From Egypt to England’s temperate plain, and now to Africa’s southernmost tip…
The megabat Bistritz snagged his claws in dirt and ice as another vicious wind threatened to brush him away. Crystals and snow clods, like translucent jimmies, entrenched themselves in his fur. This was the dust of Old Man Winter’s broom, gusty sweep; never does he stop his old man schedule. He does not even answer holophone calls.
Snow smacked the castle’s one window, whereat Dracula whirled the captain’s wheel with a remarkably weary look. Dracula had steered Bistritz through Cape Agulhas for three hours now—so long, he feared, that the bat might have perceived it as punishment! And he himself had been keyed up for more hours still, preparing meals and homestead for his guests, and every fifteen minutes making a long and desperate call to his next location. If only his South African friend, that aging companion once so dear to him, would answer to give him a precise address!
As his eyelids grew heavy for the someteenth time, there came the ring of an alarm he had set, an egg timer now buried under stacks of books, all shifting, suffocating the floor, as the bat teetered and struggled. Time to set out the supper.
At least those within the Castle Dracula remained as peaceful and snug as bugs in rugs. A similar egg timer rang in the drawing room, that being a fancy chamber meant to facilitate nineteenth-century speed dating, but handy for all manner of chitter-chatter. Adam and Robert vacated; Trials was elsewhere, sniffing about. The dry man and the damp man found the dining room as full of delectables as before: heavy with halibut, pungent with pork, screaming with salads.
Robert took his place with an admirational whistle. Not one but three distinct smorgasbords, lovingly cradled by trays of fine porcelain, were his, laden with meatballs, open-faced duck sandwiches, provolone sliders, and glittered slices of ham.
He knew Dracula had come by the resonant slurp that ran through the wine glasses; in an instant there he was, the head vampire at the head of the table.
“Impressive, spread. Only, you, forget…me, not, eat, meat.”
Dracula was close to nodding off. His reply was quiet: “What?”
“Er…” said the fishlike man, rubbing his finnish ear appendage. “My, side, meat, but—”
“Oh!” bellowed Dracula; the shock of the moment awakened him! He leapt to his feet and began to speed-walk to Robert’s side; given the table’s length, this would take a while. “Apologies, dear Robert! What a grave mistake—must not have been thinking, my mind was elsewhere—”
Robert laughed it off. “No, trouble, really! You, go, relax.”
Adam was watching the scene from the far end. Though tired himself from another sleepless day/night/eventide, the quiet comfort of the castlebat’s depths had at least afforded some semblance of respite. The Baptism of Blood was not done changing him; his eyesight grew sharper by the moment so that, with his potent facial lenses, he now saw the whole table in a fair amount of detail.
Standing and clearing his throat, he announced, “Kindly excuse me. No culinary error has been made, only…Robert, you seem to be at the wrong seat.”
Reader, you already have an inkling of the layout of the table and the sitters thereat. While the vampires had stations at either end of the seriously long slab, Robert and Trials were to sit precisely in the middle, facing each other. So in the middle sat Robert, and in the same middle, Trials would join. Swapping seats was as easy as crawling underneath the table.
Dracula, panting from sheer stress and worry, reached Robert’s chair. He peered across and saw that Adam was right. “Phew! Then I did not forget, though so much is on my mind! Please, take Trials’ unclaimed seat.”
And so he did. Now Robert laid claim to a scenic vista of tofurky double-deckers. So many of them, in fact, that he could not help but be disappointed in the display’s lack of diversity. He did not wish to touch any nerves, not when they were so frayed. Yet, how could he bear to leave the subject be? How, when his new acquaintance Adam was noshing joyously on such daring meats?
He chuckled warily. “Vlad…many, same, sandwich, here—”
Dracula’s cry stunned the scene.
To his own surprise, his fists had clenched. He looked around, gulped a sad and disappointed gulp, and slinked back to his chair.
