Excerpt from Harker’s Nights
by Steven “Sash” Scott
The Road to Dracula
I will start my tale where it is the clearest in my mind; it is the beginning of the horror that forced me to finally steel myself to escape from the dark castle and attempt to flee for home. I warn you that this tale is not for the squeamish, though I will endeavor to spare you from too many distasteful descriptions that might offend your sensibility. But understand that when dealing with the forces of evil, there is no sanitation, no sugarcoating to make what I lived through less shocking or brutal, or even as ashamed as I am to admit it, sensual.
It was the last day of my stay at the quaint and picturesque Golden Krone Inn, in Bistrita. I had not slept very well for the howling of some dog that seemed right under my window all the night long. When I finally arose, I was tired and had no time for anything other than getting ready for the final leg of my journey to Castle Dracula, because I had slept through of the morning. There was a seat reserved for me on the next coach leaving toward the Borgo Pass. There I would be met by Count Dracula’s private coach and taken the rest of the way to his castle. Among many things, that at the time seemed meaningless and bordering on foolishness, I was approached by my hospitable-enough innkeepers and probed about the date and its significance. To which at the time it was May 4th, and I remarked so in a manner of fact, for its date held no major significance for me above any other.
“Sir, it is St. George’s Eve.” The landlady said this in a tone hushed with foreboding.
She was a silver-haired and plump woman, full in back without the need of a bustle, the very caricature of a kindly grandmother, with demeanor to suit. Everyone in Bistrita called her Mother Gothel, which means Godmother in German. How that name came to be in the mountains off Transylvania may have to do with her parentage. Typically she wore a green or blue tunic over her white blouse, green dress with white or yellow full apron. Today it was green dress and tunic with white apron.
I confessed that I had no knowledge of what the date signified there in Transylvanian, though there is, I know, here in England one St. George that went about doing all manner of good deeds, dragon slaying and converting folks to Christianity. The later for which he was martyred because he refused to persecute his fellow Christian brothers.
With chagrin I confess to you, dear reader, that I am not a church service attendee of any regularity, but I do know the hymn of St. George, having been taught it by my grandmother who was of some considerable religion. I know there also exists a Royal Society of St. George that encourages the celebration of this noble character and the displaying of flags or crosses adorned with his symbol; a red cross. It was, if I remember correctly, started by a farmer named Howard Ruff a few years ago, in 1894, and is of no real political standing. Chiefly St. George’s Day is celebrated on the 23rd day of April in England.
I said none of this to the innkeepers as I was not of a mind for small talk at that moment and it would have taken up time well spent traveling to my destination. Night would be coming all too soon and I wanted to have some time to converse with my host before the hour grew too late and we would be forced to retire. It is not every day one gets the opportunity to keep company with nobility of a foreign land.
But being there no need to behave in any way dismissive to the kind people that I had been privileged to take up lodging with, I asked of them what import St. George had in this part of the world, for it is known that the man was widely traveled, and his acts of kindness and mercy were varied among the countries and lands of the world.
The old husband answered for his wife as best he could in German, which surprised me for not a word of it had he spoken during my stay. Through his rolling “r”s and cottony “w”s I made out what he was saying and clearly he was of some passion on the subject.
“For we,” he indicated the village and his people, by sweeping his arms about. “He is patron saint of farmers and shepherds.”
Nodding, his wife mercifully continued, sparing me the strain of trying to decipher what her husband was saying to me, but she eventually became so agitated, persistent and imploring, that she too lost her speech and reverted back to her native tongue, and I could not follow the entire entreat.
“He is liberator of captives, and defender of the poor, physician of the sick. A true Saint to the farmers and shepherds of this land.”
I politely shook my head at them then, believing they were inviting me to some celebration that would take place in town, for I was earnest to get on to my appointment with my mysterious client. Thanking them for their kindness I moved to board the waiting coach. To my surprise, the old woman gripped my arm to prevent my departure. Here I did show English indignation at the forwardness of the physical contact and firmly requested the removal of her hand from my arm. To my further surprise she did not, and at that, my anger began to rise. But her words, in German once more, pleaded with me to stay. Something in her voice and weary, wise eyes gave my ire pause and I asked her why such a thing would be reason enough for me to not keep my appointment.
