Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D. J. Belt, September, 2010. Abraham Van Helsing is borrowed from Brahm Stoker's Dracula . Alais is purloined from the Mel and Jan series of stories written by little ol' me.
Disclaimers: Plenty of hanky-panky, of various persuasions (but nothing lurid). Mild violence. In other words, typical Victorian English goings-on.
Comments: I can be reached at email@example.com. If you liked it, don't be shy to write.
Misc.: Everybody's doing vampire stories these days. I thought I'd do one, too. Here's my humble offering to the genre.
“Stop here. We must do this quickly, yes?”
Professor Doctor Van Helsing's eyes were wild, alive with the thrill of the hunt and its imminent, climactic end. He looked at his assistant. “Do you have the kit?”
“Sure, Doc.” His assistant, Jacob, threw open a worn leather satchel. He withdrew a mallet and a long, pointed stake.
The doctor's eyes shifted to Alais. The gusts of wet wind which whistled through the churchyard cemetery blew the hood of her cape askew, and she allowed it to fall away as she held up a crowbar. “For the coffin lid,” she said.
“Good, good,” he muttered, then studied her. Tendrils of thick blonde hair blew about her face. “I do believe that you possess a timeless quality about you.”
“Imagine that,” Alais said, then recovered herself and blinked her eyes in surprise. “I mean, thank you.” She pouted, an endearing little pout. “I think. It's the crow's feet around my eyes, isn't it? Shit. I'm getting old.” She studied her face in the reflection of a water puddle. “I simply must do something about that.”
“Not now, for the love of God,” Van Helsing muttered. “Come, darkness falls early these days. We must be finished soon.” He pulled a silver crucifix from his coat pocket, held it aloft, and led his companions toward a mausoleum. Ancient, its marble shone gray through the tangles of ivy which partially obscured it. The metal doors, weathered and discolored, were closed, but the absence of leaves and dirt on the stones in front of the crypt showed that the door had recently been used. They paused before the door.
“Open it,” Van Helsing whispered. Jacob leaned against the door, and it did not budge. He grunted and shoved with increasing force, but the doors would not move. After a moment, he shrugged.
“Bloody locked, ain't it?”
“There is no time. Push, all of you.” The doctor leaned against the doors, and Jacob joined him in renewed effort. The doors squeaked, but did not open.
“Put your back into it,” Van Helsing growled.
“I'm bloody tryin', Doc. She ain't budging.”
Alais sighed, then stepped between them. “Let a girl do it,” she said. As the two men snickered, Alais grasped the latch and pulled. The door swung outward easily. She raised her lantern, smiled sweetly at them, and walked inside.
Van Helsing huffed and shot a glare at Jacob. He shrugged in answer, then glanced toward Alais. “Here, then,” he said. “Always the smarty-knickers, aren't ya?”
She pointed toward the door-jamb. “The hinges are on the outside. The door opens out, not in. Duh!” She watched them as they shot accusatory glances at each other, then said, “Come on, boys.” Her face assumed a sinister, wild expression, and her voice took on a low growl. “There's bloody, unholy work ahead of us. Vam-peers to stake. Come, my friends.” Then, she giggled like a schoolgirl and disappeared inside the crypt.
Jacob laughed, a sound resembling a donkey braying. “That's good, hey? She's got you pegged, Doc.”
Van Helsing blinked in surprise. “I do not sound like that,” he protested.
“Yeah, you do.”
“Do not!” He thumped Jacob on the head with his crucifix. “Get inside.”
Jacob rubbed his head as he entered the crypt. “No sense of humor, that's the trouble with you educated types.”
Van Helsing rolled his eyes. “It's so hard to find good help these days.” He lifted his silver crucifix and entered the crypt.
Alais was motioning toward a coffin, and at the doctor's nod, inserted the pry bar and twisted it. The lid rose a little. Together, they grasped it and flung it open. Darkness peered back at them, along with the vague outline of a form in the coffin. Van Helsing raised his arms in triumph.
“Yes!” he cried. “Yes! We have found you, helpless and asleep in the daytime. In the name of all that's holy, I will end your reign of terror. Nosferatu! Vampyre, lord of the evil undead, die once more!” He passed the crucifix to Alais and held out his hand. “Wood!”
Jacob blinked at him. “What's that guv'nor? You got wood?” He glanced at Alais. “I thought he liked this work a little much, I did.” Alais snorted in laughter at the comment.
“No, you idiot,” Van Helsing said. “Not me.”
“Oh. The vampire, then? Well,” Jacob said with a shrug, “he is asleep, after all.”
“No! I mean, give me the wooden stake!” He snatched the stake and the mallet from Jacob's hands. “To a second death we resign you, evil one! May God have mercy on your hideous soul.” One hand poised the sharp wooden stake over the dim outline in the coffin, and the other hand brought the mallet down upon the stake. The bang resounded inside the crypt.
For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, they could hear a wheezing sound. They gathered closely around the coffin, and Alais held up her lantern. It illuminated the depths of the coffin. Inside, in the yellow glow of the lantern, they beheld a life-size inflatable doll, a stake driven neatly through its chest. It hissed in protest, and its arms, once held proudly skyward, were wavering and collapsing as the doll lost its air. They watched in stunned silence as it slowly collapsed and withered, the hissing air sounding vaguely like a long fart. Soon, it ceased its noisy pneumatic protest. A mop of tangled, straw-like hair surrounded its flattened face, and its oval mouth pointed up like the rim of some volcano about to erupt.
The stunned silence which permeated the crypt was broken by Alais's delighted screams of laughter. Jacob glanced over at Van Helsing, who was staring at the sight in amazement.
“Got to say this, Guv'nor. I like a vampire with a sense of humor, I do.”
Van Helsing turned and walked toward the door. Halfway there, he stopped. “Bollocks!” he said, then resumed his weary pace toward the ebbing sunlight.
A week previous...
The hall was brightly lit with the glow of many gas lamps. Music played, a waltz neatly performed by the orchestral band, as ladies and gentlemen, prominent citizens of the city, gathered and hobnobbed in evening attire, and white-gloved servants threaded through the crowd, holding trays of champagne glasses aloft.
The house's lord smiled as he adjusted his monacle. “Ah, Doctor Van Helsing. How good of you to attend this night.”
Van Helsing bowed to his host and hostess. “Lord and Lady Clapp. Thank you for the invitation.”
The lord turned to the little knot of guests assembled about him. “The good doctor is a professor at our local university. Steeped in legend and ancient traditions, he is. He has spun for me many a tale of intrigue and folklore while sitting at our hearth on chilly evenings.”
Lady Clapp nodded. “Yes, he has. And among his many tales, I find those regarding vampires to be most entertaining.”
“Vampires?” an elegant lady asked. “Do you mean those horrid, blood-drinking creatures of the night?” Her eyes widened in fascination. “Tell me, Professor, do you actually believe in their existence?”
Van Helsing smiled, a smile which did not reach his eyes. “I have seen remarkable things in my travels, madame. Many of those things, I cannot explain. I also cannot deny that they exist.”
Another voice joined the conversation. It was a male voice laced with an accent heralding from somewhere in eastern Europe. “Fascinating, Doctor. And you have actually seen vampires?”
Van Helsing turned his attention to the source of the newest voice. A man, pale in complexion, immaculate in evening attire, studied him with humor. “In my native land,” the man said, “the gypsies speak of such things with awe and fear. It is said that these creatures are most dangerous, with strength superhuman and a lust for human blood. How have you managed to evade their evil so far?”
“They have weaknesses which I have been able to exploit.”
A woman of indefinable years, tendrils of luxurious blonde hair framing a face of beauty and animation, placed a hand on Van Helsing's arm. “And have you seen them in our fair city?”
“I have not,” he said, then added, “as of yet.”
“Well.” She popped her fan open and fanned herself. “I am relieved to hear that.”
Van Helsing studied her, then smiled. “I pride myself on a knowledge of accents,” he said. “But I cannot place yours.”
Lord Clapp spoke. “Doctor Van Helsing, may I present Mrs. Alais Stephanos, once of Greece, and now of our city.”
“Charmed.” He nodded to her, a courteous little bow, and she replied with a smile and a curtsey.
“As am I.”
“Your husband is not here?”
“I am widowed,” she explained. About a hundred times over, she added in her silent thoughts.
“I am so sorry.”
She shrugged. “Easy come, easy go.” She shot him a charming smile. “I look forward to hearing more about these creatures, Doctor. Excuse, please. My lord, I have promised this dance to your son.” With that, she expertly glided away from the crowd and headed toward the far end of the hall.
“A charming woman,” Van Helsing said. “But there is something almost timeless about her, is there not?”
The count replied, “She hails from an ancient family in Greece, she tells me. I know little else about her. She has recently–and mysteriously–appeared in our city and has since charmed us all with her gentle manner.” He noticed a servant standing nervously near his elbow, and directed his attention to the man. After a short, whispered conversation, Lord Clapp returned his attention to his guests. “Excuse me, please. The duties of the household call. One of my servants, it seems, has suddenly taken rather ill.”
Van Helsing said, “May I be of service?”
“You are a medical man. I would be grateful.”
“What is your considered opinion, Doctor?” Lord Clapp asked.
Van Helsing straightened up. Before him, a servant-girl was seated on a stool, slumped against a wall near the pantry. She was pale and unmoving. The butler stood nearby, wringing his hands in worry. Other servants hovered at a distance, and a little knot of guests were gathered, watching the scene play out.
“She is extremely pale and clammy,” he observed, “and her pulse is weak. Perhaps her carotid pulse would reveal more.” He moved her hair aside, then gasped in horror. On the side of her neck, two holes were evident, a trickle of blood surrounding each hole. “Oh, my. This is very serious. My lord, we must speak in private. Move the girl to her room and keep her attended at all times.” He caught the nobleman by the arm and led him away. The knot of guests began whispering in speculation as they broke up to return to the ball. Two remained behind, the man with the east European accent and a striking, black-haired young woman, his companion. Their eyes met. Her voice, the merest whisper, was meant for his ears alone.
“Jerk,” she said.
“So sue me. I was hungry.” He demurely stifled a soft burp.
“At least you left her alive.”
He shrugged. “I wasn't that hungry.”
“I am.” She forced a smile and grasped his arm. “Let us leave. I feel the need–“
“The need...to feed?”
She cast him a sarcastic glance. “Funny, funny. Come, dear. Perhaps there's an all-night diner open.” She paused a beat, then added, “With a scrumptious waitress.”
As they left, he said, “Perhaps we could rob the blood bank for you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, you're a laugh riot.” She considered the jest, then raised an eyebrow in thought. “Perhaps we could, as you decided to dine without me.”
Alais watched them leave. Got you, she thought. I've been keeping my eyes open for you for a hundred years now. She smiled at the next thought. What does that pain-in-the-ass British detective keep saying? The game is afoot? Lovely. Time passes slowly for an immortal, and I've been ever so bored lately. This will be delightful fun.