He proceeded. “I apologize for what you have just witnessed, and for the uninventive food as well. As both pilot and head chef, I could not make time to sift through my extensive cookbook library. Unhappily, I was forced to settle with the only tofurky recipe I knew.”
Robert nodded, choosing not to point out Dracula’s wrongheaded belief that he ate nothing but the tofu product. He said, to sympathize, “Good, you, sitting, down, now.”
With an elbow on the table and a hand against his chin, the pale fiend gave a heavy sigh. “I do concede that it is time for me to take some of ‘the R&R.’ What about…” He quirked an eyebrow. “A story?”
Someone chirped, “The president!”
It was the voice of Trials, the tiny cat—that is, tiny in comparison to the smorgasbords that now surrounded her. Indeed, her head barely surpassed the table’s edge. “Don’t you know the president? Talk about that.”
“That, more, stressful,” Robert grumbled—yet Dracula consented, and began.
“How do I know Igor?” he repeated. “Here is a better question: why will he not know me?”
Adam, who regretted sleeping through Dracula’s first tale, listened keenly. He seconded the notion: “Indeed.”
“I have tried to reconnect, believe me. Igor never takes my calls, nor does he maintain a publicly accessible inter-web mailing box. It is as if he is determined to avoid confrontation of any kind.”
“Uh, he was just on the debates, Drac,” Trials butted in. “He’s a public figure. Why would he take calls from some old chestnut?”
Dracula roiled! “We were the best of chestnu—friends!” he cried. “Perhaps it was not his choice to be turned, to become a denizen of the night, but he followed me willfully for lifetimes!”
“Did he have much of a choice?” asked Adam. “Mayhap he pretended affection to stay in your castle, for the world does not take kindly to vampires.”
Dracula calmed himself. “Listen. I knew Igor, and Igor knew me. He stayed for safety, yes, but for our friendship also. He is a kind soul whose bleeding heart is drowning the galaxy, raising its Blood Werewolf Content to an unconscionable high.
“The moment he left to pursue politics, I knew our bond would never be the same, for never again would we see eye-to-eye. However, it occurred to me seven months and seven days ago that the Igor I have always known is not stubborn to a fault; he is deeply forgiving. Had I wronged him all those centuries ago, surely he would let bygones be bygones. At the very least, he might wish to inform me of my error. And if someone had changed him” —he shuddered— “then a look in his eyes would have me know.
“Soon after my realization, on the stroke of midnight, Bistritz and the Castle Dracula descended on Washington D.C. We found the Brown House lawn pleasantly expansive, and utterly empty; it made a perfect landing pad. As Bistritz nibbled the grassy lawn which seemed to symbolize Igor’s continuing goodwill (albeit shaved down by the lawn mower of political progress), I strolled to the Brown House entrance and knocked. But the sound was quite hollow, and nobody answered.
“I came back the next night. And the next. Yes, for many many midnights did I knock upon that door…”
“Oh, no,” said Robert. He had been hanging and shaking his head for nearly a minute now. “That, lawn, not, parking, space. No, wonder, you, public, enemy, number, one.”
“As you well know, all those who refuse to werewolfinize are regarded as traitors to the World Government.”
Robert did well know, but he still yearned to say, “Didn’t, help, though.”
The yarn unspooled further. “Eventually I said to myself, ‘Maybe Igor is not down there at the door, and maybe his doorman does not work after hours.’ It occurred to me that I had been quite silly! So Bistritz and I instead dropped in at the stroke of midday, myself wrapped in tight, wrappingish, mummylike garb to block the sun. I knocked, and the door flew open—whereupon a tidal wave of guards lunged for me! Speedily I fled, dissolving into mist. Bistritz secured me in his mighty mouth and flew us into nighttime.