“At the stroke of midnight on this eve of St George’s Day, the forces of evil have full sway,” she said. “You will not be safe on the road. Do you not know of the path you are going to? Young sir, please reconsider your trip there, to that place.” At that she fell to her knees and took my hand to her lips and face. I was not at all comfortable with the display and entreated of her to rise up. “Please, young sir, put off you journey a day or two.”
I gestured with my free hand for her husband to come and retrieve his wife from this undignified behavior and spectacle. He sadly moved to her, placed is arms on her shoulders from behind, shaking his head at me, and guided his wife to her feet and away from the coach. I told them that it was just not in my habit to inconvenience a client, or anyone else for that matter. Nor was I in the habit of going back on my word, professional or personally.
How civilized I was. And I say this with no pride as I remember and recant to you my behavior toward the only couple that tried to warn me of the dangers awaiting me on the road to Castle Dracula. The wife broke away from her husband’s consoling arm and came back to me as I stood there brushing the wrinkles from my proper and expensive suit. She placed a crucifix and rosary around my neck and kissed it reverently telling me it was for God’s mercy.
“Do not remove this from your neck for any reason, on your life, young sir, on your life. God’s mercy be upon you.”
Back then I had no predilection to such displays of religion, likening it idolatry in my limited world view, because I had suffered through so much of it in my youth when my grandmother visited. But the sadness and resolve in her eyes dissolved any willingness on my part to immediately tear the thing from my neck. So I left it there and boarded my ride with my folio of paperwork tucked under my arm, watching the old woman dry her eyes in front of their inn. As the coach pulled away I could see them cross themselves in prayer, but it was not the quick movements that I had observed before when I mentioned my destination and host in conversation. This time the sign was made slower and with determination.
Thinking back on that kindly couple, I have a desire to return to that part of the country in a small portion of my heart where I thank and love them for the attempt to shield me from the terrible fate that awaited me. There is something to be said, after all, about what we may dismiss as superstition. But the moment is passing again as I feel the cold grip of the memory of those things that awaited me and the evil things I saw to likely drive me mad.
I was not alone in the coach. There where three other passengers, a rather neatly dressed man of some different clothing fashion, a husband and wife and their child. I did not bother to try and engage them in civil conversation. I thought them, at the time, little different than the other simple folk of the area with the same superstitious obsession centering on the “vlkoslak”. It was a word thrown about in hushed tones often when mention of my destination was made, accompanied by the ritual crossing of themselves. It translates into “vampire”, and by the time I had boarded the coach I had heard it oft enough and seen the hand sigils to be quite through with the lot of them.
I knew no engaging conversation would ensue so I kept my thoughts and words to myself. Oddly enough, though, my final interaction with the old innkeepers and their mention of St. George’s Eve, caused me to recall the old troparion hymn my grandmother thought me and I found myself humming it absentmindedly. I say found myself, but in truth, I came to the realization when I heard the child joining in. I had forgotten her there nestled protectively between her parents; she had remained so unnaturally quiet. I took the opportunity to engage her in a sing along, pleased to have the distraction from the monotony of the ride. She kept the musical time by swinging her legs. She was not tall enough for her feet to reach the floor and she seemed glad for them to have something to do. We sang out;
“Liberator of captives,
and defender of the poor,
physician of the sick,
and champion of kings,
and Great Martyr George,
Christ our God that
our souls be saved.”
But as her sweet, childlike voice rose with mine, her mother hushed her with a hand over her mouth. I took it as a rather unfriendly gesture but not an insult. When I looked at her mother to apologize for any intrusion I made have made, her eyes did not carry anger or disdain, but rather abject fear. She seemed genuinely frightened by the little girl’s singing. The father most have noticed my reaction and tried to explain what the matter was.
Apparently the fear stemmed from an old fairytale handed down throughout the region about creatures called Gobblegets. The other passenger sought to correct the father in pronunciation, saying the creatures are known as a Gabbagets. The father pursued the other gentleman in the whereabouts of his upbringing and they came to the conclusion that the creatures were essentially the same. Our text books on evolutionary psychology would tell us that this is not uncommon in places such as these where the entertainment is not of advanced sophistication and bedtime stories are designed to elicit good behavior from children through fear. The stories travel with wandering entertainers, still called bards in those Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the fairytales, having been told often and convincingly enough take on a life off their own and the simple folk, with their superstitious mindset, begin to believe the stories as truth. Of course, I no longer see these people as simple-minded or necessarily primitive, but they are at the least, oppressed by those things of legend and tales. Things we could not imagine but in our nightmares.