With that thought echoing in her mind, she cast a glance about her to assure herself that she was alone. Then, she nodded her head, a quick little nod, and disappeared in a flash of ozone.
Van Helsing brooded as he sat alone in his study, his bow-tie loose and a glass of wine at his elbow. Nosferatu, he wondered, here? They strike closer to home every year. But who? And where is their safe haven? I will find them, and I will vanquish them.
His assistant entered the study, and stopped as he beheld the professor deep in thought. “Oh. Hey, guv'nor. I didn't know you were up this late.”
“Jacob,” Van Helsing said. “I fear we are once more into the breach.”
“Huh? Speak English, Doc. I flunked classic literature.”
The professor sighed. Thick-headed twit. “I have seen evidence tonight of vampyre activity in our city.”
“Bloody hell. I was just going to ask for a holiday.”
“The undead take no holiday. This is a holy calling. You should be proud to be a part of our work.”
“Right. Whatever. By the way, there's a lady to here to see you. A right looker, too.” He allowed himself a donkey-bray laugh. “You must have gotten a raise in salary.”
He sighed again. “Show her in, Jacob.” The young man nodded, and as he turned to leave, Van Helsing said, “And Jacob?”
“Why are you in my study this late at night?”
“Oh, all right.” He opened a desk drawer and handed the servant a magazine. “ Nudist Weekly . Latest issue. It just came in the post.”
Jacob brightened. “Thanks, Doc. You're a pip. I don't care what they say about you.”
“What do they say about me?”
“That you're as daffy as a prince.” At his boss's raised eyebrow, Jacob continued, “You know. Daffy as a prince. Those princes were all looney bins, the lot of them. Inbreeding, and all that. Good thing they ruled countries; they couldn't hold down a real job.”
Van Helsing rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I know what you were referring to. Show the lady in, please.”
“Oh. Right, guv'nor.” With that, he left.
A moment later, the door opened. Alais stood at the entrance to the study, a cloak over her evening clothes. They eyed each other for a moment, and Van Helsing rose. “Please, enter and be seated. Ah, Mrs. Stephanos?”
Alais walked across the soft Persian carpet and halted near the hearth. “Alais will do, Professor.” She swept her cloak off, and Van Helsing lifted it from her hand. “I have,” she said, “a recurring problem with which you may be able to render me a great service.”
“Ah, perhaps you're in need of the latest medical device? I just received it from a colleague in America. They use it there to treat cases of female hysteria. It's the neatest little gadget; you just wind the clockspring mechanism, and it vibrates with a most soothing motion.”
Alais giggled. “No. Not that, Professor.” She motioned toward the overstuffed chair across from his. “May I?”
She sat, and began speaking as he placed a glass of wine in her hand. “I thought you might help rid me of a most irritating vampire.”
Van Helsing, who had seated himself, sat bolt upright. “A vampyre?”
She shrugged. “I say potato, you say po- tah -to. So, are you interested?”
“Please, tell me the story. You have my full attention.”
“Except for your eyes, which are on my boobs.”
“Oh. Sorry.” He raised his eyes to her face as he blushed. “As a doctor, the study of anatomy fascinates me.”
“Yes. I should think so.” She sipped her wine. “I was once worshipped for my beauty, you know.”
“You're quick. I shall be, also. The story is this: I have been tracking a particular vampire for–” She sighed as she considered how much to tell him. “For a long while, now. He is here, in our city. I have seen him tonight.”
Van Helsing leaned forward, his face a mask of rapt attention. “Where?”
“At the ball we both attended this evening.”
“Who is it?”
“I do not know what name he lives under now. But you met him.”
“Eastern European accent?”
It was Alais's turn to show surprise. “You are quick, Professor. Yes.”
“Then the servant-girl tonight?”
“Him. His companion, a black-haired young woman of some beauty, did not feed. You will have another victim before sunrise.”
“Gott in Himmel! We must find them and stop them.”
“You won't tonight. But listen to me, good Doctor; I have a plan.”
The next morning, a persistent rapping sounded at Van Helsing's door. Jacob opened it, to find two men bearing the limp body of a woman on a stretcher. “Is the doctor in?” one asked.
“Right. He's at breakfast.” Jacob eyed the stretcher. The young woman upon it was pale, unmoving. “Bring her into the surgery. I'll fetch him.”
Van Helsing, in shirtsleeves and slippers, strode into the surgery a few moments later. His eyes were alive with excitement as he eyed the unconscious woman on the treatment table. “Good morning, gentlemen,” he said. “What have you brought me?”
One of the men, burly and smelling of cooking grease, answered. “Sallie, here, is the night waitress at my little diner. I found her this morning in the pantry, like this. She don't move, she don't talk.” He scratched his chin. “She don't look dead, though.”
Van Helsing studied her. He opened her eyes and peered at the pupils dilated beneath the lids. He listened to her heart and touched her neck, popping open his pocket-watch to count the pulses. Then, he turned her head from side to side and studied her neck. When he looked up, his pronouncement was grave.
“Not dead. She has lost much blood. I will examine her further. Jacob, please allow the men to wait without.”
“Without what?” Jacob asked.
“Outside, you ninny.”
“Oh. Right, guv'nor.” He motioned toward the two men. “This way, lads. The good doctor will tell you something shortly.” They left the room, and Jacob returned in a moment. Van Helsing had opened the neck of the waitress's dress, and was examining two puncture wounds just above her collar-bone. He opened a calipers and measured the distance between the two puncture wounds, then read the measurement.
“Our vampire, Doc?”
Van Helsing looked up. “From the distance between the bite marks, I would say that this vampyre is female.”
Jacob raised an eyebrow. “Kinky.”
“No, depressing. We have two to contend with now; a male and a female.”
“That's bad, eh?”
“Yes. They are much more horrifying in groups.”
“So are children. And street mimes.” Jacob considered the patient. “But a night waitress? They just dropped in for a quick bite, huh?” He brayed in laughter at his own joke, then quieted. “Sorry.”
“Yes, I know.” He placed the calipers aside and moved to a little desk in the corner of the Surgery. As he sat and placed a pen to paper, he said, “Take this note to the home of Mrs. Stephanos, please. It is most urgent. Our young patient here confirms all that she told me last evening.”
“Will that be all I'm required for, Madame?”
Alais stretched. Oh, the luxurious decadence of it all. Just like old times. “Yes, Molly. Thank you. That was absolutely delightful.” She leaned up on one elbow and placed a kiss on Molly's lips.
Molly giggled as she slid from the bed. She found her discarded dress on the floor, and began worming back into it. “I'll just make the tea, then?” Alais nodded, and Molly left, her stockings and shoes in her hand. When the door closed behind her, Alais rose and wrapped a robe around her body. A knock sounded at the door, and at her voice, Molly entered again. “This note just came for you. It's from that professor.” She glanced at the envelope, then handed it to Alais. “Van Hell-singer.”
Alais smiled. “If I didn't know better, I'd think you had attended the same opera I did this last week.”
Molly had plopped down into a chair, hiked up her skirt, and was pulling on her stockings. “That bad, aye?”
“That woman's high notes were like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Alais admired the leg displayed before her, then opened the envelope and perused the letter. She allowed a slow smile to grace her features. “I'll be going out after tea, Molly.”
“Yes, Madame.” The servant stood, cast a quick, flirtatious glance at her employer, and left.
Alais sat in a chair and tapped the letter against her cheek. “What a delightful girl,” she said. “And she came to my employment so well-recommended, too. I'm beginning to like this town–and this era–more and more.”
The door opened. “Aye, guv'nor?”
“Where's my coat and hat? Mrs. Stephanos and I must go. And fetch a transom taxi for us.”
“Right, Doc.” Jacob left, muttering under his breath.
Alais watched him leave, then smiled. “Your assistant has been with you a long time?” she asked.
“Oh, Jacob? A year or two now. Why?”
“He thinks you're daffy as a prince, you know.”
Van Helsing blinked in surprise. “How did you know that?”
“He said so as he left.”
“I didn't hear it.”
Alais winced. “Please excuse me, Doctor. My hearing is rather acute.”
“Oh.” He studied her intently. “How odd. Vampyres have acute hearing, as well.”
“So it is said.” Alais tilted her head in question, then considered Van Helsing's words. “Are you suggesting that I'm a vampire, Doctor? Surely you are joking.”
He seated himself in the chair across from hers, in front of the hearth. “Since you brought the subject up, may I ask you a few questions?” At her indulgent nod, he leaned forward, his hands on his knees. “I have been told you have only recently come to our city. No one knows from where; may I ask from where?”
“You may.” Alais collected her thoughts. “Most recently, from Greece.”
“Yet you speak English impeccably.”
“Thank you. I have spent many years perfecting my knowledge of various languages.”
He eyed her. “Lifetimes, one may say?”
Alais smiled. “One may say.”
His eyes widened. “Then you are vampyre!”
“I am not.” She cast him a disarming smile. “I am not exactly human, but I am not vampire, either.”
His voice was hushed, awed, barely a whisper above the softly-crackling fireplace. “Then, madam, what are you?”
Alais smiled demurely. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Isn't it enough just to know that I am not a vampire?”
He raised an eyebrow in question. “And how do I know that?”
She pointed to the window, and the light streaming through it. “It's noon-time. Sun's up.”
“Oh.” He blushed in embarrassment. “Right.”
“Men.” Alais sighed. “So, are you with me?”
“Madam, I am.”
“Good.” Alais smiled. “Shall we depart, Doctor?”
They both rose as the sound of the horse's hooves from the hired transom echoed against the cobblestones outside the study window.
In the darkened room, a wide coffin rested. A servant-girl entered and lit the many candles surrounding it, then left. A moment later, the lid squeaked, then rose. A man sat up, stretched, and yawned. “I'm ravenous,” he said, his thick eastern European accent rolling off his tongue.
“Stinky, too,” a female voice added. She sat up in the coffin next to him, her black hair cascading around her neck and shoulders. “That servant you fed from at the Clapps' gave you the worst case of gas I've ever encountered.” She waved a demure hand as if to dissipate something very unpleasant around her.
“Sorry. Must be this horrid English food she's consuming.”
“No wonder you liked Paris better,” she said. “Come, dear. We must rise.”
As they climbed from the coffin, the servant-girl entered, a tray in her hand bearing two ornate cups. “Your breakfast, Master. Mistress.”
“Such a delightful girl, Anton. Wherever did you find her?”
“St. Fannie's Catholic School for Sl–ah, Wayward Young Ladies.” He lifted a glass and drank the dark liquid. When he paused, he said, “The same place that I found you.” He gestured toward the remaining cup.”Breakfast?”
“Thank you, but I believe I shall drink directly from the source.” She strode silently across the room and opened a door. “Care to watch?”
Anton shrugged as he placed the empty cup back on the servant-girl's tray. After a second's consideration, he lifted the second cup and carried it as he followed the countess. The servant-girl giggled as she trailed behind her master and mistress.
