EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR excerpt: “Hammerville” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR

Dracula

That which Dracula feared had arrived at last . When the vampire had been mortal, all those aching years ago, he had not feared death . Once he could never die, it was the only worry that dined on him in his dreams . It was like a husband who does not fear losing love until he holds his new wife in his arms, or a rich man who did not fear being poor until he possessed too much gold to lose . Dracula enjoyed a wealth of wealth, a wealth of wives, a castle that bore his name, and a body that would exist until the end of days .

To die would not be miraculous . He had said this once—a few days ago—in an opera house to a young woman with blood so vibrant it shaded her grey cheeks . He had said it before, to other women, to many mortals, but he had claimed the phrase only in an effort to bring his victims closer to the idea of his fangs in their neck . Had he brought death upon himself, to repeat such an asinine phrase? Had the crucifix heard him and decided at last to take its vengeance? But never mind . It was no use speculating . He was dying . Trapped in the bed of his death, paralyzed in his daytime sleep, and listening to the footsteps of that great bore Professor Abraham Lee Vansing .

Dracula felt his coffin open. He felt the stale air against his cheeks.

He longed to move, to up and run, to aim his gaze at the professor and take the man into his thrall. Dracula longed to fly once more into the night . He wanted to scream, but the professor’s stake settled into the center of his chest, and Lee Vansing drove it in, and Dracula faded into the nothing he thought he would never see .

Dracula woke . Above him, the grey of his castle was a sight for the sorest of gazes . He rose . “Thank you,” he said out loud to the world that brought him back . “Oh, thank you .” He would show his gratitude for this continued existence; he would seek out a beautiful victim . He gathered himself to fly, to become one with his favorite form, that black bat that so frightened . He spread his wings, but it was only a flapping of his arms that occurred. He tried again. He scowled. He must look a fool . He searched about the basement; the shadows moved differently than they had before . He crept through the darkness and up the stairs . He opened a door, and from within the castle, a bright golden light hit him . What mistake was this! He shrieked and threw his cape over his face, but he did not burn up . Slowly, he lowered it . The castle in which he had found himself was not his Transylvanian home at all; it was a place altogether different from anything he had seen before .

It was full of color. Tall light posts held flickering yellow flame that illuminated a great hall. Dracula walked along a stone floor and let the light cast shadows upon him . He held out his hand and ran it along the wall . Instead of stone, the wall was smooth and white and draped in vibrant red tapestries . In the middle of a room, upon a table carved from exquisite redwood, a feast had been laid out, but it was no feast for the likes of Dracula: a loaf of black bread with a little container of butter, a decanter full of deep red wine, and a dead chicken glazed and roasted and with half its neck still attached, limp at the edge of the serving platter .

Dracula’s brides had not cooked this, no; they were far too hungry to remain long in the castle kitchens, and when they served the men and women who visited to conduct Dracula’s affairs and eventually succumb to his kiss, Dracula’s wives cooked stews of chewy beef and sprouted potatoes . They served cheap wine, but this wine smelled like the very vineyard from whence it came .

Dracula approached the table; upon it lay a letter addressed to a man whose name Dracula knew well: Mr . Harker . He had been one of the men present when Dracula died—but then Dracula was not dead after all . Dracula patted down his suit . He had indeed entered a world of color . He touched each white button of his vest, each black button of his suit jacket, then ran his hand along the red silk inner fabric of his long cape . Oh, how pale he looked against the red!

“Mr . Harker,” a man said from the top of a long stairwell . Trombones swelled as Dracula turned . Dracula pushed his hands over his ears, but the sound pervaded . At the top of the stairs stood the man who had spoken, a man who descended in a sweep of long legs . He wore a plain suit and a plain cape that settled still as the man reached the bottom of the stairs . “You aren’t Mr . Harker .” His grey hair was slicked back, and his long horse face was pale as Dracula’s .

“I am Count Dracula,” Dracula said .

“I’m Count Dracula,” the man said .

Dracula laughed . “You mimic me, but you know not what I am .”

The man opened wide his mouth; two bright fangs grew from his teeth . He hissed . “You threaten me,” he said . “You don’t know what I am!”

“Like me .” Dracula stepped back . “Why have you come here?”

“You’re an imposter,” the man said . “What have you done with Mr . Harker?”

“What has Mr . Harker done with me?” Dracula said . “Are you in league with Professor Lee Vansing? Are you in league with Jonathan Harker? What have you done to my castle? What have you done to Mina? She was mine . She had my scent all over her . Surely even a fraud such as yourself recognizes first rights?”

“You know Professor Lee Vansing?” the man said, advancing .

“He is my enemy!” Dracula said .

The man’s face calmed . “He is mine as well .” The man stepped to the table and fell back into one of its chairs . He sighed . “Mr . Harker isn’t coming, is he?”

“I do not know,” Dracula said . “He was here but a minute ago, right before they put the stake—” Dracula scowled . He pressed his hand to his chest, where his suit was unmarred . Had it been but a dream? Somehow, he had wound up in some other man’s castle . Dracula joined the man at the table . “I do not know where we are, or why I am here, but I am not lying to you when I say that my name is Count Dracula . What is yours? Speak the truth to me .”

“I’m called by that name also,” the man said . “But I suspect you are some sort of trick, some distraction sent to me by Professor Lee Vansing . We do this song and dance, he and I . We repeat these scenes . We repeat these lines . Or at least we used to . It has been a while, I admit . I set this nightly meal for Mr . Harker, in the hopes that we will begin again, but Mr . Harker never comes . Perhaps I should not have turned him, the last time .”

“You turned Jonathan Harker?” Dracula felt a lightness in his belly, like the buzz after a particularly innocent woman . “I do not care what your name is . I am happy to hear it!”

“I turned him .” The man took a sip of wine then spit it back into the glass . “Then Lee Vansing killed him . He’s such a bore .”

“He is indeed,” Dracula said . The two men chuckled half-heartedly .

“You are welcome in my castle,” the man said . “But perhaps you should call me Master, to avoid confusion .”

“I will call you no such name,” Dracula said .

“Fine,” the man said . “Then you shall be Dracula the Old, since you look like one of my ancient paintings of fools in your bright cape . You can call me Young Dracula, as my skin is less like ash than yours . You look, Dracula the Old, like you are still in the process of dying, after all .”

“You mock me still,” Dracula the Old said . “You will regret it .” “Do a dance for me, you fool of a man,” Young Dracula said .

Dracula the Old met Young Dracula’s gaze and dug into the man as deep as he could go but hunched against the table, exhausted and unsuccessful .

“You cannot thrall Dracula,” Young Dracula said . “Or did you forget, with your rotting brain?”

“I shall see your death,” Dracula the Old said, but he craved not death for this new enemy at the moment, only a rest in the dirt from his homeland . Only sleep .

Young Dracula stood from the table with a flourish. “We have the same enemy . We have the same name . Perhaps, you’re the visitor I most needed after all . But you are correct, slumped there against the table as though withering away . Sunlight is near . It is time to sleep . You’re a lucky fool. I have an extra coffin.”

Dracula the Old had not the energy to fight; in fact, he swelled with gratitude for Young Dracula’s offer . He stood from the table, and together, they swept through the halls of the strange new technicolor world as a damned saxophone wailed in the background . It was loud, this place, and it contained a Dracula too many for his discerning taste .



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