A curious thing of it is this; having experienced the unholy darkness that hides in the shadows and ignorance of the world. I will never again discount the lessons to be gleaned from the so-called fairy tales and legends. I believe now that they carry warnings of things long forgotten by civilized man. Things that still exist today and wait to devour those that stumble into their web, for if we believe in angels; can we discount the existence of demons and devils? But I digress from my tale, and you must forgive my lapses for they come with the bitter pill of shame at having my eyes opened to worlds other than our own, that I, in my arrogance, dismissed as primitive and uneducated behavior. Truth be known, those people that have lived with such horrors as I have been visited, could not still be alive if they did not know how to fight and survive such creatures, even if only through compromise. After all, does not our own history and legends tell of deals and sacrifices to dragons? They are undoubtedly people of courage if not caution.
In any event, this particular story, of the Gabbagets, sometimes called Gobblegets, depending on the region of telling, was recanted to me thusly;
A long time ago there was a woodsman with three daughters. He was a hard man made harder by the fact that he had no sons to help him with his cores of cutting wood and hunting for food. There were no prospects of obtaining another wife to try again. All he had were three daughters that did nothing without singing. They sang songs that their mother taught them before she died and one song in particular was their favorite. The noise of their singing and chatting, as young girls do so much more than boys, drove the man to near madness for though their voices where angelic, the constant cloying grated on his misery. In his selfishness, for he thought no one should be happy if he were not, he gagged each girl’s mouth with leather straps so that they could not sing or close their mouths to eat. If the girls tried to remove their gags on their own, they were subject to merciless beatings. The sound of singing came no more to the cabin and silence settled there like an ugly weight, for the father was not a man of many words and he had nothing to say to the three burdens his wife left him with.
What the woodsman had not realized was that the beautiful singing was what brought the animals nearer to the cabin so that the woodsman’s hunting for food was not terribly exertive. There was brightness in the woods then, but all that changed when the singing stopped. Without the music to liven the nearby woods and bring the animals closer, the game was harder to find. Each time the father went out to hunt, the later he returned. A day and a night had passed when he brought home nothing but one small rabbit of which each girl had a leg and the father ate the rest, for he needed his strength to make a living, and then back they went into the straps. Their father never noticed that the girls had lost the ability to speak and could only utter noises that sounded like “Gabba-gabba, gobba-geht.” Later and later was the father’s return from hunting, until finally, one night he never returned.
The girls waited and waited, they grew hungrier and hungrier, afraid to remove the straps fearing their father would come home, find their mouths released, and beat them severely. They grew thinner and thinner hoping their father would return. Facing starvation, the girls went out into the woods hoping to either find their father or some food for themselves. Months went by, and then years as they searched the woods for their father, along the way catching bugs they could smash and swallow. The girls grew into womanhood, their bodies lean and pale, their clothing tattered and soiled, their hair stringy, oily and dirty with leaves and grass. Their fingernails had grown strong as bone and the straps and grown into the skin of their mouths unable to be removed now.
The girls had been seen from time to time killing and drinking the blood of small animals after they clawed open its flesh. One hunter said he saw the girls take down a stag by working together like a wild pack of wolves. Not a word could they speak, only call out in their strange version of language, “Gabba-gabba, gobba-geht.”
Their legend passed among the villages of the mountains as cattle would sometimes be found clawed and drained of blood. The girls were uncatchable because their senses had grown as keen as any predatory animal’s and they knew the smell of man, so unlike theirs now, that they would flee before the hunting party could get close enough to see them. All that was ever found of them was the bones and carcasses of their desiccated prey. The girls lived out their lives away from people and stayed to the woods and outer edges of inhabited places, glimpsed as movement out of the corner of an unwary eye.
One day they’re ears picked up the faint waft of singing on the air. Deep in their once-human minds they recognized the sound. They followed it like bloodhounds through the woods to a lone cabin nestled near a waterfall, but the falling water could not hide the sound of music to their ears. They spied the small place which had lambs, two horses, and a cow. Inside the cabin they could hear the barking of a dog. There was a stack of wood outside that nearly reached the roof. The smoke from the chimney carried the fragrance of cooked meat and vegetables. The sounds of happiness found their ears, but it touched not their hearts for their stomachs ached for the meal inside.