In the next room, a woman rested, half-clothed, on a settee, her wrist chained to the wall. Her complexion was pale, and she seemed exhausted. She stirred weakly, fear widening her eyes, as the trio entered. Her voice was weak, but she forced herself to speak. “Here, then. What're you bunch all about, anyway? You're cracked, the lot of you, taking my blood. And I haven't seen any money yet. I charge extra for gettin' tied up, y'know.”
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the black-haired female said. “I am Countess Anna de Mort, and this is the count.” She motioned to the servant-girl. “Our servant, Jane.”
Jane curtsied, still holding the tray. “And proud minion to vampires,” she announced. “It's an important job, y'know.”
“I stand corrected,” Anna said. She smiled at Jane, then leaned over the chained woman. “And you, dear, are our dinner guest.”
“I finally get to eat something?”
The countess laughed, a cold sound which echoed in the room. “No, dear. We're going to eat you.”
Anton looked at Jane apologetically. “I've scolded her about playing with her food, but...”
Countess Anna passed a hand in front of the captive woman's face as she fixed her with dark, intense eyes. The woman ceased her protests and stared, transfixed. “Come,” the countess said. “Come to me.”
The captive woman leaned forward. “Yes, ma'am,” she whispered.
In a blur, quicker than the human eye could perceive, the countess was behind the woman. She tilted the head, licked her lips at the sight of the pale skin of the neck before her, and opened her mouth. Two sharp fangs glinted in the dim light. Then, she descended to the neck as her captive uttered a soft moan. The count and Jane watched in rapt fascination as she drank, as the captive woman went limp, as her eyes rolled back into her head.
“Wow,” Jane said. “That makes my thingle tingle, it does.”
The count smiled as he returned the second glass to her tray. “Jane, dear, you have a delightfully quaint manner of expression.”
She brightened at the compliment. “I try,” she said. “We minion types, we're the comic relief in these stories, y'know.”
Before them, the captive woman suddenly exploded in a cloud of ash. Her body had disappeared. Anna coughed and waved a hand in front of her face. “Shit,” she said. “I hate it when that happens.”
“You drained her, dear. I warned you about that.”
“I wasn't finished.” She looked down at the pile of ash on the floor and the bench and pouted. “I'm still hungry.”
Anton smiled as he looked at Jane. “New vampires. They eat their weight in groceries, don't they?”
“Oh, bother! Do you want me to go out and get her another prostitute?” Jane asked.
“No, dear,” Anton said. “I think we'll be dining out this evening.”
“Right.” Jane turned and headed toward the door. “I'll just get the broom and dustpan, then.” As she left, she muttered, “Gad! Take out the trash, light the candles, sweep up the hooker. A minion's work is never done, is it?”
Later, Jane answered the rap at the door. As she squeaked the imposing, ancient door open, she beheld a man and a woman standing before her. “Yes?” she asked.
“Are the Count and Countess de Mort in?” the man asked.
“No, sir. They've gone out for the evening. May I give them a message?”
“My card.” The man handed her a business card. Jane studied it, then looked up, her eyes wide.
“Doctor Van Helsing?”
“Yes, and this is Mrs. Stephanos.”
“Pleased, ma'am.” She curtsied. “I shall tell them you've called. Where may they reach you?”
Van Helsing studied her intently, his eyes wild beneath the brim of his hat. His hand flashed from his coat pocket, and he held a silver crucifix in front of her face. “Nosferatu!” he cried. “Vampyre! Aside, I say!”
Jane put her hands on her hips and cocked her head in irritated question. “See here, then. You two aren't Jehovah's Witnesses, are ya?”
Alais stepped forward. “She's not vampire, Doctor. She's human.”
“Human?” Jane said. “You haven't seen my table manners. And you two looneys need to leave.”
“I'll handle this, Doctor,” Alais said. She stepped forward and peered deeply into Jane's eyes. Jane backed up a pace or two, but kept her own eyes fixed upon Alais's face. “Dear, what is your name?” Alais asked.
“Jane.” The voice was dreamy.
“Jane, you're dreaming. It's a wonderful dream too, isn't it?”
“Oh, yes!” Jane said. Her eyes were open, but staring into space. Her voice was soft. “Music, warm sun, and beautiful people all around me.” She laughed. “And the wine is sweet.”
“Yes. You enjoy your dream, dear. We won't be long.” Alais stepped into the house and walked past Jane, who was transfixed to the spot, immersed in her dream. After a moment, she looked back at the door.
“Are you coming, Doctor?”
He shook his head as if to clear it, then stepped into the house and closed the door. He gave Jane a wide berth, walking around her and studying her. Then, he joined Alais, regarding her with a look of suspicion.
“Are you a witch?” he asked. “A sorceress?”
“Oh, heavens, no. That's child's play, Doctor.”
Alais smiled. “Do you wish my help, or not?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Then come, Doctor. We have to examine the entire house.”
Some time later, they returned to the front door. Jane was still where they had left her. A grin was plastered across her face. As Van Helsing opened the door, Alais snapped her fingers. Jane blinked, then staggered as if drunk, and Alais caught her and lowered her to a chair. “Are you all right, dear?” she asked.
“What? Oh, I think so.” Jane leaned back in the chair. “What just happened?”
“I don't know. You looked as if you were dreaming.”
“I was.” She allowed her grin to broaden, and she ran a hand through her hair. “And what a dream!” She sighed. “It was beautiful. Music, and wine, and people dancing, and–”
She blushed. “Oh!”
“What, Jane?” Alais asked.
“Well...” She glanced at the doctor.
Alais understood. She turned to Van Helsing. “I'll be out in a moment, Doctor. Why don't you wait for me in the transom?” When he blinked in question, she said, “Girl talk.”
“Oh. Right. Feelings, and all that, eh?”
He left, and Alais returned her attention to Jane. She smiled sweetly, raised an eyebrow, and waited.
“Well, ma'am. It was like this, the dream was. Everybody was starkers–no clothes–and there was a lot of drinking, and dancing, and shagging of all sorts going on, if you know what I mean.”
Alais beamed. “You were at an ancient Greek festival called a Bacchanalia, my dear.”
“Whoa. Those ancient Greeks sure knew how to throw a party.” She studied Alais's face. “You seem like you know all about it.”
“I do.” She opened her handbag and extracted a silver case. “And you look like you could use a cigarette.” She opened it and held it out.
“Thanks.” She took a cigarette, lit it from a candle at the table, and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “You–you've had the dream, too?”
“No.” Alais smiled. “I've lived it.” With that, she stepped out and closed the door, leaving a very exhausted but happy servant-girl to finish her cigarette and contemplate that thought.
The transom rocked gently as it wound through the city's streets, the horse's hooves keeping a staccato clop-clop upon the cobblestones.
“Nosferatu!” Van Helsing said. “The count and countess must be stopped.” He banged the tip of his cane on the floor of the transom in frustration. “But we did not find their coffins, their places of rest and repose. Until we do, they will continue to feed.”
Alais asked, “But upon whom are they feeding?”
“Prostitutes,” he said. “A police inspector acquaintance of mine has told me that they're disappearing from the city's streets. He's had several cases lately.”
“Poor dears,” Alais said. “They're always the first to be victimized, aren't they?”
“Because they're untraceable. Outcasts.” Van Helsing puzzled over the next thought. “But Lord Clapp's servant? She was no prostitute.”
“Serendipity,” Alais said. “But do you note the connection between the victims?”
“They are all women?”
Alais nodded. “They are all young women.”
“A perverse sexual need?” the doctor speculated.
“No.” Alais turned serious. “Young women are imbued with a vitality, with a quality of life's elemental force which is reflected in no one else. Not males, not older women. They absolutely glow with their sexuality, with their fertility, with the ability to create life, to succor it, to nourish it. It's a life force which is heady in its intoxication, addictive to those who feel it in others. That is why vampires favor the blood of young women.”
“Young women glow with this–this life's force?”
Alais nodded. “It is actually visible, Doctor, to the discerning eye.”
“I do not see it.”
“That is because you are human.”
“And what, madam, are you?”
Alais smiled demurely. “In good time, Doctor.” She folded her hands in her lap and smiled sweetly. “Now, how do you suggest that we go about hunting our prey?”
At the mention of his favorite subject, Van Helsing became animated. “We must,” he said, “initiate contact with them on a social basis. Learn their habits, their pleasures.”
At that, Van Helsing sighed. “Usually, they become fascinated by one or more of their prey. They return in the depths of the night, time and again, to the young lady's rooms on a regular basis to drink of her blood. Her life's force, as you put it. Eventually, they either kill her or turn her vampyre. They will choose one soon, I think, and we must discover her, too.”
“And we lay in wait for them there.”
“Correct. But the unfortunate young lady in question often does not survive the experience.” He frowned. “Perhaps, in my medical practice, I shall find her.”
“Dead?” At his glance, she corrected herself. “Or undead?”
“Presented by their families for treatment, after the effect of the first bite becomes apparent. They do not become nosferatu, vampyre, until they drink of the demon's blood.”
“I see,” Alais said. She thought for a moment, then said, “That is chancy. She may not be presented to you, but to some other doctor in the city. Tell me: how do they choose the young woman who is to be the object of their fascination?”
“Usually, it's the daughter or young wife of a social acquaintance.”
“Then if we move in their social circles, we will find her. And them.”
Alais studied the street outside the transom's window. After a while, she spoke. “I volunteer myself to be the subject of their fascination. In this way, we shall catch them.”
“No! It is too dangerous for you.”
Alais smiled. “I can take care of myself.”
Van Helsing leaned forward, studying Alais. After a long silence, he nodded. “I believe you can, at that.”
“Then it's a deal?”
He nodded curtly, then crossed himself. “And may God have mercy on us both.”
Count Anton de Mort opened the door. The countess swept past him, black hair flowing, feet silent upon the marble of the entranceway. He watched her, then remarked, “Anna, you're learning quickly.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I do believe that I was born to be a vampire.” She halted in the entrance and stared at the servant, Jane. “My dear,” she said. “Are you quite all right?”
“Huh?” Jane blinked a few times, realized that the count and the countess were at home, and bolted upright from her chair, nervously smoothing her hair. “Oh! I– Oh. I'm sorry, Countess.”
Anna smiled indulgently. “Napping, were you?”
“Um, yes, ma'am.” She brightened. “You had a couple of visitors.” She held out a business card. “A Doctor Van Helsing and his woman companion.”
Anna stepped forward and took the card from Jane's hand. “Him? Whatever did he want?”
“What do you think he wanted?” Anton said. “He's that blasted vampire hunter. He's on to us.”
“Oh, Anton! If he found where we sleep during the day–”
“I know, I know. He'll burst in here one fine afternoon while we sleep, and we'll end up shish kabob.”
Anna wrung her hands. “What shall we do?”
As he studied the card, a slow smile crossed his pale features. “We'll carry the fight to the good doctor and his ‘female companion'.” He turned his attention to Jane. “Dear, who was this female?”
“I can't remember, sir. She was so pretty, though, and sweet. She spoke so kindly to me. And then...”