“I then said to myself, ‘Well, my face was hidden, after all. Maybe Igor’s guards have been told to greet me if they recognize me. Ah-ha—if I go straight to the president’s office, then he will know I am here!’ So I determined to return and find his oval-shaped domain! Yes, I was to become an intruder in his own home, but for a noble cause, an undying ember of friendship!
“I commenced stealth tactics. One month and one day ago, Bistritz, remaining unseen above the clouds, passed above the Brown House, allowing me to tuck, roll, skydive, activate my bat-themed parachute, and drift onto the lawn. Beforehand I had activated my werewolf blood, as well as applied sunscreen liberally; I successfully merged with a pack of tourists and thus gained access to the first floor. With that small success, my stealth game was over. I confided in a nearby Secret Service guard that I sought an audience with President Igor, my dear friend for many centuries. Where, pray tell, was the oblong office? Would he make time, I asked, for the one and only Count Dracula?
“Many emotions passed over that guard’s face: caution…bemusement…laughter—fear! Terror overcame her when she heard the name Dracula! This was proof that Igor had made no place for me, had informed no guards of our wonderful bond…that the bond had been corroded straight through, never to unsunder. My heart lurched, and broke.
“That guard moved to apprehend me, but I struck her down with a maddening foamy-mouth spell from the Evil Eye. With utmost haste (and utmost fury!) I rampaged through the Brown House halls, alarms blaring in my wake. When guards stood in my way, their colored lasers firing, I tossed my emergency sand and became a tornado top, reflecting their beams, dissolving every team.
“After enough stairways, I barreled through a door, running on…and, not realizing where I was at first, I banged into Igor’s desk and nearly fell backward. This was the very office…the very empty office.
“I roared with a wild pitch and volume not heard since my old impaling days. Surrounded by cases of moon rocks, craters of rage, I tore Igor’s desk with my werewolf claws, bit into the center with my werewolf fangs. His paperweights and microchips went flying, breaking, crashing about.
“When my delirium settled, I surveyed the damage. Now came the regret; how could I be proud of this?
“One object laid intact on the ground, seeming not to want to break: a stack of papers, stapled. In my unreading, speeding, blurry-eyed state, I knew only that Igor must have treasured these papers…treasured them more, at any rate, than me. I clutched the papers tight; I decided that in my castle I would burn them.
“When the guards made their way in, I strong-armed my way through a massive window, where a trusty cloud of bats soon caught my shoulders and pulled me up toward the heavens. Not far in the distance, a rotorless helicopter, heavy with guns, took off and made for me…but my bats were too fast.
“Either Igor believes those papers to be destroyed, or he vastly underestimates me. That packet was the alien werewolfinization plan, which Robert and Adam have seen. Trials, you may read as well, if you wish.”
But she was no longer at the table. The intrigue Dracula had sensed in the curious beast’s eyes, her wiggle-waggle tail, had not been her interest in the story, but her interest in a doodad under the table. In fact, his longwindosity had so bored Trials that she had long since taken to swatting around that doodad. It was a hulking lump of dust.
“Alright, guys,” she said whilst engaged in play. “I’m not complaining,” she added immediately before complaining, “but…can we get a dead bird in this place?”
Robert groaned. Dracula chuckled, if only to make up for said groanage. “I asked if you wish to read the werewolfinization document.”
“I’m out of practice,” she mewed. “The last words I remember reading and comprehending are ‘Ye Olde Cat Food.’”
“Very well,” he dracquiesced. And he looked up to see Robert bent and pensive in his seat; Trials suddenly absent, leaving the dust hunk in a troublingly visible spot and the majority of her smorgasbords untouched; and Adam sitting rigid, with an expression of startling seriosity.
“Dracula,” said the amalgam, “I am sorry from the lowest depths of my heart, smothered though they are in blood and sand. Who among us has not submitted to fury, wrong though we may be? You give every impression of a just parent unjustly abandoned. Indeed, it seems to me that it is no better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”
“You are too kind, dear Adam…and incidentally, I am surprised that during our whirlwind adventure you have found time to brush up on your Shakespeare.”