They waited there in the woods near the cabin, creeping closer as lead by their hunger. The other animals began to get nervous at their presence. The dog’s barking became more urgent until finally it was let out by a young boy. The dog dashed into the woods, straight for their hiding place. The girls made quick work of the dog and had drained it of its blood and other bodily fluids in mere minutes. Their, hunger satisfied, the girls were about to leave when the singing started again and they were drawn closer to the cabin because now, it was familiar to them. They knew the song like a haunted dream of a life long passed away. A ghost of happiness replaced by the hard life they lived now. They peered in the window at the family inside and saw a wife, the young boy that had released the dog, and a little girl. All were singing to the strings of a mandolin played by a man with graying hair and at the sight of him the girls grew excited.
“Gabba-gaaaba,” they called out and clawed at the window. Their commotion drew the family’s attention and the father grabbed his gun to investigate finding the girls huddled together, their tattered rags barley hiding their nakedness. The smell of them was sickening and the man saw their mouths open with leather straps grotesquely deforming them into a permanent, horrible, mock-grin. Their lips had split clef-like, exposing their yellow and rotted teeth and their pale, coated tongues lapped under and from behind their oral restraints. Viscous drool trailed uncontrollably from their gaping maws and slurping noises accompanied their unintelligible babble. They panted like animals, their feted breath puffing out small clouds in the cool temperature near the waterfall.
At this point there was some contention about the identity of the man. Some say he was the girls’ father, who had started another family and left the girls for dead. For this they would have revenge for their abandonment and disfigurement. The girls were additionally infuriated that in this family, singing was permitted and the song they sang was that of the girls’ dead mother. Though in truth, the passenger revealed to me, the song was a common enough tune song by many households as celebration of family togetherness. Others say the man was just an unfortunate woodsman that dared to be happy in his life with his family.
In any event the next part of the story is the same; the girls, who had lived as animals in the wooded mountains tasted, for the first time, the human blood. They attacked when the man shot at them, but they did not kill him, though he wished they had. Nor did they kill the mother. It was the children that they fell upon, ensuring that no singing would be herd from them again. They fled into the night with the bodies of the little girl and boy screaming for rescue. No one ever saw them again.
The tale again differs here with some saying that abducted children are subjected to the same treatment of gagging and animalistic life, which increases the Gabbaget’s number. While others say the Gobblegets dismember and kill little children they find singing in or near the woods, drinking their blood. Either or, the parents hush their children from lifting their voice while in the woods or mountains because Gobblegets and Gabbagets find children by the sound of their singing and the smell of milk on their breath.
The other gentleman passenger found the telling of the tale a source for reminiscing, though the parents of the child thought it better to not indulge for fear of calling up unwanted visitation on this night of evil’s sway. This other passenger was not as indoctrinated with fearfulness as the parents and majority of the town I just left seemed to be. His name was Jouvan Wilksingson. He was by trade a clothes maker and considered himself a bit of an educated man, certainly more so than most of his countryman. It was his desire to go beyond those dark and mysterious lands where progress was slow, to perhaps venture to the places he has read of in books, perhaps even to London. Though his English was not terribly strong, he assailed me with questions on the lifestyles, foods, and fashions of our vibrant capital of which I was eager to have the distraction during the journey. We had to converse at a heightened level of audibility to be heard over the traveling noises of horses, equipment and creaking wood.
“Ah,” he said with found memory. “Gabbagets and Gabrietts. Stories I haven’t heard or thought of in years. Those days of carefree adventure, whimsy love affairs and miss-spent youth while it lasted.” He sighed wistfully. Then nodding toward the parent he added, “Don’t judge them too harshly, sir. They are fine, God-fearing folk, just a tad stuck in the past and ‘the old ways’ as they say.”
Mister Wilksingson was a jovial sort when he got started, and I confess that I found my own mood lightening in his presence. He had a way of engaging those around him and was quite entertaining. I asked of the term Gabrietts he used and his face brightened. He asked the parents if they had heard of any name or legend similar and they declined fore knowledge.
“Well, then, my dears,” he said. “Let me have the honor of joining in bardic tradition and pass along a tale of caution for the young gents and lads that will come to call on your lovely daughter in the fullness of her time.”
He began his tale to our full attention and I share it with you, dear reader, now. I can not explain the reason it has, word for word, stuck in my mind, but this is what I was told;
In the time of a great but fleeting king, there lived a boy known of ill repute.
He had hair of gold and teeth like snow, of this there’s no dispute.
This boy, this lad, fancied the lasses and honey dipped his words.
And the girls all followed his every step in droves, and too, in herds.