The count and the countess each raised an eyebrow in unison. “And then?” Anna said.
“She looked into my eyes, and I had this wonderful dream about ancient Greece, and–”
“Ancient Greece? Describe her.”
“She was lovely, and she had gobs of this beautiful, blonde hair, and–” Jane was nearly in tears. “Oh, Sir! Madame! Have I done wrong?”
Anton huffed, “She hypnotized you.”
“Who could do such a thing?” Anna asked.
“Only one person,” Anton said. “And I have not seen her for a hundred years.” He pondered the situation, then added, “Until a few evenings ago. She was at the ball given by Lord and Lady Clapp. I thought I recognized her. Clapp introduced her as a Mrs. Stephanos.”
“Is she dangerous?” Anna asked.
“More so than you might imagine.”
“Is she vampire, sir?” Jane asked.
“No,” he said. “Worse. She is actually–” He spoke the next word with distaste. “Good.”
“No!” Anna clapped a hand over her mouth. “Then she's not human!”
Jane nodded. “She seemed good to me. Oh, sir! Madame! Please don't discharge me. I live to serve you, you know that. Please don't send me away.”
“There, there. We wouldn't think of it.” He paused in thought, then motioned to Jane, who stood in front of him. “You have proven yourself a minion of value. Now, you will do us an even greater service.”
“It occurs to me that we could use an ear in Van Helsing's house. I am told he has an assistant named Jacob, a young man. You, my dear, will seduce him and learn from him what the good doctor knows of us.”
“Oh! Can I do that?” Jane asked.
“Of course.” He looked at Anna. “Give the girl some pointers on seduction, will you?”
Anna grinned. “I passed Seduction 101 with honors,” she said. “Come, dear. It's time we had some girl talk.” She led Jane away, and they headed toward the sitting room.
“And for my part,” Anton said, “I will pay the doctor a little visit. Bwa-ha-ha-” His evil laugh was interrupted by a spasm of coughing. “Damn. I never could do that laugh.” He cleared his throat, then shrugged. “Well, at least I've got the hiss down pat.” He bared his fangs and hissed menacingly. “Yes, that's it. Okay. That'll do.” With that, he opened the door and strode into the night.
Jacob opened the door to Van Helsing's study. “Doc?”
Van Helsing looked up from his book. “Yes?”
“You've got a visitor. A Count de Marbles, I think he said his name was.”
“Count de Mort?”
“Yeah. That was it.”
Van Helsing's book dropped into his lap. He felt in the pocket of his smoking jacket for his silver crucifix. Finding it there, he relaxed. “Send him in, please, Jacob.”
The door opened wider, and Anton de Mort strode into Van Helsing's study, his tread deadly silent, his appearance imposing. As he handed his cloak to Jacob, Van Helsing stood and gestured toward an empty overstuffed chair by the hearth. “Count de Mort,” he said.
“Professor Doctor Van Helsing,” Anton replied. “I am honored.”
“Please, sit. Brandy?”
“No, thank you.” Anton sat in the chair as Van Helsing seated himself. “Forgive my late visit.”
“I think it's early by your watch.”
“And so it is.”
Van Helsing's hand curled around the silver crucifix in his pocket. “And how may I be of service to you, Count?”
In reply, Anton studied Van Helsing for a silent moment, then ventured a thought. “You can't win against me, Doctor. I've walked this earth for hundreds of years.”
“And I'll do my part,” Van Helsing said, “to assure that your unholy walk will soon end.”
Anton smiled. “Others before you have said that to me, and yet, here I am.”
“Those others,” Van Helsing said, “were not me.”
“Indeed. Your reputation is impressive. Exactly how many vampires have you resigned to dust now?”
“And I have killed thousands of humans, and sired a hundred new vampires over the centuries.”
“Braggart.” Van Helsing eyed his nemesis. “I shall be watching you most closely. You will not turn anyone in our city.”
Anton smiled coldly. “Are you a betting man, Doctor? Would you care to place a little wager on that?”
“I do not gamble. I merely state fact.”
“Then state a fact for me. Who is your lovely blonde companion? Who is she, really? Do you know, Doctor?”
“I do not. There is something other than human about her, but she will not confide in me.”
“Keep your eye upon her, Doctor. She would be most formidable, were she to join the ranks of the undead. And I,” he said, “can make that happen.”
Van Helsing leaned forward and met Anton's stare. “She is most formidable now. Should you target her for your evil intent, you will undoubtedly learn that.”
“I enjoy a challenge.” Anton smiled. “Well, then. As that pain-in-the-ass British detective says, ‘The game is afoot'.” He rose. “I will bid you good-night, Doctor.”
Van Helsing rose. “Good night, Count.” His eyes narrowed. “We shall meet again.”
“I look forward to it.” With that, he left the study, his footsteps silent upon the wooden floor.
A moment later, Jacob walked into the room. “Are you still cookin', Doc? No fresh holes? Still got all your blood?”
“Yes, I'm quite all right.” Van Helsing suddenly turned on Jacob. He hissed loudly and lunged. Jacob plastered himself against the wall. His eyes were as big as dinner plates, and the color drained from his cheeks.
“Oh!” Van Helsing cried. “I got you, didn't I? You thought that I'd been turned!” He roared in laughter. “You should have seen the look on your face.”
“Bloody hell, Doc!” Jacob said. “Daffy bugger. You scared the piss out of me. What's the matter with you?”
“It's been too dull around here lately.”
“Speaking of that, I need to knock off early tomorrow. Got a date with a cute little lady.”
“Oh?” Van Helsing raised an eyebrow. “Congratulations. Take the evening off with my blessing.”
“Thanks, Doc. You're a good sort. Don't care what they say about you.” Jacob headed toward the door.
Van Helsing watched the door close. He sighed, then sat down in his chair next to the hearth and lifted his glass of brandy. “As daffy as a prince, am I? Well, perhaps he's right. The ex-wife kept saying the same thing.”
The next day, Van Helsing knocked at the door of Mrs. Stephanos. He waited, then knocked again. As he tapped the tip of his cane on the steps, he popped open his pocket watch, then knocked once more. As he was about to turn and leave, the door opened. Alais's servant-girl Molly stood at the thresh-hold, her hair loose and her dress buttoned wrongly. “Aye, sir?” she asked.
“Doctor Van Helsing to see Mrs. Stephanos.”
“Oh. Right, sir. Won't you come in?” She stood aside, and Van Helsing entered. “Here is the sitting-room. I'll just go and tell her that you're here.”
“Thank you.” He cast a head-to-toe glance at her, noted the bare feet and the shoes and the stockings in her hand, and asked, “Not interrupting anything, am I?”
“Oh!” The girl blushed as she glanced down at herself. “Ah, no sir. Please, be seated. She'll be down shortly.” With that, she scurried from the room.
A few minutes later, Alais entered, dressed in modest dressing-gown and oriental slippers. “Good morning, Doctor. Any progress?”
Van Helsing stood, waited for her to seat herself, and returned to his seat. “Yes. The plan is progressing just as we had hoped.”
Alais smiled. “Then I'm to expect a visit from the count and the countess sometime soon?”
“Tonight, if I read our quarry correctly. He considers the matter of wooing you and turning you vampyre a personal challenge.”
“Oh, goody!” Alais clapped her hands in glee. “I shall be ready.”
Van Helsing leaned forward and studied Alais. “I am deeply concerned for your safety.”
“Not a problem. I'm immune to the bite of a vampire.”
“How can that be?”
“My skin,” she said, “is impenetrable.”
“Quite possible.” She rose, retrieved a letter-opener from her writing table, and held it out to him. “Stab me, Doctor. Go ahead; it's quite all right.”
His jaw dropped. “I could never do such a thing, madame!”
“Then I shall.” She raised her sleeve, exposing the bare skin of her forearm, and struck the letter-opener's blade hard against herself. The blade snapped off. The skin of her arm was unmarred. “See?”
Van Helsing stared in surprise. “How,” he asked, “can that be?” He watched her as she pulled down her sleeve. “Who are you, Alais?”
“Isn't it enough just to know that I'm safe from the count and countess?”
Van Helsing shook his head. “Not if we're to continue our alliance. I must know!”
Alais pouted, a darling little pout. “Oh, all right. I suppose I can tell you; after all, everyone says that you're–”
“Yes, yes. Daffy as a prince. No one will believe me, anyway. Now please, madame. A little honesty, if you would.”
As Alais sat, Molly returned with a tray bearing a teapot and two cups. She served the doctor and her mistress, then stood aside. “Will that be all, madame?”
“Yes, Molly. Thank you, dear.” She quickly scanned Molly's appearance and noted that she'd gotten herself back together. She winked in approval, then watched as her servant left. “Delightful girl,” she said. “I don't know what I'd do without her around.”
“Indeed. Now, madame, what is your secret?”
“Well...” She sipped her tea as she ordered her thoughts. “It's like this...”
At sunset, the coffin's lid opened. Anna de Mort sat up in the coffin. “Jane!” she cried. “Jane? Now where, Anton, is our minion extraordinaire ?”
Anton sat up. “I gave her the evening off. She's got a date with Jacob, Van Helsing's man.”
“Oh, delightful. I suppose I have to fetch my own breakfast. Does this mean we're eating out again?”
“No. Jane has your breakfast waiting in the next room.”
“Superb minion, that Jane. Another prostitute?”
“That does seem to be your favorite repast. You know, I'm beginning to wonder about you.” They climbed from the coffin, and the count extended his arm to the countess. “Shall we dine, my dear?”
Anna took his arm, and they headed to the door. “Please. My stomach thinks that my fangs have gone missing.” She opened her mouth, and her fangs descended from her upper row of teeth. “Thit!” she said. “My fangth are out. I can't talk wiff dem out. I thound sthupid.”
“Nonsense. I think your lisp is adorable.”
“Yes. The drooling, however, is not.”
“Kith my assth, Anton.”
He roared in laughter as he opened the door for her. “Our dinner awaits. You first, my dear.”
With that–and a resounding hiss–she released his arm. Her feet left the floor, and she flew into the next room, to the horrified shriek of her dinner. Anton smiled as he watched. “Such an exuberant girl,” he said, then called, “Save some room, Anna. I have a special treat in store for you, later tonight.” He smiled. “A Greek dessert, you might say.”
Jacob stopped at the door to Van Helsing's study. He smiled at Jane. “Just got to check in with my employer. Won't take a minute.” He knocked, and at the voice, opened the door. “Hey, Doc. I'm back.”
“Ah!” Van Helsing said. “Introduce the young lady to me, won't you?”
“Sure.” He entered the room, Jane just behind him. “Jane, this is my boss, Professor–”
“Doctor Van Helsing,” Jane said. “Pleased to meet you again.”
Van Helsing stood. “And you, ah...Jane, isn't it?”
Jacob puzzled at the exchange, but put it aside. “Well, just wanted to say ‘hello', Doc.”
“Delighted that you did,” he said. “Jane, take good care of my Jacob. I'd be lost without him around here.”
Jane laughed. “Oh, I shall.”