“Oh, no,” said Adam, reception of flattery evident in his voice and face, “that is my personal permutation of a quote from one of the very few books I read during my first life, Paradise Lost. As I remember, the quote is, ‘It is lost, lost—paradise lost.’”
The meal continued, but Dracula left early. With a flash of his cape and fair efforts at a laugh, he glided up the stairs…but that laugh was a banshee’s, the cape’s tail a phantom’s black bedsheet.
A bolt of lightning struck so near that the entire castle rattled, and Bistritz let out a piercing shriek. Had Dracula been able to see his fur, he would have seen it standing on end, the bat pricked all over by fright.
“Soon, my friend,” he called out, but the call was but a whimper, and he himself was not certain whom he was addressing: this brave bat, or the man of Cape Agulhas who yet ignored him.
This snow, even through the night, glistened gently under vampire eyes and the mild light of the moon. Now Dracula turned his back to it. Reclining and resting his elbows on the wheel, he surveyed the captain’s deck. He had taken a few things from his study and plopped them hastily in this room, so that they lay scattered and shifting…like the sands of Giza, if sands were huge and mostly book-shaped. Here was a short shelf crammed with cookbooks, spilling at least one every hour; there an antique globe, hilariously outdated, whirling; and here, close to his foot, was a holophone, whose twisting shape was so gnarled and futuresque that I will not hazard to describe it to you.
And there in the stairwell an Adam, his eyes oddly bright in the dimnitude.
“Are you well, Sir Count?”
“Out with it.”
Adam flinched. He blinked, and now Dracula knew it was not his imagination; those were lights in his eyes, two honey-colored beams, faint. Adam drew a tad closer, mounting the last stair.
“What do you mean? I merely offer my comfort, such as it is. I doubt you have slept even a piddle since Giza.”
“I mean,” said Dracula, “that something weighs on your mind, and it has greater gravity than all my troubles.” Adam flinched again, his sun-eyes widening. “I can sense it…and see it. I would tell you to look in a mirror, but—ha! …you will just have to trust me. Or, perhaps, you might feel the spaces under your eyes. Those bags. Are they not heavier?”
He lifted cautious hands to his face, conceding, “I have not slept either, for I have spent my nights…deliberating.”
Dracula felt certain he was hiding something, would have slept if his body would allow it. Sad, he thought, that Adam wished so dearly not to trouble him! He remembered sleepless nights, however, as part of his own Baptism of Blood; they would not assail the new vampire for long.
“I have been pondering werewolfism,” said Adam, and as he revealed a full truth, his speech grew more comfortable; he entered the mode of an inquirer, a scholar. “You are both werewolf and vampire, correct? Do the two states…confound each other?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it seems it is not that you avoid Earth, but that you have no choice, for most werewolves do not sip blood, and can survive with ease in the day.”
Dracula smiled. “Very observant. A true vampire, one who knows his stuff, has ways around this. He becomes the night, remember; he uses stealth to plunder. He cloaks his inability to walk in daylight behind excuses—a fancy castle packed with servants, for example.”
With a hushed gasp, Adam said, “Or a houselike dome covered in furs.”
“You’ve got it!” Dracula snapped his fingers. “Igor has mastered the masquerade. Very few know of his vampirism, very few now living. I do not know how many servants provide for his vampiric needs in that house of his. (I do theorize—as I am a man of science—that the First Lady may be offering her help…or her neck.) Through televised inter-webs, I have seen him navigate the public space. When attending conferences, for instance, he strides straight from vehicle to building, making sure to walk under trees and awnings.”
“Then there are ways?”
Dracula did not plumb the full depths of this final line. He did not realize how cryptic it was, for he had no time to—for Bistritz let out a remarkable cry, a different cry, louder than any he had heard all night. A happy cry! A nostalgic cry, for even to Bistritz this home and its man were familiar.