All save one, one lone apart, and her name was Gabriette.
She kept away, her virtue pure, and no trickster boy was let.
Now, the lads all knew, and some had tried, but none had found success.
Still our boy would try his croon and swore to all confess.
He tried and tried to no avail, but could not return undone.
So instead he told the lie and claimed the prize was won.
Gabriette was betrothed to a wealthy, Godly man.
And news of her consent had traveled ‘cross the land.
She lost her love and reputation to the lies of one she spurned.
And so to revenge upon the boy her thoughts had scheming turned.
She lured the boy to her place with the promise of true knowing.
A gift he had, to that moment, never seen the showing.
Into her chambers she bid him come and lustfully he came.
But snip she did, his ruling parts and tossed them in the flame.
The girls no longer follow and the gents no longer hinge.
For the punishment for youthful boasting is Gabriette’s revenge.
The people of this land must have a knack for remembering tales, because the father repeated the poem back perfectly after the one hearing and thanked Mister Wilksingson for his gift. I was asked if I knew any legends, meaning nursery rhymes, which I could pass on. And put on the spot, my sophisticated mind was caught of guard. I stammered and began to excuse myself from having any recollection of anything that would serve as well as the tales I had been privileged to hear.
I checked my timepiece in absent stalling, and a memory struck me. Something, again, passed on to me from my grandmother. How I wish she were still alive now, for I get the feeling she knew more about the reality of this world than anyone gave her credit for. Perhaps she would have known a way to combat Dracula on a level of religion that we modern thinkers have purposely forgotten because it does not fit in with the way we have declared to be the order of the world.
I told my companion passengers of this song my grandmother used to sing when she was feeling tired, or “growing weary” as she put it. It was definitely the kind of subject matter that these peoples would appreciate. It is a tale designed to make you take a hard look at your life. But whether the subject character is a devil or angel I had not fathomed, though I confess it had not crossed my mind until my encounter with the un-life of this world. My grandmother called it the Tic-Tock Song.
Tic-tock, tic-tock, comes the man with the clock
No one knows him, nor can love him
Devils ‘neath him, Lords above him
Life, like sand, flows away, just as night turns to day
Tic-tock goes the clock, when it stops, and last sand drops
You’ve had your fun, your time is done.
My fellow passengers told me they had never heard the words to the song before, but the story of it they knew very well. The anti character has many names; The Hour Man, Old Timer, The Holder of Time, The Tic-Tock Man. The story is very basic but very varied in the telling.
A stranger comes to a town or village or church or home, and when he enters, no one can leave, no matter the out they try. Sometimes he has a clock and an hourglass, sometimes he just has an hourglass that he allows to run out and then turns over. He is costumed in whatever suits the story teller, from robes, to rags, to chains. Usually his mode of transportation is on foot, but wings of every sort have sometimes been added to the more fanciful tellings, with a deus ex machina entrance at the appropriate time. To the touch, his skin burns both good folk and bad. He does not or can not speak. Some of the more gruesome tales describe that his lips are sewn together with thick thread and each time the sands run out, someone dies. The moral being; no one knows when their time is up, so when he appears- and the stranger is always a male- the things of your life should already be in order, because the time of judgment is at hand.
It was a dark tale when told in its entirety. The visited; at various moral stages in their lives would either turn over wholly to the base behavior that had dominated their life, or turn to prayer for the forgiveness of their sins. Their deaths did not come quietly, for each person was confronted with, and some condemned, by their sins and failings. The inhabitants of entire villages, towns, churches, and houses have been found dead, and if the reason is unexplained circumstances, it is laid at the feet of this mysterious stranger.
Hearing the full tale of the meaning of the song my grandmother would sing, I understood why, in her devout faith, she strove to never stray form the path of righteousness, the Book of Revelation aside. Was it coincidence that I should find out, so much later in life, the meaning of that song, in that remote place of Romania? I am of a mind now to believe that very little happens by chance. I believe that there are forces at work on a plane ever so much higher than our existence. The thought is both humbling and at once terrifying, for what if Mister Renfield had not had a mental collapse? What if someone else was sent to put in order Count Dracula’s purchase of Carfax Abbey? Would London right now, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, be in the grip of that foul monster?
The good spirits we mustered together were drained away as we reached the end of our time together. At the pass I would have to take my leave and continue on ahead in the coach supplied by my host and my companions would veer off on a different path. They became uneasy and quiet again, but this time even the haughty Jouvan Wilksingson did not have words to lighten the heavy tension. The temperature grew colder and the sky cloudy as if to storm. But the effect seemed localized, as if there were two separate climates.