“You two youngsters run along, now, and have a pleasant evening.”
Jacob closed the door, and Van Helsing returned to his desk. “Well, well!” he mused. “The de Mort's servant. A coincidence?” He pondered the question, then said, “No. I think not.” He smiled. “The game gets more interesting by the moment.”
Alais left her bedroom windows open on purpose. She'd resigned Molly to her own room for the night, her door bolted from the inside and with strings of garlic tacked about the door-jamb, and had elicited a promise from her to remain so sequestered until the sun rose. Then, she dressed in a thin night-gown and settled into her bed. She knew, however, that she would not sleep. She expected a visitor, possibly two, before morning.
She lay awake and listened to the soft chime of the clock in the sitting-room. Eleven o'clock, it tolled, then midnight, then one o'clock in the morning. The moon, three-quarters full, augmented the light of the city street's gas-lamps and illuminated her windows and her bedroom. But no visitors showed themselves.
Just as she was beginning to despair of not seeing them, she heard a rustle at her balcony. She smiled, opened her gown just enough to reveal her neck, and pretended to be asleep.
“Jacob?” Jane whispered. “Are you all right?”
“See here,” Jacob said, as he lay exhausted. “You've done this a time or two before, ain't ya?”
“Well,” she said demurely, “I did attend St. Fannie's.”
“The school for sluts?”
“Wayward Young Ladies,” she huffed. “I'll have you know that I'm a good Catholic girl.”
“Oh. Right. My mistake.”
She sat up in bed. “Your boss, Doctor Van Helsing. He's quite the character, isn't he?”
“Daffy as a prince,” Jacob said. “Do we have to talk about him now?”
“Everyone says he chases vampires. That sounds incredibly sexy and dangerous. Do you go with him?”
Jacob warmed to the conversation. “I do. We've staked several together, him and me.”
“Goodness. The thought makes me tingle. Is he after any in our city now?”
“Funny you should ask. Yes.”
“And he stakes them where they sleep?”
“That's the plan, usually.”
“Does he know where they sleep? The ones he's after now.”
Jacob looked over at her, sitting up in his bed. The glow of the single candle cast a yellow hue over her nudity. “Naw. Don't think so.”
“Do tell.” She glanced at the sheet covering Jacob's pelvis, dim in the night. “Speaking of stakes...”
“Oh.” Jacob looked down, then grinned. “You up for another go?”
She sighed. A minion's work really was never done, was it? “Why not?” she said. “Three has always been my lucky number.”
Alais kept her eyes shut, but her senses were keenly alert. She could hear the soft rustle of the footsteps inside her bedroom, sense the presence, although she heard no heartbeats. There were two presences at her bedside.
“She's lovely, isn't she?” Anna whispered.
“Enchanting,” Anton agreed. “I shall do the first bite.”
Alais felt a presence lean over her. Gently, her night-gown was pulled away from her shoulder, and she felt a cold breath upon her skin, just above her collar-bone. Then, she felt the pressure of two sharp fangs against her skin, and she heard one snap.
Alais felt the pressure lift from her skin, and she heard Anna say, “What's wrong?”
“I just broke a fang, I think. Shit, that hurts!”
“Oh, poor dear. Let me see. Yes, you did. You must have hit bone or something.”
“Damn. That's going to take a week to grow back. Let me try again.”
As Anton lowered himself over Alais's shoulder, she suddenly came alive. Her hand flashed forth from beneath her pillows, and she pressed a silver crucifix against his forehead. The undead flesh sizzled beneath it, and Anton bellowed in pain. He sailed across the room and sunk to the corner, holding his head.
Alais sat up. “That's going to leave a mark,” she said, as she rose from beneath her bed-linens and stood by her bed. “And so will this.” She swept up the chamber-pot from beside her bed and doused Anton with its contents. He began to smoulder and burn. He let out a thin, anguished scream, then fled through the window, leaving a trail of smoke behind him.
Anna blinked in surprise. “Your chamber-pot? Pee makes a vampire burn?” she asked.
Alais shrugged. “I eat a lot of curry.”
“You're kidding,” Anna said. “Curry does that?” Remind me not to bite anyone who's recently been to India, she thought.
“No, actually. It's holy water.”
“You can pee holy water?”
“No.” Alais smiled. “I was expecting you.”
“Oh.” Anna stood next to the bed, shifting nervously from one foot to the other, then motioned toward the window. “I'd better just...ah...go check on...Anton...”
“Not yet.” In a blur of motion, Alais had Anna pinned to the bed, a hand on her throat, the crucifix poised above her face. She was sitting astride the vampire's chest. “Not until we get a few things straight.”
“Like what?” Anna wheezed.
“Like you need to dump the count. He's not long for this world.”
“I'm a vampire. He sired me. Where else am I going to go?”
“Back to the living. I can change you back.”
“But I like being a vampire.”
“You won't. Trust me on that. One evening soon, you'll wake up with a stake jammed between the girls there.” She glanced down at Anna's breasts. “Impressive girls, too.”
“Oh.” Anna giggled. “Thank you.” Anna studied the face above hers. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Call me Alais, dear.”
Anna was mesmerized by the beautiful, timeless face above hers. For a long, silent moment, she studied that face, then smiled. “And you, Alais, can call me anytime–I mean, Anna.”
Alais leaned closer to Anna's face. “Why are your fangs extending?” she asked. “Do you want my blood?”
“No,” Anna said. “It's lufth.”
“Lufth. Lufth. Y'know, lufth?”
“New vampire, huh? Can't talk yet with your fangs out?”
“Yeth. Ith embarrathing. I thound like a thix-year old.”
Alais giggled. “I think it's adorable.”
“So,” Alais speculated, “if you don't want to drink my blood, then perhaps you want to jump my bones?”
Anna's eyes wavered between the silver crucifix just above her face, and the delightful scenery beneath the front of Alais' open night-gown. “Yeth.” She made a slurping sound. “Yeth, yeth, yeth!”
“Or would you rather die with a stake in your chest?”
“Unh-unh.” Anna shook her head.
“In that case, Anna dear, I think we can come to an understanding.”
Jane kissed Jacob good-night at the door, then shooed him away. She slipped inside and creaked the door shut, then kicked off her shoes and groaned as she collapsed into a chair. This minion business was getting tough. St. Fannie's School for sl–ah, Wayward Young Ladies never prepared her for this. Well, okay. Maybe it did, at that. The priest was going to love her next confession.
She glanced up. “Master!” she exclaimed. “What's happened to you?”
Anton grumbled as he patted his burned, flaky skin with a towel. “I got on the wrong end of a silver crucifix and a piss-pot full of holy water,” he said. He paused, considered her state of appearance, and snickered. “Mission accomplished, I take it?”
“You owe me big time for this,” she retorted, then puzzled over his words. “Somebody's pissing holy water?”
“No. She was waiting for me.” He studied his mouth in the mirror. “I broke a fang on her, too. Damn. Do you know how expensive it is to cap a fang?”
“No. How expensive is it?”
“It's–” He thought about it, then waved a hand. “Well, it's expensive.” He turned to her. “How did Mrs. Stephanos know I was coming?”
“I haven't any idea,” Jane said.
“Oh, bother. I have to go back?”
“Yeah. Why? Didn't you like him?”
“Oh, he's a right sweet enough lad. But holy St. Fannie! I think the bloke's part rabbit.”
“Oh. Tough night, huh? What did you learn?”
She shot him a disgusted glance. “Van Helsing doesn't know yet where you two sleep.”
“Excellent!” Anton gloated, then suddenly grew puzzled. “Where's Anna?”
Jane sat up. “Madame's not yet returned?”
“No. She didn't follow me out of Mrs. Stephanos's bedroom.”
Jane giggled. “Well, Master. There's your answer.” At Anton's stare, she shrugged. “That Mrs. Stephanos is a real lady, she is. I'd have stayed, too.”
“Lady she may be,” Anton said, “but she is also much more dangerous than meets the eye. I must find Anna, but I'm in no shape to go out again tonight.” He paced and thought, then said, “Well, no matter. Anna will have to be in by sunrise.”
“And if she's not, sir?”
“Then she's gone. She'll burn to ash in the sunlight.” He paced as he thought aloud. “And I'll have to find myself another consort.”
“Oh. Another relationship gone up in smoke, huh?”
Anton eyed her. “That was a joke in extremely poor taste,” he said.
Jane snorted and slapped her thigh in glee. “She'll have made a total ash of herself!”
Anton shook a finger at her. “Even poorer taste. I knew I liked you for some reason.” He turned and strode from the room, patting his burned skin with a towel. At the door, he stopped and looked back. “No other observations?”
“She'll have been an old flame of yours!” Jane was curled up in the chair, holding her sides in laughter. She pointed to the flakes of burned skin littering the floor. “And you're acting rather flaky tonight, yourself.”
Anton glowered at her. “Very funny. Just for that, send tomorrow and bring that dentist around. You know the one. He can work while I'm asleep.”
Jane sighed. “Righty-ho.” She eyed the flakes of charred skin on the Persian carpet. “I'll just go and get the carpet-sweeper. You do make a mess, Master.”
He left, muttering, “Minions!”
Anna was perched on the side of Alais's bed. “Alaiff, who are you?”
“No one of consequence, dear.” She smiled sweetly and sat on the bed next to Anna. “Oh, my! Your fangs are extending again. You really do desire me, don't you?”
“Yeth. Oh, yeth! I want you worff dan any perthon I ever knew.”
“That's sweet, dear.” Alais rose from the bed. “If you said what I think you said.” She crossed the room and returned in a moment with an ornate little tray containing a glass, a bottle, and a closed box. “But you know there's a price for my favors, right?”
Anna's eyes grew large, her expression questioning, vulnerable. She sat, fangs extended, her gaze traveling between Alais's face and the tray Alais placed on the bed between them. Finally, she ventured a shy question.
“Um, what priff ith dat?”
“You return to being human.” Alais smiled. “Then you can have me.” She held up a finger. “For one night.”
“I giff up immortawity for one night wiff you?”
Again, Alais nodded. “Trust me, dear. Immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be. And you won't live forever. New vampires get staked rather quickly, you know. It's their inexperience. It's the rare one that lives as long as the Count has.”
“Oh.” She thought about that, then looked up at Alais's face with question in her eyes. “Duff it hurt?”
“Turning human?” Alais laughed. “No, dear. It's a simple thing. You drink this...” She placed a finger on the bottle, then she opened the box. “Then, you eat this, and the inherent magic turns you human again.” She uncorked the ornate bottle and poured out a measure into a long-stemmed glass. “It doesn't hurt at all.”
“I dunno. I'm thcared. What if it duffn't work?”
Alais considered Anna's expression. “You're really not quite sure you want to change, are you? Isn't that it?”
Anna glanced down at her hands, folded in her lap. “Yeth.”
