his throat before his voice had a chance to break, "since you wrote on the gift card 'Dearest Friend' rather than 'Fiancé,' that you have chosen not to accept my proposal of marriage."
Lucy looked away, her eyes moistening. The silence spoke volumes.
"I thought it best that you hear it from me," Lucy finally sighed. "I have consented to wed Arthur."
Arthur had been Jack Seward's friend since they were lads. Seward loved him like a brother, yet always envied how easily everything came to Arthur. He was handsome and rich, and had never in his life known worry or struggle. Or heartbreak.
"I see." Seward's voice sounded like a squeak in his ears.
"I do love you," Lucy whispered. "But . . ."
"But not as much as much as you love Arthur." Of course he could not compete with the wealthy Arthur Holmwood, nor was he as dashing as Lucy's other suitor, the Texan Quincey P. Morris.
"Forgive me," he went on in a softer tone, suddenly afraid he'd hurt her. "I forgot my place."
Lucy reached out and patted his hand, as one would a beloved pet. "I will always be here."
Back in the present, he stirred in his sleep. If he could just see the beauty in Lucy's eyes . . . The last time he had gazed into them, that terrible night in the mausoleum, he had seen nothing but pain and torment. The memory of Lucy's dying screams still seared Seward's brain.
After leaving the train, Seward walked in a torrential downpour through Marseilles's labyrinth of white buildings and cursed his timing. Of course, his quest brought him to the French Riviera in March, the only rainy month.
He slogged farther inland, glancing back to see Fort Saint-Jean standing like a stone sentinel in the indigo harbor. Then he turned about to study the Provençal city, which had been built around a 2,600-year-old village. Artifacts of the city's Greek and Roman founders were found throughout the streets. Seward lamented that he was in this picturesque haven for such a sinister purpose. Though it would not be the first time malevolence had made its presence felt here: Over the last century, this seaside town had been marred by plague and pirates.
Seward stopped. Looming in front of him was a typical two-story Mediterranean villa with large wooden shutters and wrought-iron bars on the windows. The winter moon peering through the rain clouds cast a spectral glow on the traditional white walls. The roof was covered in red terra-cotta tiles that reminded him of some of the old Spanish houses he had seen when he visited Quincey P. Morris in Texas so many years ago. It created a decidedly foreboding ambience, even unwelcoming, for an ornate villa on the French Riviera. It appeared entirely devoid of life. His heart sank at the thought that he might be too late. Seward looked again at the address.
This was it.
Suddenly, he heard the thunderous approach of a horse-drawn carriage splashing along the cobblestones. He ducked into a vineyard across from the building. There were no grapes on the dripping, weblike branches. A black carriage with ornate gold trim sailed up the hill, pulled by two glistening black mares. The animals drew to a stop without a command. Seward looked up and, to his surprise, saw there was no driver. How was that possible?
A strapping figure emerged from the carriage. The mares nipped at each other and squealed, necks arched. Then, again to Seward's amazement, they moved off, in perfect step, with no coachman to direct them. The figure held a walking stick aloft with one black-gloved hand, and dipped into a pocket with the other for a key, then stopped suddenly as if becoming aware of something.
"Damn," Seward muttered to himself.
The person at the door cocked his head, almost as if he heard Seward's voice through the rain, and turned slowly toward the vineyard. Seward felt waves of panic and adrenaline wash over him but managed to hold his breath. The gloved hand reached up to the brim of the velvet top hat and Seward choked back a gasp as he saw the top hat removed to reveal sensuous locks of black hair cascading onto the figure's shoulders.
His mind reeled. It is she! The Benefactor had been right.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory stood at the doorway of the villa, looking exactly as she had in the portrait painted over three hundred years ago.