Fog rolled in, and as we waited for the other coach, our distance viewing became oppressively blocked by its thickness. They all, to the driver, became as angst-filled as deer in the woods and I felt that at any moment they would scream out in panic. The poor child was held so tightly by her mother I feared she would come to harm. Even the horses began to skittishness. The driver hopped down in furtive haste, went to the horses and quickly quieted them, then came to the door of the passenger cabin. His eyes darted to every direction, wide and bugling with fear. He spoke hushedly and directed me out of the coach. I complied, feeling rather inconvenienced. Jouvan protested hesitantly.
“You can’t just leave him here alone,” he said. Then there came a distant howl on the fading daylight. “There are wolves about. For God’s sake man…”
The driver’s fear was escalated by the wolves call. “There are worse things than those to be about soon. The Eve’s hour is coming. Better him than the rest of us if-”
Just then the fog separated as if parted by unseen hands and the driver screamed out a plea for God’s protection. A dark mass seemed to glide into view just as the sun’s rays closed out. Count Dracula’s coach had arrived somehow without a sound of hoof or wheel. The stagecoach was of some well crafted design, a Concord, I believe, but it showed of age. If not for that, it could have been in a museum of transportation, circa the 1800’s. It was an ominous thing all black and covered from any possible light to enter the passenger compartment. The lantern stuck on an extending pole, burned with an unnatural green tint. The driver too was attired in an all black. An unmanagably wide-brimmed hat covered his head down to his eyes which seemed to glint out from under the hat’s shadow like those of an animal. The bottom half of his face was covered by a think brown beard that had coarseness on par with that of an ungroomed dog. His cloak flowed almost like a silk robe when the wind bothered to blow, but I would swear the fabric looked much too heavy to be sailed by any gust short of a gale. The skin of his hands was as stark as the purest porcelain as they held the reigns of two powerful and gigantic, black mares.
The town’s driver cried out, “Ordog!” and scurried around the rear of his passenger coach to the far side of the reign-nest but did not climb up. He whined there, behind the coach like a whipped dog. This seemed to amuse the coachman I think, for I believe he smiled, though the action looked to me more like what canines do when they bear their teeth as a warning.
Jouvan, who had started to exit the coach to try and persuade the town’s driver to reconsider leaving me, had stopped, transfixed on the step. His face blanched and he dry-mouthed one stammering word.
“Vlkoslak.” Then he fell back inside.
I could hear the mother and father praying for God’s protection inside. I was dumbfounded by the activity around me. Dracula’s coachman looked at them all, and I mean to say I had the notion that he peered through the coach itself, to the occupants inside. Pointing a gnarled finger at me he directed me to advance.
“Come,” he said with a voice devoid of all life and emotion. It was the coldest thing I had ever heard before meeting Dracula himself. The voice was not only in my ears but it resonated in my skull. The feeling was most uncomfortable and I had the compulsion to do as I was bid not because of any control it had over me exactly, but because the only way to rid myself of its intrusion on my brain, was to move in that direction.
I found myself stammering as I tried to explain that I had a piece of luggage that should accompany me. Dracula’s coachman snapped the reigns and the mares glided forward, again without sound. I tried to fathom how this was possible because the trip to the pass had been noisy with hoof steps, carriage springs and creaking wood. I could see no dampening padding or extra equipment that was out of the ordinary, not that I am by any stretch, an authority on stagecoach design. My concentrated distraction by the oddness of the lack of sound seemed to break the hold of whatever had been pressing on my mind.
When I looked back up toward the coachman, intending to remark on the soundless marvel, I was met with an impatient sigh that bordered on an actual hiss of panther-like irritation. Again the white finger pointed, but this time it indicated the open cabin door that I was to enter. I remember my immediate reaction was directed toward this rude behavior, as the coachman had yet to identify himself nor did he have the courtesy to come down and hold the door open.
When I noticed the open cabin door and the candle light from within, I supposed that there was a passenger inside, perhaps the Count himself that had opened the door. If that were the case I intended to make a complaint to him about his coachman’s behavior. It never occurred to me that the door could have been opened in any other, or supernatural way, even when upon entering, I found no one there. This phenomena I assigned to the age of the stagecoach itself, thinking that the latch was probably loose. But of course, when I tried it for security, it was in perfect order.