“Then allow me to help you decide.” Alais held up a hand and snapped her fingers. A wicked-looking wooden stake appeared in her hand. “It's either this...” She deftly shrugged her night-gown away from her shoulders, and it fell to her waist. “Or this.” Anna's eyes grew large, so large that they might pop from her head. She sat transfixed, staring at Alais's incredibly perfect assets, as her fangs grew even longer. “Now,” Alais purred, “does that help?”
“To hell wiff immortawity,” Anna lisped as she snatched the glass from the tray and gulped down its contents.
Hours later, Anna stirred. The bed-sheets were luxurious Egyptian cotton, and the pillow upon which she nestled her head smelled faintly of sweet perfume. She had never known such wonderful decadence. She sighed, then opened her eyes. Alais's bedroom was bathed in soft morning light, and a beam of the morning's sun played upon the covers. Next to her, Alais slept. Anna smiled at the sight. Her hair, her skin seemed to glow in health and perfection. How did Alais do it?
The sun was up! Anna jerked herself upright in bed as a thick band of fear tightened around her chest. She saw the morning sunbeam play across the skin of her arms and her breasts, and she sat frozen, breath held. She waited for her skin to sizzle, for her flesh to burn, for the agony to begin, but it did not. She was vampire! The sun would destroy her any moment now.
But it didn't.
Anna grinned like an idiot. It was true, really true. Alais had, somehow, turned her human again. And, good to her word, Alais had graced her with her favors that night. Anna felt a little dizzy at the memories. What a night! She had never known such exquisite intimacies. She studied Alais as she slept. Who was this woman who holds magic potions and makes love with such heavenly abandon? Anna did not know.
A soft knock sounded at the door, and then it creaked open. Anna held a corner of the bed-sheet to her chest to cover her nudity, and sat, frozen in place. Molly entered with a tray containing a teapot and teacups, halted at the sight of Anna, and stared. They remained that way, frozen, for a moment, and considered each other's presence. Then Anna spoke, a soft whisper.
Molly tilted her head in surprise and question. “Anna? Is that you?”
Alais's delightful giggle sounded in the room as she stirred from sleep, a sound like the music of little bells. “Well,” she said, “I see that you two know each other.”
Molly rested the tray on a nearby table, then rushed to the bed and embraced Anna. “Oh, Anna! It's so good to see you again!”
“Molly! I've missed you so since St. Fannie's!”
Molly grasped Anna's shoulders and held her at arm's length. “Let me look at you! My, you look wonderful!” She raised an eyebrow. “Naked, but wonderful.” Molly turned to her employer. “Anna and I were the best of friends at St. Fannie's.”
Alais smiled. “My, my. This gets even more delightful by the moment.”
Molly asked, “Will it be breakfast for three then, Madame?”
Alais purred. “What a nice thought,” she said.
Jane opened the front door. “Yes?” she asked.
A little man with an air of rumpled disorder about him tipped his bowler hat. “G'morning, lass. Doctor McMutt, dentist to vampires, at your service.” He replaced the hat on his head and assumed a puzzled look. “This is the Count de Mort's residence, right?”
Jane considered the large leather satchel in his hand, sniffed the aura of whiskey about him, and sighed. “Yes. Please, come in.”
“I'll be thankin' ya,” he said. As he stepped in, he handed her his hat and cane. “And where is the patient, lassie?”
“Sleeping. I'll take you there.”
“Sleeping?” He blinked. “Oh, aye. Vampires, and all that.” He adjusted his glasses. “This won't take but a moment.”
“Yes, sir.” She placed his hat and cane on a chair. “This way, if you please.”
“Right behind ya, lass.”
He followed her as she led him down a hallway, then down some stairs. In the basement, a coffin rested. She pointed toward the coffin, then stood aside and watched Doctor McMutt shrug off his coat and roll up his sleeves. He opened his bag, then grasped the coffin lid and flung it open. Inside the count rested, his features pale, his form motionless.
“You'd best get me a bowl of water and some clean cloths. And a glass of whiskey,” he said to Jane, then bent over the coffin. He pried the count's mouth open and hummed in that practiced air of feigned concern that medical types affected, then nodded. “Right, then. This won't take long.” He looked at Jane, then shooed her away with a brush of his hand. “Go, lassie.”
“Oh. Right.” She turned and left the room, heading up the stairs. “Bowl of water. Cloths. Glass of whiskey.” She puzzled over that. “Whiskey, for a vampire?”
“You dolt!” Van Helsing roared. “You told her that we didn't know where the Count slept?”
Jacob shrugged. “One says things,” he offered, “in the heat of the moment.”
“Hm!” He eyed Jacob. “It must have been some moment.”
Jacob couldn't help a grin. “Guv'nor, if I'd known your bank account balance and the number of holes in your socks, I'd have told her that, too.”
“I daresay.” Van Helsing pondered the situation. “See her again,” he said. “And this time, you find out from her where the count and countess sleep.”
Jacob brightened. “Right, boss.” He turned to go, then stopped. “Oh, by the way. Mrs. Stephanos and a young lady are here to see you.”
“What? Send them in, man!”
Jacob frowned. “No need to get so snippy, guv'nor.” He left, an air of offence about him.
Van Helsing shook his head. “Next time, I'm getting a eunuch for an assistant.” He thought about that, eyed his medical bag sitting on his desk, and raised an eyebrow in thought. “Maybe I can just convert this one.”
A moment later, Alais and Anna stepped into the room. Van Helsing rose, smiled as he greeted Alais, and froze as he beheld Anna. “Ah, the Countess de Mort?” he asked.
Anna smiled. “The former countess,” she said.
Van Helsing blinked in question, then glanced at the window. “But how? I mean, the sun's up. But you're vampyre!” He yanked the silver crucifix from his coat pocket and held it before her.
“No longer,” Alais said. “Now, she's merely Anna, completely human and my newest servant.”
Van Helsing flopped down in his chair. He mopped his brow with a handkerchief, then muttered, “Alais, you never cease to amaze me.” He pondered this new development for a moment, lost in thought, then realized that the two ladies were still standing. “Oh! Please sit,” he said.
“Thank you, Doctor.” Alais motioned Anna to a chair by the hearth, and she occupied the other one.
For a moment, they sat in silence. Alais smiled sweetly. Anna watched the doctor with an amused expression, for Van Helsing looked as if he was about to either explode from question or give birth to a cannon-ball. Finally, he managed to speak.
Anna laughed. “The magic of Aphrodite,” she said, as she indicated Alais.
Van Helsing leaned forward and studied Alais in undisguised awe. “You really are Aphrodite, aren't you?”
“I haven't gone by that name in centuries,” Alais said.
“But how–?” Van Helsing sputtered as he motioned toward Anna.
“Do you remember your Greek mythology?” Alais asked. He nodded. “What sustained the gods in their splendor?”
Van Helsing spread his hands wide in question. “I really don't know,” he admitted.
“Blimy, that's a first,” a fourth voice muttered. Jacob was standing, unnoticed, at the door, a tray holding a coffee-pot and some coffee-cups in his hand. He stepped forward and placed it on the desk. “That's easy, guv'nor. They subsisted on the fear and adoration of humanity.” As he poured coffee into little china cups, he added, “But they subsisted also on a special food and drink. Nectar of the gods, and ambrosia.” He looked at Alais and Anna. “Sugar? One lump, or two?”
Alais held up one finger, and Anna held up two. “Right. It was said to have special properties, Boss. One taste, for a human, could cure any illness, any deformity. Milk?”
Both Anna and Alais nodded. He poured milk, then handed them their cups and saucers. “Ah, but a second taste! Now that was the ticket.”
Van Helsing was considering Jacob as if he had suddenly sprouted horns and began dancing an Irish jig. “The, ah, ticket to what?”
Jacob smiled as he handed Van Helsing his coffee. “The ticket to immortality, Boss.”
Van Helsing's mouth dropped open. “It can cure vampyrism?”
“I,” said Anna, “am your living proof.”
“But only if the one so afflicted wishes to be returned to human form,” Alais added.
“And what,” Van Helsing asked, “convinced you to be cured, Miss Anna?”
She cast a demure little glance toward Alais, then said, “Aphrodite is very persuasive.”
Jane was in the sitting-room, sipping a cup of tea. She heard footsteps, and Doctor McMutt appeared in the doorway. He was still in his shirt-sleeves, a horrid-looking medical pincers in his hand. “Got the bloody bugger,” he said, a little unsteadily. “Textbook extraction, I might add.” He belched. “Rather good whiskey, too.”
Jane put down the teacup and studied the fang in the pincers' grasp. Her jaw dropped. “You extracted the good fang!”
“I what?” Doctor McMutt blinked in question.
Jane's voice rose. “You weren't supposed to bloody yank the good fang. You were supposed to cap the broken one!”
He focused bleary eyes on the pincers. “Oh,” he said. “By all the saints in Purgatory!” He shrugged. “Well, he's a vampire, ain't he? It'll grow back.”
“What am I supposed to do in the meantime? He can't feed! Master is going to be livid!”
“Hm.” Doctor McMutt thought about it. “They've got this neat little invention now. It's called a soda straw. You might try that.”
Jane stood. “And you might try getting the hell out of the city before night falls, if you know what's good for you.”
At that, the dentist paled. “Oh.” Again, he shrugged. “Been wanting a holiday to the coast, anyway.” He gestured toward the stairs. “I'll just be getting my coat and bag, then. Be a dear and hail a transom taxi for me, will you?” He belched again. “And tell your master that there'll be no fee for my services today.” He turned and shuffled away. A cloud of whiskey fumes seemed to hover in the air where he had been standing.
Jane flopped down into her chair. “What else can go wrong?” She sat up, then slapped her forehead. “Oh, bother. I've got to go see Jacob again tonight. Ouch!” She sighed. “Well, maybe I can beg a headache.” She eyed the whiskey bottle on the table. “Or...”
Shortly after sunset that evening, a roar echoed through Count de Mort's house, followed by angry, muffled curses in at least three languages. He stormed into his sitting-room, holding a cloth to his lips. “Jane!”
She did not answer. He stomped around the house, then returned to the sitting room and noticed a note on the table. He picked it up. “Gone to see Jacob,” he read. “Your dinner is in the usual place.” He tossed the note back onto the table and wandered back down the hall. “At least she's doing her minion job,” he muttered through the cloth.
When he entered the room where “dinner” was usually kept, he noted no victim there. There were only a couple of jars containing dark liquid, and another note. He lifted the note. “Sorry about the fang thing. Got sheep's blood from the local butcher.” He crumpled the note and hurled it to the floor. “Sheep's blood!” he yelled. “Sheep's blood? That's like hardtack when one is used to caviar!” He paced back and forth, fuming. “And where is the countess?”
His mood dark, he left the room to dress. “I'll find her,” he said, “if it's the last thing I do this evening.”
“But Alais,” Anna said. “He can track me. He's my sire; he can feel my presence. I know he'll come looking for me. I'm so scared!”
Alais patted her hand. “There, there. I'll see to it. You'll share Molly's room tonight. You'll be safe there.”
“Yes,” Molly echoed. “You can share my room tonight.” She poked Anna with an elbow. “It'll be just like old times.”