I put my head back out to speak to the coachman about which bag was mine, but the fog had blown in thicker. The greenish glow of reflected lamplight on the misty vapors obscured my view. I could only make out the dark shapes of the coaches and animals. Suddenly there was a quick movement overhead as if something had jumped across the tops of the coaches, from one to the other. The fog blew thin again and I could see only the coachman in his seat.
“Go,” he said to the others, motioning with a jerk of his head.
The town’s driver leapt into his seat with a squeal and thanks to God for His mercy, he snapped the reigns shouting urgently for his horses to take them away. They rattled off into the fog and when no further sound of them drifted back to us, the coachman turned us around and headed up the pass to the castle. I only know this because I had my head out of the window watching. When Count Dracula’s stagecoach began to move, to my further astonishment, not only was there no sound of horses or coach, but there was no indication of movement to be felt from inside the cabin. With the windows closed I could swear the coach was standing still. After a moment I looked outside the window to see if we were in fact still moving and almost immediately wish I had not made the choice. The stage coach was moving at an alarming rate of speed and the pass was not very wide with space. I could see the sheer drop of the mountain just outside, that coupled with the speed sent my head to dizziness and I had to close my eyes to steady.
With my head out I could hear the occasional snap of the reigns as the coachman drove the horses on to even greater speeds. The silently trudging equines panted fiercely. The lamp on the pole ahead of them glowed to light their way, but I thought I saw through some trick of the light and mist that flames spat from the noses of those racing beasts. We were moving so fast that I thought my face would freeze from the wind. I quickly pulled myself back inside and sat hugging myself against the cold and the prospect of falling down of the mountain if one of the wheels should slide off the edge.
Riding in terror of the unknown is nerve-wracking enough, but to do so without the sensation of movement was maddening. My mind wondered if I would even know if the stagecoach had gone over the edge. I could have been falling to my death at that very moment and would have been none the wiser. There was a pressure in the atmosphere slowly squeezing in on me. My anxiety grew because it felt as if the world were waiting for something to happen. Unconsciously, I looked at my pocket watch to see the face of my fiancé, I hoped not for the last time. Just then the hour hand made one final tic and the stroke was midnight. Form the coachman’s seat there came an inhuman howl that blared out from the darkness all around into the night, followed by the coachman’s shout.
“It is time! IT- IS- TIME!”
At first I was confused and thought that we may have gone over. My heart jumped and beat so heavily I feared that on top of falling to my death, I would have a heart attack. I held my breath and waited for the final, fatal impact. I expected to see the walls of the stagecoach collapse in and shatter as my final sight. Thankfully, that was not the case. After a while I managed enough courage to try another peek outside. Again I regretted the decision. We were no longer on the thin pass, but traveling through the dark woods, lit by rays of ghostly moonlight. We were no longer moving at blinding speed. Movement caught my eye down toward the road and I saw running next to us a pack of shaggy, foaming wolves, their golden eyes hungrily peering up at me. I gasped and pulled back in. I don’t know why, but I felt the need to warn the coachman, so I slid open the call screen.
To my astonishment, the seat was empty expect for the coachman’s clothes and hat. The reigns were tied to the post. In a panicked state I imaged that the wolves had eaten him. Then I realized that there was no way the wolves would have been able to leap onto the seat, let alone kill a man the size of the coachman without a sound from either side and leave behind his clothes, untorn or unbloodied. Having conquered that ridiculous thought I then fully realized that no one was at the reigns. My panic rose anew.
I could not call for help. I could not try to climb out and up on to the driver’s box without fear of falling and landing in the midst of those wolves. I could not grab the reigns from where I was, my arm did not reach. I thought perhaps the coachman was knocked out of the box by a low-hanging tree limb, but that still left the matter of his clothes. Again I thought of jumping from the runaway coach, but thought better of it knowing that wolves were around. If I injured myself in the landing, I would not be able to defend myself. There was nothing on hand to use to try and hook the reigns. The wheel break was out of the question too as it was in the driver’s box. Just then, the coachman was back in the box, his bare feet muddy as if he had been running and the strong musk of dog fur wafted in through the screen. I closed the partition as the coachmen re-clothed himself, not wondering why he was naked, but thankful that I wasn’t going to die just then.
Steven is a writer of action fiction and illustrator of children’s books and independent comics. As a matter of fact, he is also the creator of Dove Style Magazine’s logo!