Anna slowly raised an eyebrow and cast a glance toward Molly, who was wearing an enigmatic little smile. “Well...”
“Then it's settled,” Alais said. “Now, you two go and get ready for bed. Seal yourselves into your room, and make sure the garlic completely surrounds the door.”
“Yes!” Molly said in glee. “Slumber party, St. Fannie's style!”
Both Anna and Molly emitted a mutual, naughty little giggle. Molly grasped Anna's hand and led her from the room. When they were gone, Alais pulled a leather case from beneath the bed and opened it. “I haven't had need of you in some time,” she said, “but now, I'm glad I kept you.”
“I'm sorry, Jacob,” Jane said. “I really am. But I just have this roaring headache.”
“Um.” He thought about it. “That means no wrestling match tonight, huh?”
“Afraid so, ducky.” She produced a bottle of whiskey from her purse. “But a good stiff drink always helps a headache, I've found. And we can still snuggle.”
Jacob's expression brightened. The night wouldn't be a total loss. He produced two glasses from his cupboard and placed them on the table. “Load ‘em up, lovely.”
She giggled. “You romantic fool, you.” With a sigh of relief, she poured the whiskey.
Count de Mort walked the city's streets, his senses alert for signs of his countess. He felt nothing. Frustrated with the slow pace, he shimmied up a wall and flashed across the city's roof-tops at blinding speed. Into the night, he searched far and wide, but felt no other vampire presence beneath him. Finally, after a couple of hours at vampire-speed, he ground to a halt and flopped down on a chimney-top. No Anna. Had she been caught out in the dawn? Had she been staked? Had she turned from undead to dead? No, he would have felt her death. The more he thought about it, the more he became convinced that the answer to Anna's fate lay with Mrs. Stephanos. After all, that was the last place that he saw her. Wearily, he rose from the chimney-top and made his way toward Alais's street.
Jane watched Jacob as he lay asleep, snoring softly. She smiled, a painful little smile, then whispered, “Sorry, ducky. You really can't hold your liquor, though, can you? Asleep, just like that.”
Her stomach growled, and she realized that she hadn't eaten dinner. She decided to rummage in the kitchen; perhaps Jacob and Van Helsing had something in the pantry. Anything would do.
She rose, slipped into her dress, and buttoned it. Then, she slid her feet into Jacob's slippers, shuffled down the hall, and found the kitchen. She turned up the gas lamp, and began rummaging in the pantry. In a few minutes, she came out with a loaf of bread, some cheese, part of a pie, and some salt fish. She was perched on a stool, enjoying her dinner, when a soft voice startled her.
“Do you mind terribly,” Van Helsing said, “if I join you?”
She studied him; he projected a weary appearance. “Can't sleep either?” she asked, as she motioned to an empty stool. He seated himself.
“No. The cares of a man entering middle age, I'm afraid. I feel old tonight.”
“Here then,” she said. “You're not old. You still have a lot of miles left on you.” She popped a bit of bread into her mouth, then mumbled, “And you're still a right handsome fellow.”
He smiled at that. “Thank you, Miss Jane. You're very kind.” He was silent for a moment, then asked, “Do you fancy a cup of hot tea?”
“Oh, that would be lovely!”
He rose. “I'll put the kettle on to boil.”
Shortly, they sat in easy silence, sipping tea. Van Helsing asked, “How did you come to work for the count?”
She shrugged. “It got me out of St. Fannie's.”
“The school for sl–ah, Wayward Young Ladies?”
“Yes. They sold my services to them, you know.” At his raised eyebrow, she explained, “If you make a donation of proper size to the school, the priest will sell you a contract for a girl's services as a domestic.” She popped a piece of cheese into her mouth. “He sold a contract on me to the count and countess.”
She sighed. “I was a problem to them. Running off, being naughty, things of that sort. They were glad to see me go, I suppose.”
“And you like working for the count and the countess?”
Jane shrugged. “They promoted me from servant-girl to vampires' minion.” She swallowed, then took a sip of tea. “It's an important job, y'know.”
“I should imagine.” He watched her polish off a piece of fish, then asked, “Dear, where does the count sleep during the day?”
“Why? So you can stake him while he's asleep?”
Van Helsing nodded.
“Why do you do that? Hunt vampires, I mean.”
“Why does the count kill people?”
She shrugged. “It's what a vampire does, I suppose.”
“Hunting them is what I do.”
“Oh.” Jane thought about that, then sighed heavily. “I suppose it is all rather evil and sordid. But I seem to be strangely attracted to it.” She fell silent as she sipped her tea, then said, “Those poor prostitutes, though.”
“Do you mean the ones he feeds upon?”
“Yes.” She closed her eyes, and a tear tracked its way down her cheek. “I bring them to the house, and he and the countess feed upon them.” She looked up at him. “That's so horrid. Why do I do that?”
“He's mesmerized you. Vampyres are excellent at that. But a vampyre's ability to control minds doesn't extend into my house,” he said. “It's protected by ancient spells. You can think clearly here.”
“I suppose that's why I feel so badly for those ladies now. They die, you know. I'm so sorry for that now.”
Van Helsing placed a hand over hers. “Help me achieve some little measure of justice for them, dear. Tell me where he sleeps.”
She sniffled a little, then nodded weakly. “All right. It's in the basement of his house.”
Van Helsing smiled. “Thank you.”
“I can't go back there, Doctor. Not now, not after I've betrayed him to you. I'm afraid of what he'll do to me.”
“Stay here, with Jacob.”
“You don't mind?”
“No.” He smiled, a tired, but reassuring little smile. “And I'm quite sure that Jacob wouldn't mind, either. He's rather fond of you, I suspect.”
“I can't imagine why,” she said. She sniffed, then looked up at Van Helsing. Her eyes were wet, wide with question, pleading. “Am I evil, Doctor?”
“No,” Van Helsing said. “You were his victim, too. And you've redeemed yourself tonight.”
Molly spoke softly as she snuggled against Anna's back. “Just like St. Fannie's, hey, Anna?”
Anna purred in response. “And you've learned a thing or two since school.”
“Alais is a wonderful teacher.”
Anna's head emerged from beneath the covers of Molly's bed. “And it smells like an Italian restaurant in here. Phew!” She considered, in the light of the low-turned gas lamp, the strings of garlic surrounding the door.
“It'll keep us safe from the count, though. Vampires can't stand garlic.”
Anna considered that, then turned to Molly's face, mere inches away. “Will Alais be all right?”
“She'll be more than fine, I think. You saw her in action last time.”
“But he'll be more cautious this time. And angry. He has a furious temper, you know.”
“And she,” Molly whispered, “has a few tricks up her sleeve.”
Anna burrowed down into the bed, pulling Molly's arms more tightly about her. “I hope so.”
The count stood on the balcony outside Alais's bedroom window. He frowned as he concentrated, and watched the latch on the inside of the windows pop open. Then, he stepped into the darkened room. He could see, beneath the bed's covers, the lump of a form asleep, and he could hear the beating of a heart in the room. He smiled. He had caught her unaware. He would be ready for her this time.
As he approached the bed, his steps silent upon the wooden floor, he listened. He could hear soft breathing. He stopped beside the bed and tilted his head in question. The heartbeat, the breathing, wasn't coming from the bed. It was coming from–
He yowled in pain and jumped toward the ceiling. When he opened his eyes, he found himself hanging from a chandelier, softly swinging to and fro. Alais stood just beneath him. She laughed, then held up a short sword, its blade gleaming in the dim light.
“Silver,” she said. “Forged by Hephastus himself, in the forges of the gods.” She raised it and poked the count in the bottom a second time. He flinched. “A wedding present. I was once married to him, you know.” She jabbed again, a little harder, and the count winced in pain. “What a sight,” she teased. “I do wish I had a photograph of this.”
The count growled in anger, pain, and indignity. His hand flashed out, quicker than human eye could perceive, and grasped Alais about the throat. He lifted her toward him until her feet no longer touched the floor. “Madame,” he said, “I will most thoroughly enjoy killing you slowly.”
“I–think–not.” Alais's hand flashed, and the silver blade severed the count's arm. He roared in pain. She dropped to the floor, recovered her balance, and yanked the severed hand and arm from her throat. It hit the floor, then smouldered and burst into flame. In a few seconds, it was mere ash. She jabbed upward with the sword, but the count dodged her strike. She thrust upward again, and he dodged it again. Then, his body began shrinking, changing shape in front of her eyes.
She watched in rapt fascination as the count morphed into a bat with a body the size of a cat, hanging upside down from the chandelier. It opened its mouth and hissed, showing fangs, and then laughed, a squeaky bat laugh. Its wings spread, and it began flapping. She watched it circle around the ceiling a couple of times, and then it dove for her.
She dodged it, and it brushed by her, its leathery wings beating the air. It circled and returned, diving toward her, its mouth open and its fangs exposed, its eyes glowing red in the night. Alais watched its progress, then swung the sword with both hands. The flat of the blade caught the bat squarely on the forehead. He hurtled backward across the room, hit the wall with a loud thump, and slowly slid down to the floor.
The bat held its head in both gnarly little bat hands, his wings drooping about his body. “Ow!” he squeaked. “Damn, that hurt.” Slowly, his beady little eyes rolled upward to study the smoke rising from his forehead. His fur was smouldering, the effect of the silver blade's touch. “You bitch!” he squeaked. “I'm on fire.”
Alais was across the room in an instant. Her sword's tip hovered just in front of the bat's face. “I have a proposition for you, little man,” she said.
He eyed the sword's tip with wide, beady eyes. “What's that?”
“Leave our city.”
“And if I don't?”
Alais smiled. “Shish kabob,” she said.
“Unacceptable. I'm allergic to wooden skewers.” He pointed toward the open window. “Look! Halley's Comet!”
Alais's head snapped right, toward the window. “What? Again?”
“Aha! Fooled you.” The bat rose and began running across the floor of Alais's bedroom. His wings flapped furiously, and he rose into the air and circled around the ceiling. He hovered near the chandelier, then dove in a furious blur of speed, his mouth open, his fangs extended. Alais side-stepped his dive, then turned. The bat executed a neat turn, and flew at her neck. For an instant, it seemed to Alais as if time froze. She could see his face, his smouldering hair, his beady, red eyes, his open mouth and bared fangs. She closed her eyes and swung her sword, and she felt the blade connect. Something whizzed past her ear.
She opened her eyes and looked down at her feet. Near her toes, part of his wing lay on the floor. It smoked, then erupted into flame, disintegrating into ash. When she looked up, she saw the bat fluttering about the room, frantically attempting to stay airborne. One wing was much shorter than the other. “Oh, oh!” he squeaked, then smacked into a post of her four-poster bed. “Ouch!” He spun in a tight circle, then smacked into the next post. “Damn!”
She stepped backward, eyed the bat's trajectory, then executed a neat backhand swing. The flat of the blade connected soundly with the bat's bottom, a resounding smack. A squeaky little scream echoed in the room, and the bat hurled through the open window, his little bat hands holding his little bat butt. The fur on his bottom was on fire. A thin trail of smoke followed him out of the window.
Outside, she heard glass breaking. She ran to the balcony and looked; the glass surrounding a street gas-lamp had shattered, and the bat was dancing in the flame. After a few seconds, he fell to the cobblestones, little tongues of flame dotting his fur.
The count, still in bat form, slowly lifted himself from the street and leaned against the lamp-post. He looked down at himself, then cursed and beat at the smouldering fur covering his body. “ Oi vey! ” he said. “This is one tough town.”
Alais's front door cracked open. “It isn't over yet,” she said, then laughed brightly as she dropped her cat on the front steps.
“Oh, no. You wouldn't,” the count said.
“I just did. Do have a pleasant night.” With that, the door shut, and the bolt clacked home.
For a long, uncomfortable moment, the cat and the bat eyed each other. “N-Nice kitty,” the count's squeaky bat voice intoned. In answer, the cat arched its back and hissed.
“Oh, shit. It's not a nice kitty.”
The bat began running down the darkened street, its one-and-a-half wings flapping impotently, the cat just behind him. Alais, back on the balcony, watched as the bat attempted to morph back into human form as it ran. It wasn't working very well. The form grew to about five feet in size, but was still rather furry and had half a wing hanging loose, pounding at the air.
“Can't run and morph at the same time, huh?” Alais called.
“Kiss...my...ass!” the voice retorted from the street, just as the cat caught up with the half-human, half-bat form. The count began howling and hopping on one leg as the cat wrapped itself about the other leg, its claws extended. Into the night, his voice faded, yelling, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”
She laughed, then looked down at the street beneath her balcony. A drunk was stopped on the street, watching the strange spectacle pass him by. After it disappeared into the darkness, the drunk shook his head. “I liked it better when I was seeing dancing elephants wearing knickers,” he muttered, then resumed his bleary stagger down the street.
Alais smiled. The night had gone rather well, she thought. She closed the windows, latched them, and left her bedroom. Down the hallway, she knocked softly at a door whose jamb was festooned with strings of garlic. “Are you girls all right?” she asked.
The door cracked open. “What happened?” Molly asked, as she peeked through the crack.
“The count just left. He wasn't very happy.”
Anna peeked over Molly's head. “Did he know I was here?”
“I don't think so, dear.”
“Will he be back?”
Alais smiled her most reassuring smile. “I suspect that he'll be leaving town very soon.” She eyed the girls through the inch of open door. “Been behaving?”
A chorus of laughter answered. “I should say not!” Molly said. “Is it safe to come out? We've so got to pee.”
“I'll stand guard. Hurry, hurry.” She stood aside, her sword still in hand, and watched the door swing open. Molly and Anna, both naked, sprang from the room and ran down the hallway to the bathroom, hand in hand, giggling all the way. When the bathroom door shut, Alais leaned against the wall. “Young ladies today!” she muttered, as she shook her head in mock disapproval and smiled a tired smile. “Just like we were so very, very long ago.”
The next day, Jacob unlocked the Count's door with Jane's key. Van Helsing entered, followed by Alais, then Jacob. Molly, Anna, and Jane were behind them.
“We'll check the basement. If the count is there, I'll stake him,” Van Helsing said. “You ladies had best wait here. It won't be pretty.” He motioned to Jacob, and the two men headed down the hall toward the basement door.
A few minutes later, they returned. In answer to the chorus of raised eyebrows and questioning looks from the four women seated in the sitting room, Jacob said, “He's not there.”
“Where would he have gone?” Alais asked. “Anna? Jane? Did he have another safe sleeping place?”
Anna and Jane looked at each other, then back at Alais. In unison, they shrugged.
“Well, no matter,” Van Helsing said. “We doused his coffin with holy water and strewed fresh garlic about it. He won't be taking his repose there any more.”
“What will we do?” Alais asked.
Van Helsing smiled. “Get lunch?”
“A delightful idea!” Alais said as she rose. “Ladies, shall we?”
They all stood. Jane took Jacob's arm, Anna looped a hand through Molly's crooked elbow, and Alais rested a hand on Van Helsing's offered forearm. Together, they left the house and hailed a passing horse-drawn transom taxi.
When Van Helsing, Jacob, and Jane returned to Van Helsing's house, they were met outside the front door by a pair of disreputable-looking ruffians who doffed their hats and nodded to the professor. “Got a little problem,” one said.
“Come in, gentlemen,” Van Helsing said. “Into the surgery.”
A minute later, he was standing in his surgery, studying the two men. “An embarrassing social affliction?” he asked.
“No, sir. It's about that ah, delivery that we were to bring to you.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A problem?”
“You might say that.” The older of the two men twisted his cap in his hand as he spoke. “It's like this, Doctor. We thought we had a fresh body to sell the medical school, but it wasn't there.”
That took a minute to register. “Not there?”
“Right. I mean, we saw a fresh coffin delivered to the grave-yard and put into a tomb, but when we broke in, the coffin was empty.”
“When was this?”
“Last night, Doctor. Wasn't nothing in the box but some dirt.”
“Yes!” Van Helsing exclaimed. “Tell me, just where was this?”
“Usual grave-yard. An above-ground tomb.”
“Yes! What was written on the tomb?”
One of the men thought about it, then brightened. “Oh, right. ‘For a good time, ask for–'.”
“No. Not that. I mean, what was the name above the door?”
“Oh, that. Right. It was ‘Johnston'.”
Van Helsing beamed. “Gentlemen, you have done me a profound service.” He dug into his pocket and offered out some money. “Thank you, thank you.”
As one ruffian took the money, the other said, “But we didn't bring you a body.”
“Aha! You've brought me something much more valuable: the missing link I was seeking.”
The two ruffians looked at each other. “That'll work for me,” one said. He poked the other with his elbow. “Come on, mate. Let's leave the doctor in peace.”
As they exited the front door, one man whispered, “Told you. Daffy as a prince.”
“Right, but he seems a good sort.”
“Daffy as a prince,” Van Helsing grumbled as he closed the door. “That'll probably be on my tomb-stone,” he said. Then, he turned toward the stairs and shouted, “Jacob! Gather our vampyre-hunting kit and come along! We've unholy work to do before nightfall!”
Late that afternoon, Van Helsing exited the mausoleum and sat down on a stone bench. “I can't understand it,” he said, as he pulled his coat collar tighter against the blustery, wet wind.
“I can't believe we staked a blow-up doll,” Jacob said. “We'll never hear the end of this. A couple of village idiots, we are. What happened?”
Alais pulled her cloak around her. “It's simple, gentlemen.”
They both looked up at her. She noted their bewildered expressions, and she smiled. “The count had the last laugh, but we won.” She waited for a reply, but their eyes were fixed upon her. She continued, “That little joke was his parting shot. He's gone from the city. My guess is that he won't be back.”
“Where, madam, did he go?” Van Helsing asked.
Alais shrugged. “Who cares? But I'll wager that he's gone.” She looked at Van Helsing. “Ask that police inspector friend of yours about prostitutes gone missing. My guess is that we've seen the end of that for now.”
Jacob brightened. “I'll check the local shipping companies. One of them probably shipped a sealed coffin to the continent today.”
“And wherever that coffin went, we follow!” Van Helsing said. He slapped his thigh in glee.
“Delightful,” Alais said. “But you'll have to persevere without me. I've decided to take a long trip.”
“Oh?” Van Helsing's expression went limp. “To where?”
Her expression reflected excitement. “America. New Orleans sounds so interesting, doesn't it? I've decided to study the magic arts there.”
“I hear it's bloody hot,” Jacob said, “and that there's witches and voodoo there. And yellow fever.”
“Voodoo?” Van Helsing said.
“Yes, and hoodoo,” Alais said.
“Who do what? Who do voodoo?” Jacob asked.
“No. Hoodoo and voodoo,” Alais replied. “Hoodoo is a uniquely New Orleans form of voodoo.”
Van Helsing looked over at Jacob. “Hoodoo voodoo?”
He pointed at Alais. “She do voodoo.”
“No,” Van Helsing said. “She do hoodoo. Someone else do de voodoo.”
“You do voodoo,” Jacob cracked, as he pointed at Van Helsing. “You de one who do de voodoo.”
Van Helsing pointed at Alais. “Who do? She do de hoodoo. Somebody else do de voodoo!”
“You do!” They both roared in laughter and rocked on the stone bench, slapping their knees and wiping tears from their eyes.
Alais smiled indulgently. “Insurmountable silliness,” she said softly, “will, I feel, be the saving grace of humanity.”
A week later, Van Helsing stood on the docks near the moored passenger ships. He offered his hand to Alais. “May you and your two charming companions have a pleasant journey and a good time in New Orleans,” he said.
Alais, Molly, and Anna all offered their thank-you's, and Alais said, “And, professor, may you have a productive holiday chasing the count's coffin through Austria. It's a lovely country.” She turned to Jacob and Jane. “And may you two have a long and happy marriage.”
Jane giggled. “It's so exciting, being married to a real-life vampire hunter.” She winked at Alais. “Makes him seem all the more sexy, don't it?”
“A veritable Adonis,” she said, as she watched Jacob blush. She eyed Van Helsing. “And who knows? Perhaps, one day, you'll remarry, too.”
Van Helsing shrugged. “One never knows,” he said. “But, Alais, if you ever tire of voodoo, hellish heat, and yellow fever, perhaps you'll return to our city?” He seemed suddenly shy. “What I mean to say is, after my acquaintance with you, other women seem so...” He offered a wistful little smile. “Dull?”
“Why, Professor Doctor Van Helsing!” She tapped him playfully on the arm with her folded fan. “Is that a proposal or a proposition?”
A chorus of delighted giggles sounded from the young women present. Jacob elbowed Van Helsing in the ribs. He blushed, then said, “Perhaps just an invitation to dinner, and we'll start with that?”
Alais beamed. “Delighted. But, Doctor, you might not want to set your sights on marrying me. I have a horrid habit of outliving my husbands, you know.”
He indicated Molly and Anna. “And of collecting about you lovely young ladies who seem deeply devoted to you in every respect. Tell me, madame, whatever is your secret?”
Alais smiled as she considered Molly's and Anna's adoring expressions. “Oh,” she finally said, “something I learned a long time ago as Aphrodite.” She looked away as the whistle on the nearest ship began sounding. “We must board. Until next time!”
Jacob, Jane, and Van Helsing watched the three women scurry up the ship's gangway and disappear within the mob of passengers crowding the vessel's rail. Then, they turned and strolled down the pier, silent for a while. Finally, Jacob offered, “She's quite a lady, isn't she?”
“Quite,” Jane agreed.
Van Helsing smiled as he strolled along the pier, his cane tapping a rhythm on the boards beneath his feet. After some time, he nodded. “Quite, indeed!” He laughed, a soft little laugh, and said, as if to himself, “A real-life goddess, one might say.”
-djb, August, 2010
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